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Title: An Uncrowned King - A Romance of High Politics
Author: Grier, Sydney C.
Language: English
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 AN UNCROWNED KING

 A ROMANCE OF HIGH POLITICS

 BY
 SYDNEY C. GRIER
 AUTHOR OF ‘IN FURTHEST IND,’
 ‘HIS EXCELLENCY’S ENGLISH GOVERNESS,’ ETC.


 (_First in the Balkan Series_)


 THIRD IMPRESSION


 WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
 EDINBURGH AND LONDON
 MCMVII
 _All Rights reserved_



 CONTENTS.

 I. A KINGDOM GOING BEGGING
 II. FRESH WOODS AND PASTURES NEW
 III. “IF THOU WERT KIND AS THOU ART FAIR----”
 IV. A CANDID FRIENDSHIP
 V. A CALL OF DUTY
 VI. A ROYAL PROGRESS
 VII. CHECK
 VIII. FOR HIS GOOD
 IX. A WOMAN OF HER WORD
 X. REASONS OF STATE
 XI. A DELICATE NEGOTIATION
 XII. TO OBLIGE A LADY
 XIII. PUNIC FAITH
 XIV. OVER THE BORDER AND AWAY
 XV. TERMS OF ACCOMMODATION
 XVI. WORDS FROM DYING LIPS
 XVII. MINE AND COUNTERMINE
 XVIII. SO NEAR, AND YET----
 XIX. PILGRIMS PERFORCE
 XX. TAKEN BY SURPRISE
 XXI. A REVOLT OR A REVOLUTION?
 XXII. A KING WITHOUT A CROWN
 XXIII. UNDER WHICH KING?
 XXIV. THE KING HAS HIS OWN



 NOTE.

_It may be interesting to know that the Monmouthshire pronunciation of
the name Caerleon is Carleen, whence arises the form Carlino._



 AN UNCROWNED KING.

 CHAPTER I.
 A KINGDOM GOING BEGGING.

“After question-time, the First Lord of the Treasury rose to make a
statement with regard to the course of public business, the salient
feature of which was the announcement that the Government found
themselves compelled to appropriate all the time of private members
during the remainder of the session. We understand that this action on
the part of the Ministry has aroused strong feeling on both sides of
the House, particularly among those members who have charge of private
bills. One of the supporters of the Government who has been very
hardly treated is Viscount Usk, whose bill for permitting peers to
become candidates for seats in the Lower House, on relinquishing their
right to a seat in the House of Lords, had obtained the first place in
the ballot for Tuesday next.”

Thus far the ‘Fleet Street Gazette,’ but “strong feeling” was a mild
term to apply to the sentiment evoked in the minds of honourable
members by the Government statement. That a portion of their time
would be confiscated they had guessed only too well, but such a
drastic measure as this was quite unexpected. Rage, disappointment,
and disgust were depicted on face after face along the back benches,
and the popular Minister to whose task it fell to make the
announcement was allowed to resume his seat without a single
expression of approval. Among the most wrathful of the malcontents was
Lord Usk, whose cup had been dashed from his lips in the peculiarly
cruel manner noticed sympathetically by the ‘Fleet Street,’ and who
sat moodily in his place, gnawing the end of his moustache, his
forehead drawn into a heavy frown. Mr Forfar, the First Lord, lounging
delicately from the House after hurling his thunderbolt, with his
short-sighted eyes fixed on space, on the paper in his hand, on
anything but the scowling faces of his supporters, encountered his
gaze without intending to do so, and leaned over the benches to speak
to him.

“Rather rough on you, Usk. Better luck next time!”

“It’s all very well for you to laugh----” began Lord Usk, savagely,
and then stopped short, finding that he was making rather a weak
remark, whereas he had meant to say something cutting. Mr Forfar waved
his hand soothingly, and passed on with a smile.

“If it had been any one but Usk,” he said to his colleague, Sir James
Morrell, when they were outside the House, “I should have thought he
meant ratting, but he is quite safe. He gets excited now and then, but
he will sulk to-night and be all right to-morrow.”

After a time Lord Usk also quitted the House, and went to the library
to see whether there were any letters for him. There were none of any
interest, and he was toying somewhat aimlessly with the magazines on
one of the tables, when he descried looming in the distance the form
of the party Whip, intent on beating up recruits for the dinner-hour.
The sight roused him again to fierce resentment. On ordinary occasions
Usk was the mildest of men, and one of the Whip’s pattern members, not
only voting safely with the party in important divisions (with the
exception of occasional outbursts on the question of Temperance and
kindred subjects, which were dealt with tenderly as the eccentricities
of youth), but proving himself almost always ready to dine in the
precincts, in case of a call during the dinner-hour. But now his
forbearance had been strained too far, and he rebelled. He was not
going to help to keep a house for a Government which valued his
services as little as did this one, and he evaded the Whip with some
difficulty, for his height rendered him conspicuous among the other
members, and slipped out into Palace Yard.

“I’ll take a night off, and drop in at Mrs Sadleir’s,” he thought, his
resentment already beginning to give way under the soothing
recollection of his revenge on the Whip.

Mrs Sadleir’s was one of the few houses at which Usk was at all a
constant guest, for he hated society with an almost anarchist hatred
quite at variance with his political opinions generally. Very quickly,
on his first introduction into the world of London, he had learnt by
bitter experience to divide the women he met into two categories.
There were those who were anxious to marry him, either personally, or
vicariously to some relation, and those who were not. It was in vain
that he tried by turns to gain the reputation of a student, a cynic,
and a misogynist; the young ladies and their mothers still thought
that a man in his present position, to say nothing of his prospect of
succeeding to the Marquisate of Caerleon at no very distant date,
ought not to be judged too harshly, even for such unamiable
peculiarities as these. This led him to forswear almost entirely the
company of the fair sex, for the young ladies who did not want to
marry him made the fact so conspicuous, and were so anxious to force
it upon his notice, that he resented their aggressive prudery as
strongly as he did their sisters’ too evident wiles. Hence he was
wont, now that his experience was gained, sternly to resist all
attempts to allure him into general society, and he had become known
to the party leaders as a young man who devoted himself to the study
of sociological and political problems, and affected the company of
his elders. But he was content to visit at Mrs Sadleir’s house, and
under her wing to confront the hordes of society girls who thirsted
for his prospective coronet, since he knew that she had neither
daughter nor niece to recommend him as a wife, and that she had a most
unfeminine aversion to match-making. Mrs Sadleir had been a dear
friend of his mother’s, and on Lady Caerleon’s death had done much to
supply her place to Usk and his brother Cyril. Ill-natured persons
said that she was trying to achieve a social success by becoming the
second Lady Caerleon, but better-informed people scouted the idea,
knowing well that she had refused Lord Caerleon very decidedly two
years after his wife’s death, although without any diminution of the
friendship which had always existed between them.

For a rising young politician of pronounced imperialist views, like
Usk, Mrs Sadleir’s house was emphatically one to visit. Her husband,
who had held an important permanent post in the Foreign Office, had
gathered around him in his leisure hours men of all nations with whom
he came in contact in the course of his duties, and after his death
his widow found herself unable to dispense with the excitement of the
brilliant society to which she had grown accustomed. It was a
commonplace among her friends that, in most cases, she could, if she
liked, announce forthcoming diplomatic changes before the ministers
who arranged them, and some said that a good deal of the political
history of Europe had been made at different times in her
drawing-room. Yet she was not an intriguer, far less a conspirator,
but simply a cultivated, tactful woman, with a talent for bringing
together at the right time the right people, or, at any rate, the
people who it was desirable should meet one another. She came forward
now to greet Lord Usk, as he mounted her staircase, and made him a
sign to wait until she had got rid of a voluble Italian secretary of
embassy, who was impressing some fact upon her with a good deal of
gesticulation. Mrs Sadleir’s gracious and striking personality was
reflected in her dress. Her gown was black, made in a severe yet
fanciful style that was unlike any one else’s. On her head she wore an
arrangement of black lace, which was no more to be called a cap than a
veil, and was the despair of her maid, but which, taken in conjunction
with her bright dark eyes and the silver hair rolled smoothly back
from her forehead, gave her the look of a great lady of the old
_régime_. Having disposed of the Italian, she turned to Usk.

“I am very glad indeed that you have come in to-night, Usk, for I have
some one here whom you will enjoy meeting. I was almost inclined to
send a message to you at the House by Dr Egerton, who was going on
there; but I thought you might come, and therefore I waited. It is M.
Drakovics to whom I want to introduce you.”

“What! the Kossuth of the Balkans--the Thracian premier?” asked Usk,
much interested.

“Yes, the great history-maker of to-day. It is a liberal education
(pray don’t think I intend a pun) to hear him talk. Come and I will
take you to him.”

She did not lead him into the crowded drawing-room, full of light and
laughter, but into a smaller room near at hand, where a solitary
gentleman in evening dress was dimly visible by the rays of a Moorish
lamp hanging in a window-recess. He was a small shrunken man, with a
large bald head and a massive brow; and as Usk’s eyes grew accustomed
to the dim light, he saw in the bronzed face and heavy grey moustache
the hint of a likeness to another and a more successful statesman than
the Hungarian patriot, a likeness which was, moreover, not altogether
distasteful to M. Drakovics himself.

“Lord Usk--M. Drakovics,” said Mrs Sadleir, briskly. “Now I am going
to leave you to have a good talk, for I want you to know one another.
If you will sit here in the recess, the curtains will hide you, and
you will not be seized upon by any troublesome acquaintances.”

“Milord,” said M. Drakovics, bowing formally, but scanning Usk from
head to foot in a way which made the younger man feel that he was
being reckoned up and his measure taken, “I am much honoured in
meeting you. Your name, and your father’s name also, are very well
known to us in Thracia.”

“You are very kind,” said Usk, in the embarrassed way in which the
average Englishman receives a compliment. “I’m sure I am delighted to
have the chance of meeting you here. I never expected to be able to
hear about the Thracian revolution from one who was in it.”

“From one who may be said to have been at the head of it,” corrected
M. Drakovics, gravely. “You are interested in Eastern Europe, milord?”

“Naturally, since no one who takes any interest whatever in
international politics can well avoid keeping his eye on the Balkan
States,” said Usk; “and Thracia has always seemed to me the most
promising of them all, if only she got a chance. Your long struggle
against Roum, and the way in which you won your freedom, have shown
what your people are made of.”

“Yes, indeed,” responded M. Drakovics, his eyes lighting up, “Thracia
is the nation of the future in Eastern Europe. We are the only truly
European race south of the Carpathians. The Mœsians are Slavs, the
Dardanians half Roumis. Our blood is chiefly Latin, with a large
Teutonic admixture. Our very language is far more nearly akin to the
Italian than to the Slavonic.”

“And yet your own name is Slavonic?” suggested Usk.

“Most of our names are, just as in religion we belong to the Orthodox
Church. It is the result of our isolation, hemmed in as we are by Slav
races. But our aspirations are wholly Western, and the national hatred
of Scythia, our great Slav neighbour, is a perfect passion.”

“That was the cause of your revolution, wasn’t it?” asked Usk. “We are
generally rather misty about your politics here, I’m afraid, but that
seems to have penetrated into most people’s minds.”

“It was the cause,” returned M. Drakovics. “You are aware, milord,
that when we threw off the Roumi yoke, many years ago, we did so with
the assistance--the moral support--of Scythia. For this assistance we
have been paying dearly ever since, while our country has groaned
under the rule of the House of Franza. No doubt the simplest plan
would have been to place a Scythian grand-duke at once upon the
throne, but it was more politic to allow us to elect a national
sovereign, and then to make him a Scythian tributary. Our first king,
Alexander Franza, the patriot who had conducted the struggle for
freedom to a successful issue, saw the danger, and tried to avert it,
straining every nerve to pay off the loans advanced by Scythia for
various purposes; but he died before he could effect this object, and
his successors, instead of following his example, borrowed more
largely still, thus placing the kingdom completely in the hands of
Scythia. You know what our history has been since our independence was
guaranteed; how, with one of the finest countries in Europe, the
resources of which are as yet scarcely touched, we have been
constantly on the verge of bankruptcy. So it was when the late king,
Peter II., ascended the throne, and our masters appeared to think that
the time had come to complete their conquest. Of course he was a
pensioner of Scythia, like his predecessors, but he was also a man of
pleasure. When the country had been drained of money to supply his
whims, he was forced to turn to Scythia once more. Money was granted
him, but only for a consideration. One by one the highest posts in the
army and Court were filled with Scythians, and it was of no use for
the Thracians to complain. The Sertchaieff Ministry was in power, and
as matters grew worse, its members clung the more closely to their
places, fearing the result of any change for themselves. Then a chance
incident caused an explosion----”

“It was connected with your own election to the Legislative Assembly,
was it not?” asked Usk.

“It was, milord. I had been absent from my country for many years,
owing to my having once taken part in a meeting of those who wished to
bring about a reform by means of constitutional agitation. I was a
young man when I threw in my lot with the reformers, and had just
begun to practise at the bar, but I was obliged to leave Thracia, and
sacrifice all my prospects. My years of exile were not wasted. I
travelled, I worked, I associated with earnest men--and I found my
country a byword everywhere. At last I could endure it no longer, and
I made up my mind to set on foot one more effort to stir up my
compatriots to a sense of their degradation. I returned to Thracia,
and found myself received with joy, yet with fear, by my old friends
and by the younger generation of patriots that had sprung up. Once
more we set ourselves to form a constitutional party, and to educate
public opinion. Our objects were simple,--the dismissal of the
Scythians who had been thrust into public offices, the reform of the
whole corrupt administration, the discontinuance of the system of
borrowing, and the gradual repayment of our debt to Scythia out of the
money saved by reducing expenses and gained by the proper development
of the country. We were quite ignorant of the extent to which our
views found favour among the people, but we determined upon a bold
stroke--in order both to advertise our programme and to show us how we
were supported. The Elections were approaching, and we resolved to
contest every seat for which we could find a candidate. The
Administration was utterly taken by surprise, but its members
perceived that their salvation lay in striking at once, and they chose
to begin with me. I was elected by a large majority for the
constituency to which I offered myself, but my election was declared
void by a Government decree, and a fresh poll was announced. Troops
were drafted into the town, nominally to preserve the peace, in
reality to force my constituents to vote for the Government candidate,
and vast numbers of persons crowded in from the country districts,
drawn by the prospect of a tumult. I was passing through the
market-place when a band of my supporters called upon me for a speech.
Then, milord, I felt a strange fire seize me. I remembered the effect,
long before, of my speech to the meeting for taking part in which I
was exiled. I remembered that in my days as barrister I had often
moved the court to tears and to indignation. It was merely a flash of
memory, but with it came the impulse to act. I sought a place from
which to speak--I climbed upon a country cart--I spoke--I heard the
people shouting--the Government agent ordered the soldiers to arrest
me--I saw them pushing their way through the crowd--they closed round
me, dragged me down--I appealed to the bystanders--I was rescued--I
spoke again, and raised the cry of Reform. Before I knew what had
happened I was at the head of a revolution, the people had put
themselves under my guidance, the troops had joined us, the Government
agent was seeking the means for flight. By my orders he was captured
and lodged in prison--I seemed to perceive at once what was to be
done. The telegraph-office was seized, no message allowed to be sent
but by my authority. To each of our candidates for the Assembly I
telegraphed what had happened, and his orders. A brief pause to
concert my plans with my chief supporters, and we were in motion
again. The news spread through the country like wildfire; in a short
time the whole army was with us, and the people were thronging to us
in enormous numbers. We marched to Bellaviste, and entered the city
without striking a blow. When we laid before the king our demands for
a change of Ministry and a new constitution, he preferred to abdicate
rather than grant them. We were nothing loath, and he has retired to
the south of France on a suitable income. A provisional government was
formed, and has remained in power, supported by the whole force of the
national sentiment, for nearly a year. The success of our movement was
due to its spontaneity. If we had prepared for it, Scythia would have
gained some inkling of our plan, and might have out-plotted us, but
she could not without any excuse interfere with the accomplished fact.
In the very first moment of our freedom we ranged Pannonia on our side
by making overtures to her for the conclusion of a commercial treaty
which had hitherto been hindered by the intrigues of Scythia. To
Scythia we were able to guarantee, through the good offices, secretly
exercised, of Pannonia, the regular payment of her interest, and the
gradual extinction of the debt itself, while the dismissed officials
received honourable terms. It was not easy to arrange all this, for at
first we found it difficult to obtain money, and the Thracians are
hot-blooded and had much to avenge, but I would not remain at their
head except with their promise to acquiesce in my decisions. Balancing
Pannonia against Scythia in this way, we have passed through a year of
national life, although Scythia refuses to recognise us, and has
worked upon our suzerain, Roum, to withhold from us up to the present
time the right we claim of choosing our own form of government.”

“Then, if that right were conceded, you would proclaim a republic?”

“Certainly not, milord. I myself might approve of such a step
theoretically, but our people are not ripe for it, and not only
Scythia, but Pannonia and the other friendly or neutral Powers, would
be alienated by the idea. I look around me on the present chaotic
state of the country, at the new Thracia which is rising out of the
ruins of the old, and I see that it would be impossible for any man
popularly elected to introduce the necessary reforms unless he were
guaranteed dictatorial powers for a term of years; and for this we
cannot hope. In spite of our marvellous success hitherto, we are not
perfect, nor even unanimous, and there are many divisions and
jealousies among us.”

“It shows great self-abnegation on your part to give up the idea of a
republic,” said Usk, “for you yourself would be the only possible
President.”

“I fear you rate my moral qualities too highly, milord. The presidency
would not be a bed of roses. Even as matters now stand, my life has
already been attempted three times, and if I were President, Scythia
would never rest until she had--well, brought about my removal, and
had plunged Thracia into such a state of anarchy as might seem to
justify her in the sight of Europe in interfering to restore order.
Besides, I am a Thracian, one of the people, and they need some one
who is above them and outside them to rule them at present. This is
the reason why we are seeking to re-establish the monarchy on a
constitutional basis. This is the reason why I have come to England to
offer the crown of Thracia to you, Milord Usk.”

“Come to offer the crown to me!” repeated Usk, stupidly.

“I will not disguise from you, milord,” said M. Drakovics, bringing
his head very close to his hearer’s, and speaking low and earnestly,
“that we have made many attempts to obtain a king from the different
reigning families of Europe. It was at first our great hope that we
might secure one of the younger members of the English royal house,
but this honour has been absolutely refused to us, and it was the same
with several German princely families. We offered the crown to Prince
Otto Georg of Schwarzwald-Molzau, the King of Mœsia’s cousin, whose
family were willing that he should accept it, but he considered that
the kingdom was likely to be too troublesome to be agreeable. We had
even thought of a French prince, but there is the religious
difficulty----”

“But I do not belong to the Greek Church, and I have no intention of
joining it,” interrupted Usk.

“We could accept a Protestant, milord, but a Roman Catholic would be
impossible.”

“But I am not even remotely connected with royalty,” objected Usk
again.

“It is the boast of you English nobles that you are on a level with
any of the princely houses of the Continent that are not absolutely
royal,” said M. Drakovics, “and you are far richer.”

“Not our family, at any rate,” said Usk, with a shrug. “But I have had
no experience in governing. Why don’t you ask some one who has been
Viceroy of India or Lord Lieutenant of Ireland?”

“Because they are old, milord, and you are young: our young nation
needs a young man at its head. But you are not a novice in the affairs
of State. Who is so fit to introduce constitutional principles into
Thracia as a member of the British House of Commons--one, moreover,
who has shown himself friendly to any reasonable reform judiciously
and fairly carried out? Nor would you find the actual work of
governing a very difficult matter. I, who have been said to be the
Revolution, am now the Government. I make the laws, and then commend
them to the people, and this would continue to be the case as long as
I was so happy as to retain your confidence, while you acted as the
visible head of the Government and the sign of the unity of the
nation.”

“As the figurehead, in fact?” said Usk.

“Precisely, milord.”

“But you ought to have a soldier, and I am not one.”

“You are an officer of Volunteer cavalry, and that is sufficient.”

“You seem to know a good deal about me.”

“It is natural to study deeply the history of one’s future king,
milord, and you appear to be better fitted for the high post I offer
you than any of the other noblemen to whom my thoughts have turned.”

“But this is absurd!” cried Usk. “You must know that I should not be
allowed to entertain such an idea for a moment. Our Government would
put a stop to it instantly. It would be high treason,
treaty-breaking--I don’t know what.”

“The matter is a secret, milord. Once in Thracia, and crowned, your
Government could scarcely bring you back.”

“Do you expect me to give up my own country--make myself an outlaw, in
fact--for the sake of your precious Thracia?”

“Yes, milord,” said M. Drakovics, steadily, “that is what I do expect.
You are the very man for us--by reason of your personal advantages
especially. Our people worship tall fair men, for they recall to them
the heroes of their legends. Then you are descended from a great house
of warriors. Milord your father fought in the Crimea, your grandfather
at Waterloo, and your great-uncle was killed fighting in the cause of
Greek Independence. Again, you are unmarried, but yet you do not share
the tastes of our late lamented sovereign, King Peter Franza, and you
would thus be able to consolidate your dynasty and strengthen your
kingdom by an advantageous matrimonial alliance.”

“That is not the way in which English people are accustomed to look at
marriage,” said Usk, coldly.

“It is the way in which a patriotic king looks at the subject, milord.
I am making no effort to disguise from you the drawbacks of the great
position I offer you. We do not want a pleasure-seeker, but one who
will be a martyr, if need be. We require a man who will give up his
country, his friends, his own happiness--who will be ready either to
live or to die for this Thracia of ours, which we have saved from
Scythia and the Franzas.”

M. Drakovics saw that his words had at last produced something of the
effect he desired. Usk’s head was lifted proudly, and the light of
battle shone in his eyes, but his response was disappointing.

“I will consider the question,” he said.

“Give me your promise, milord. Why should you hesitate? You are not
thinking of palaces and the probable length of your Civil List, I
know, so why not let me feel happy in the certainty that my country’s
future is assured?”

“I must consult my father. He has a right to be told.”

“Come back to Thracia with me, and be crowned, and then tell him. He
will be glad to be spared the trouble of advising you.”

“No, it would not be fair to him. I will let you know some time
to-morrow. Good night,” and he left the room before M. Drakovics could
stop him or even say anything further. His impulse was to get out of
the house at once, and cool his heated brain by walking back to his
lodgings, but he did not like to leave without bidding farewell to Mrs
Sadleir. Entering the drawing-room in search of her, he was accosted
by a man whom he knew slightly as connected in some way with the
‘Daily Chronograph.’

“Nasty sell for you, wasn’t it?” he remarked. Usk stared at him
blankly.

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said.

“Why, this afternoon--about that Bill of yours. Have you forgotten it
already?”

“Oh--my Bill,” repeated Usk, vaguely. “I have been thinking of--of
other things since then. Excuse me, I can’t stay.”

“He looks perfectly dazed,” said the other man to himself. “What can
it be? Has some girl chucked him? No! who’s that talking to Mrs
Sadleir? Drakovics, no less!”

He made his way towards his hostess, arriving just in time to hear her
farewell to Usk.

“Perhaps you will have something to tell me to-morrow, Usk. If so,
look in about three o’clock. I shall be quite alone.”

“Nuts!” muttered the journalist. Then aloud to Mrs Sadleir he added,
“Surely I saw our old friend Drakovics here just now?”

“Yes, he is here to-night,” said the hostess. “We don’t make a fuss
about our foreign guests nowadays, and have receptions at Trentham
House and public festivities for them, you see. They come and go
quietly.”

“Still looking for a king, eh? He has come to England to try and get
hold of the latest royal infant as a ruler for his one-horse State,
hasn’t he?”

Clever woman though she was, Mrs Sadleir could occasionally be
“drawn,” and this the ‘Chronograph’ man knew well. She smiled now
significantly as she answered--

“No, I really don’t think he has designs on the Princess’s baby this
time. What, must you go?”

Indeed he must, post-haste to the ‘Chronograph’ office, bearing news
which set editor, foreign editor, sub-editor, and printer frantically
to work altering and cutting and curtailing the copy already set up in
such a way as to provide room for a column with startling headlines:--


  “THE BALKAN QUESTION.
  RECONSTRUCTION OF THE THRACIAN MONARCHY.
  ROMANTIC CHOICE OF A KING.
  CROWN OFFERED TO AN ENGLISH NOBLEMAN.
  INTERVIEW WITH VISCOUNT USK, M.P.”


In justice to the journalist, it must be said that the account of the
“interview” was very short, consisting chiefly of the true statement
that Lord Usk had kept his own counsel and declined to discuss the
subject; but the foreign editor and his subordinates supplied a
concise account of Thracia and its history and revolution to fill up
the space, and to gratify the interest and curiosity of the British
public, which developed both these qualities very largely on the
morrow.

Usk was not a subscriber to the ‘Daily Chronograph,’ and his
man-servant, who was, knew his duty far too well to put any questions
to his master in the morning, although there was a flutter of pleased
excitement diversifying his usual sober demeanour, which Usk noticed
with a feeling of miserable surprise.

“Very likely I talked in my sleep,” he said to himself, conscious of
having spent a troubled night, and then he mapped out his plan of
operations for the day. The morning must be spent at the House of
Commons, where he was serving on an important Committee, but in the
afternoon he would run down into Kent, to the country-house at which
his father was staying, and tell Lord Caerleon all about M. Drakovics
and his offer. Having arrived at this decision, he drove to the House
without meeting any of his acquaintances, and did his best to
concentrate his mind on the work of the Committee, although he could
not help glancing furtively at Mr Forfar, who was stretching his long
length a few seats from him, and wondering what he would say if he
knew the honour which the Thracian Government was desirous of
conferring upon his supporter. As it chanced, Mr Forfar had happened
to glance at the ‘Chronograph’ before coming down to the House, and
was now asking himself languidly whether it was Usk or the editor who
had suddenly gone mad, but this Usk did not know. That the secret of
his proposed elevation was not confined to himself, however, he
discovered as he left the committee-room, when one of his friends
rushed past him in a hurry.

“Been reading a lot of lies in the ‘Chronograph’ about you, Usk,” he
cried cheerfully. “What rot those newspaper fellows will put in
sometimes!”

Then it had got about already! Usk was literally unable to muster up
the necessary courage to go and look at the paper, and as he quitted
the House he felt guiltily that the members he met turned to look at
him, and that the policemen who had the advantage of knowing him by
sight were reaping a golden harvest for pointing him out to eager and
ignorant questioners. He wanted to see what the ‘Chronograph’ said
about him, and to know how it had gained its information, but it
seemed much too barefaced a proceeding to walk into a shop and buy a
copy. He would go home, and send his servant out to get one. But when
he reached his lodgings he found that this was unnecessary. In the
arm-chair in his sitting-room sat his father, with a copy of the
delinquent journal in his hand.

“Well, Usk,” said Lord Caerleon, “good morning. May I ask whether this
is true?” and he held out the paper, which was folded in such a way as
to exhibit the headlines to the best advantage.

“I don’t know what they say there,” returned Usk, “but it’s true that
Drakovics invited me last night to become King of Thracia. He said he
came to England on purpose.”

“Ah!” said Lord Caerleon, meditatively. “Seen Cyril this morning?”

“No,” said Usk, surprised by the sudden question.

“Well, I have, and I can tell you what he is doing now. He is going
about with my authority contradicting this report, and talking big
about libel actions against the ‘Daily Chronograph.’”

“That strikes one as rather premature, doesn’t it?” said Usk, and his
father knew by his tone that he was not pleased.

“It has got that appearance,” he said quickly, “but these things
spread so fast, and it had to be stopped before it brought you into
trouble. Look here, Usk, I want you to give this thing up, and I’ll
tell you my reasons.”

“Yes, sir?” and Usk prepared himself to listen.

“Well, the first is that I’m an old man, and I can’t do without you.
My father’s elder brother, your great-uncle, went off to fight for
Greece, as you know, and never came back. I can’t give you up for that
sort of thing at my age. Is that enough for you, Usk?”

“Certainly, if you put it in that way.”

Lord Caerleon’s eyes glistened, but he went on gruffly enough.

“My second reason is that you are not the man for it. Oh, I know that
you would look the part all right, and do your utmost to make the
thing a success, but there’s more worldly wisdom in Cyril’s little
finger than in your whole body. If the fools had only thought of
offering the crown to him, he would be at the head of a Balkan
Confederacy in a month, but you---- The fact is, Usk, you are too
English--you don’t know when you’re beaten. Instead of taking a
licking quietly, you are up again as soon as you come to, and fighting
with all the breath knocked out of you. As for Cyril, he will have
made it up with the other chap after the first round, and started
ahead to choose his own ground, ready for another fight when it’s
necessary, and that time Cyril will win.”

“Shall I advise Drakovics to transfer his offer to Cyril, then?”

“Certainly not. I don’t intend to subsidise a bankrupt Balkan State
out of my rents, and I have no wish that you should be obliged to do
it either. Cyril will come to smash quite soon enough without a crown
to drag him down. He is so sharp that he is bound to go too far some
day. No, Usk, you are the man for it if there was a fair field, but
there isn’t, and I can’t stand your going off and being shot or
dynamited by Scythian agents.”

“But Mrs Sadleir must have known what Drakovics wanted, and yet she
said nothing to dissuade me from accepting the crown.”

“I daresay not. Women are always ready to send out sons and lovers on
forlorn hopes--especially other people’s sons and lovers. It requires
a practical, unromantic man to look into the thing first, and decide
whether the game is worth the candle. Mrs Sadleir is as sensible a
woman generally as any I know, but she has not outlived her
enthusiasms yet, and she is quite ready to give Thracia a king at my
expense, and I don’t see it. When I’m gone, it will be a different
thing. You will have only yourself to please then, but the Thracians
will probably have killed or banished two or three kings, and run
through a few republics, by that time. In any case, I ask you, as a
favour to me, to refuse this offer now.”

“I will write to Drakovics at once,” said Usk, and he did.



 CHAPTER II.
 FRESH WOODS AND PASTURES NEW.

A year had passed, and the situation in Thracia remained unchanged.
The search for a king initiated by M. Drakovics had not yet proved
successful, but the Provisional Government was still in office, and
the Thracians lived and throve under a regimen of what their enemies
called autocracy washed down by draughts of rhetoric. M. Drakovics
alone, against whose life two further attempts had been made, looked
out ahead with troubled eyes, and yearned for the tall Englishman who
had seemed likely to prove such an efficient coadjutor in his task of
governing.

In England, however, the year had not been barren of changes. General
Lord Caerleon slept with his fathers in the family burying-place in
Llandiarmid Abbey, and Viscount Usk’s place in the House of Commons
knew him no more. Misfortune seemed to dog this young man’s footsteps.
Once again he had obtained leave to bring in his Bill, but it had been
deliberately talked out by the Labour members in revenge for his
voting against them on one of their pet questions. There was thus no
help for him, and on his father’s death he was compelled to vacate his
seat, and seek the serene retirement of the Upper House. Moreover, the
constituents whom he was so sorry to leave did not display on this
occasion the fixity of purpose with which he had always credited them,
for they rejected with ignominy the candidate who inherited his
principles, and chose as their representative an agitator who promised
to bring in a Bill to divide the Llandiarmid domain among them in the
shape of allotments.

Nor was this all, for before very long he found that even the
possession of a historic house and innumerable heirlooms was not an
unmixed privilege. The marquisate was by no means a rich one, for its
inheritors had all indulged a reprehensible taste for investing their
spare cash in works of art instead of more easily convertible
securities, and the succession duty on these bade fair to ruin their
unfortunate possessor. The owner of land which would not let, and of
pictures which he could not sell, he found himself forced to raise the
necessary money by means of mortgages on his unmanageable property,
when all other means had failed. The interest on these mortgages was
another important consideration, and when, after settling matters as
far as possible, the new Marquis and his brother met one evening in
the great hall at Llandiarmid to talk things over, the outlook was far
from cheerful.

“It’s quite evident that we can’t keep up this place, Cyril,” said
Caerleon. “If I could let it for a year or so, and get the house in
town off my hands, I think we might just tide over the present
difficulty.”

“Surely it would be enough to sell Caerleon House,” said Cyril,
lazily, but with some surprise in his tone, as he sat with his arms
behind his head and looked at his brother. “No one will expect you to
entertain much here while you are in mourning, so you can lie low for
a year or two and keep down expenses.”

“It’s not only of the actual expenses of the place this year that I am
thinking,” said Caerleon, “but of the future. I want to put things
right for you, Cyril, and to do that I must save.”

“Oh, don’t trouble yourself about me,” said Cyril, lightly. “I have
always fallen on my feet hitherto, and I suppose you’ll find me a
crust and a shake-down in your diggings, wherever they are.”

It had been a shock to Caerleon to discover, from some words his
father had let fall on his deathbed, that he had made no special
provision for Cyril, leaving him almost entirely dependent on his
elder brother, and that this omission was due to design, and not to
forgetfulness.

“I want you two to stick together,” said the old Marquis to his elder
son, “and therefore I have not left Cyril anything of his own. He has
your mother’s money, which will keep him from starvation, but for
anything more he must come to you. He may have some consideration for
your money, but he would be sure to speculate with anything that was
in his own power.”

Caerleon found this utterance hard to reconcile with the high opinion
his father had once expressed of Cyril’s shrewdness and worldly
wisdom, and he also resented the arrangement as unfair to Cyril. What
if he should desire to marry? Hence his eagerness to put matters on a
more satisfactory footing.

“I am afraid that things will have to remain as they are just now,” he
said; “but you may be sure that as soon as possible I shall do what I
can for you.”

“Thanks, awfully,” yawned Cyril. “But what about the present? When you
have succeeded in leaving yourself without any rest for the sole of
your foot except your London lodgings, what do you mean to do?”

“What is there to do?” asked Caerleon. “I can do no good in the Lords,
and I can’t stay in the Commons. They even take away from me the means
of living on my own place----”

“And cultivating the higher faculties of your tenants, and making
Llandiarmid a social centre for all the art and learning and
enlightenment of the county,” said Cyril. “Well, granted all this,
what then?”

“Let us go abroad,” said Caerleon, suddenly. “We haven’t had a prowl
together for years, and we can sink our titles and live on the cheap.”

“By all means,” said Cyril. “Let us leave our ungrateful country,
which presents our ancestors with dinner-services and swords of honour
and statues and plate, which we don’t want and mustn’t sell, and makes
us pay duty on them. The wide world is before us. Where shall we turn?
I say, let us go to Kashmir and shoot mountain sheep, or Polar bears,
or my lord the elephant, or anything we may come across.”

“Won’t do,” said Caerleon. “I should have you knocking up again, right
away from all medical help. It must be somewhere nearer home.”

“Oh, let’s go to Bournemouth or Torquay, then. So cheerful, and so
novel, and plenty of doctors.”

“No, I know. We will go to Hungary and look up Gyula Temeszy. He
promised us some wolf-hunting if ever we came to see him.”

“Very well. I haven’t met him since he came down to Eton to see his
old tutor again, and tipped me a sov. because I was your brother; but
I suppose he’ll know you all right, and accept your references for my
respectability. Going to write to him now?”

“Rather not. We will drop in on him and take him by surprise, and then
we can loiter on the way if we like, and not rush across Europe by
express. We will go quietly, and look out for adventures.”

“All right; then you intend to walk, I suppose? That means no
servants, of course.”

“We won’t make any cut-and-dried plan, but go as we choose, and I
don’t see why we shouldn’t tramp it occasionally, when you feel up to
it. I won’t take Jameson, certainly, and I don’t think you’ll want
your man. Let us take Harry Wright between us. He can turn his hand to
most things, and he’ll be useful if we are obliged to get horses. We
may have to ride to Temeszy’s place. I fancy there’s no railway near
it.”

“I’m agreeable,” said Cyril; “and we’ll stay away until we yearn for
home again, and feel able to say, ‘England, with all thy faults (and
you’ve a beastly lot of them), I love thee still.’ We don’t at
present.”

In this way the matter was settled, and a few days later the two
brothers left Llandiarmid for London, where Caerleon did his best to
make a satisfactory disposition of his rather complicated affairs, and
Cyril went round to say good-bye to his lady friends. Cyril was a very
popular young man in London society, where he had found a footing as
soon as he left Eton. He had slipped out of sight for a short time as
unpaid attaché in the British Embassy at Pavelsburg, but the Scythian
winter proved too severe for him, and he was invalided home, to take
up a pleasant existence about town, while assuring every one that he
was only waiting until a suitable post should offer itself for his
acceptance in some more genial clime. As a poverty-stricken younger
son, he was free from the pursuit of the match-making mothers and
daughters who had made Caerleon’s life such a burden to him. No one
wanted to marry him, and, fortunately for himself, he felt no
particular desire to marry any one. The part he had chosen in the
Human Comedy was that of the Laughing Philosopher, and he played it
with complete satisfaction to himself and to his world. He was a
universal favourite among the ladies, helping the elder ones to
arrange their cotillons and organise their charity bazaars, while for
the younger he designed costumes for fancy balls, and was always ready
to suggest new ideas for any scheme of pleasure. With men he was not
quite so popular. Those who did not know him well regarded him as
entirely a ladies’ man, while some few who had penetrated more deeply
into his character were a little afraid of him, and half suspected him
of hiding deep designs under a mask of frivolity. This was not the
case, however. Cyril was fully conscious of his own powers of mind,
but he had no scruple as to using them to smooth his path in society
until some more important object should come in his way.

Among the many houses at which he felt compelled to declare his plans
was Mrs Sadleir’s, and he breathed a sigh of relief when he found
himself approaching it at the end of an afternoon of polite
lamentation and playful scolding on the subject of his madness in
burying his social talents among unappreciative foreigners. Mrs
Sadleir was too much at home with him to waste time in unnecessary
_badinage_. If she had anything to say, she was wont to come to the
point at once, and this particular occasion proved to be no exception
to the rule.

“And so you are going to Hungary, Cyril?” she said, as he came into
the room, without offering him any conventional greeting. “Oh, don’t
accuse me of witchcraft. I have had Caerleon here already. He dropped
in between visits to his lawyer and his tailor, I believe, and he
struck me as not looking at all well, poor fellow! Now, I have only
one remark to make. Has it occurred to you that Hungary and Thracia
are not at all far apart?”

“No, indeed,” said Cyril, with a start. “I never thought of it. And
I’m certain it hasn’t struck Caerleon either--that is, unless you have
put it into his head.”

“My dear Cyril,” said Mrs Sadleir, severely, “I was not born
yesterday. Your poor dear father called and gave me such a scolding
last year for tempting Caerleon to throw his life away in Thracia that
I vowed I would never speak to either of you on the subject again, and
I haven’t mentioned it to Caerleon. I merely wish to know whether you
think there is any possibility that M. Drakovics’s scheme may be
carried out after all?”

“Well, I don’t know,” said Cyril, reflectively. “Caerleon is in rather
an ugly temper just now, for him, and I shouldn’t much wonder if he
did anything foolish. The Governor is gone, you see, and it was only
his expressed wish that kept him at home before.”

“Yes, I see,” returned Mrs Sadleir. “And what do you think of the
matter, Cyril? On which side would your influence be thrown?”

“Well,” said Cyril, “it seems to me that it wouldn’t be bad fun to try
the thing. I’m not up to larks much generally, but there’s a good deal
that’s new in this one. I wouldn’t go in for it myself on any account,
but I shouldn’t so much mind seeing Caerleon through. It would
certainly be a new sensation, one of the few still possible for most
ordinary mortals in this worn-out old world, to find oneself a king’s
brother--a royalty, in fact. One hears of a few fellows who have been
made kings in the Cannibal Islands, or Central Africa; but it’s not
often that one gets the chance of a properly organised European
kingdom. It’s not half a bad idea.”

“Then I am to understand,” said Mrs Sadleir, “that in case M.
Drakovics should under any circumstances renew his offer of the crown
(mind, I don’t in the least say he will, for his patriotic feelings
were very much wounded by Caerleon’s refusal), your valuable advice
and assistance would be cast on the side of the angels--that is, of
the luckless Thracians?”

“Well,” said Cyril again, “I think the angels would get it that time.
I should never think of letting Caerleon go into a job of the kind by
himself; but really and truly I don’t believe he would come to such
awful smash if I was there to back him up. I should make it my
business to play him off against Drakovics. It isn’t healthy for that
old man to get his own way to the extent he does. I am morally certain
that he would very soon begin to presume if he had only Caerleon to
deal with.”

“M. Drakovics ought to be very much obliged to you. I almost think it
is my duty to warn him of your intentions. You know that I correspond
with him occasionally? But really, Cyril, I scarcely think that it
would be possible for you and Caerleon to reign together in the
affectionate way you suggest, like the two kings of Barataria.”

“Or the Heavenly Twins,” said Cyril. “No, of course I mean the Siamese
Twins. I’m afraid the kingdom would hardly support the double honour.
No, Mrs Sadleir, my ambition is a much higher one. I mean to be the
power behind the throne.”

“But that is M. Drakovics’s destined place,” objected Mrs Sadleir.

“Then I shall be the man behind Drakovics,” said Cyril, calmly.

“I don’t know that I am justified in letting a firebrand like you
loose upon Thracia,” said Mrs Sadleir; “but M. Drakovics knows
something about your family, and if he chooses to take Caerleon with
such an encumbrance, it will be his own doing. You don’t know M.
Drakovics, do you, Cyril? Well, I will give you a letter of
introduction to him if you like--only to be delivered if you visit
Thracia, of course. When you have had a little time in Hungary, you
will be able to judge better of Caerleon’s state of mind, and to see
whether he is inclined to give the kingdom a trial. If so, extend your
travels into Thracia, and deliver the letter. Here it is. I have been
writing it this afternoon.”

“Rather previous, surely?” asked Cyril, with uplifted eyebrows; but he
took the letter readily enough, putting it into his safest pocket, and
it was packed carefully among his most treasured possessions when he
and his brother started on their journey, an event which was announced
to the world in the stereotyped terms by the ‘Morning Post’:--

“The Marquis of Caerleon and Lord Cyril Mortimer left England
yesterday afternoon for the Continent, with the intention of
undertaking an extended tour in Eastern Europe.”

Thanks to Caerleon’s foresight in not sending word to his friend of
their intended visit to Hungary, the tour was carried on in a very
leisurely fashion indeed, and the brothers lounged through Europe, to
use Cyril’s phrase, by unfrequented routes, spending now a day and now
a week in old half-deserted towns, left high and dry by the stream of
modern progress. There was nothing very inspiriting in such travelling
to men who were neither antiquarians nor photographic maniacs; but
Caerleon had a vague idea that he was improving his mind by visiting
the scenes made famous by old German history, while Cyril was as well
content to put in his time on the Continent in this way as in another.
The person who suffered most was Wright, the groom, who found himself
debarred in most places from communion with his kind owing to his
ignorance of the language, and he rejoiced unfeignedly when the course
of his masters’ wanderings brought them at last to Janoszwar, the town
that lay nearest to Count Gyula Temeszy’s castle.

Janoszwar was reached late one evening, and the travellers looked
about them in some dismay as they drove to the hotel which had been
recommended to them by some tourists they had met at Szegedin as the
only one at which it was possible for English people to stay. The town
was very small, and almost incredibly dirty, while, to put the
finishing touch to their discomfiture, they found on arriving that
they could not be received at the hotel. Its accommodation was
extremely limited at the best of times, and at present all the rooms
were in the occupation of the family of a Scythian officer of high
rank, who was visiting the town for the sake of the mineral springs in
its neighbourhood. This the landlord, a Hungarian who had spent
several years in America, explained volubly and sorrowfully, and
invited his intending guests to depart at once. But Cyril was very
tired, and Caerleon, fearing that he might be going to fall ill again,
tried to parley, pointing out that it was impossible for them to drive
on eighteen miles farther to the Château Temeszy that night, and
offering double the usual prices for the necessary accommodation.
Still the landlord remained firm (though with deepening regret, as
recognising that he had to deal with wealthy English _milords_),
declaring that the Herr Oberst had assured him he would leave
instantly if any other guests were admitted into the hotel. There
seemed to be nothing to do but to seek some other resting-place, and
Caerleon was just returning to the carriage in despair, when a
white-haired man came slowly down the outer staircase of the inn,
leaning heavily on a stick.

“Here is the gracious Herr Oberst himself!” said the landlord; and
Cyril, who had been acting as his brother’s interpreter for the worthy
man’s Hungarian German and even less intelligible English, prepared to
address the new-comer in Scythian, but this proved unnecessary.

“Sure I thought I heard English voices,” said the Herr Oberst, “and it
struck me that the landlord might be following too rigorously the
orders I gave um. The fact is, gentlemen, that most of the people rich
enough to travel in these parts are Austrian Jews, and me wife has a
great objection to Jews, so that the only way I could get her here was
by engaging to keep out of their reach. But I can assure you that I
had no desire to inconvenience English travellers---- You are English,
gentlemen?”

“We are,” said Caerleon. “I am Lord Caerleon, and this is my brother.”

“I am much honoured, me lord,” said the Herr Oberst, bowing deeply.
“Allow me to introjuce meself. Me name is O’Malachy--The O’Malachy, at
your servus, the representatuv of the ancient kings of Leitrum,--and I
will be much displeased if you go a step farther to-night. Sure me son
has not yet arrived, and what does me daughter want with two rooms?
We’ll just tell some of the landlord’s fellers to bundle our traps out
of the rooms, and you will have them.”

“Pray don’t disturb Miss O’Malachy,” entreated Caerleon in
consternation. “I could not think of turning a lady out of her room.
If you would be so kind as to allow my brother to occupy the room your
son is not using, my servant and I will find quarters elsewhere.”

“Not a bit of ut!” cried the O’Malachy. “Would I turn you away when
there are empty rooms waiting for you? Come, young gentleman,” turning
to Cyril, “just make your brother understand that if he won’t stay
he’ll oblige us all to turn out and leave the place free for um. Is
not a whole hotel big enough for two families?”

“You are very kind,” began Caerleon. But the O’Malachy was in full
retreat up the stairs again. At the top he turned and paused for a
moment, the lamplight shining on his bronzed face and white moustache
and imperial.

“A good night to you!” he called out. “I’ll be pleased to resoom your
acquaintance in the morning, me lord. Now, you don’t leave this
hotel--at least, it’ll be the worse for ut if you do!”

After this hospitable intimation, the travellers held back no longer,
and speedily found themselves established in most comfortable
quarters, for the landlord was delighted not to be compelled to turn
away such promising guests from his door. Nothing was too good for
them, and they went to bed well content, after commissioning the host
to procure horses in the morning for their intended ride to Château
Temeszy.

In the morning, then, they started on this last stage of their
journey, leaving Wright at the hotel with the luggage until it could
be sent for, and bidding a grateful farewell to the O’Malachy, who was
smoking a wonderful cigar on the balcony over the door. The ride was a
long one, and the roads very bad, but Caerleon had brought a map of
the district in his pocket, and with its aid they succeeded in finding
their way. But when they reached the castle disappointment awaited
them. Everything was shut up, and the only person in authority was an
aged steward, who informed them that Count Temeszy Gyula (putting the
surname first in true Hungarian fashion) was in Paris, and the rest of
the family at Vienna. The English gentlemen might inspect the castle
and the stables while a meal was being prepared for them, the best
possible at such short notice, but the old man could not venture to
invite them to take up their quarters in the house without
instructions from his master. It was also possible that the Count’s
foresters might organise a wolf-hunt one day for the strangers’
benefit, but it would still be best for them to return to Janoszwar
until Count Gyula could be communicated with.

“I didn’t know that we were such suspicious-looking characters,”
grumbled Cyril after lunch, as they mounted their horses to retrace
their weary way.

“And we shall have to quarter ourselves upon the O’Malachy again,”
responded Caerleon. “That’s what I hate. It looks such a shabby thing
to do.”

But when they reached the hotel they found their rooms ready, and the
landlord and Wright expecting them.

“The old gentleman up-stairs tell us to look out for you, my lord,”
said the latter to his master. “’E said as you’d most likely be comin’
back about this time.”

“Did the O’Malachy know that Temeszy was away when we started?” asked
Caerleon of Cyril as they sat at dinner.

“Don’t know,” said Cyril. “Perhaps he thought you looked as though a
ride would do you good. He seems a decent enough old chap, anyhow. His
wife is a Scythian lady, Wright tells me.”

“Oh, by the bye, that reminds me,” said Caerleon; “we must call
to-morrow. I’ll tell Wright to hunt up our visiting-cards, and we’ll
do the thing in style.”



But Caerleon and his brother were not destined to make the
acquaintance of the O’Malachy’s family in the orthodox fashion they
had contemplated, for in the morning, as they breakfasted, they heard
excited voices outside their door. They had just decided that it would
not do to pay their call until the afternoon, and that the morning
might profitably be spent in climbing one of the mountains which
surrounded the little town, and Cyril, who was not devoid of
curiosity, thought that the present would be a good opportunity of
consulting the landlord as to the best way to take. Opening the door,
therefore, he stepped out casually, to find the landlord, his wife,
and the servants engaged in an animated colloquy with a very handsome
lady in an elaborate dressing-gown, who was standing on the outer
stair and talking French and German alternately.

“You tell me that she is gone?” she was saying. “But no! I say it is
impossible. She would be terrified.”

“There is no danger, madame,” suggested the landlord, soothingly; “and
no doubt the gracious young lady knows this.”

“No danger!” cried madame, vivaciously. “When there may at this very
moment be wolves, brigands, avalanches, menacing my child? What though
she does think she is safe? Her very confidence may be her greatest
danger. She must be followed--rescued--immediately.”

“I assure you, madame, that mademoiselle is perfectly safe,” repeated
the landlord. Madame wrung her hands.

“My excellent man, how can you understand a mother’s feelings? I tell
you my daughter must be rescued. If there is no one else, I will go
myself, although I have never walked a mile in my life, and the Herr
Oberst is quite helpless with his gout.”

“It is unnecessary for madame to incommode herself,” said the
landlord, sulkily. “If she insists upon it, two of the men shall go,
although it is absolutely impossible to spare them from the farm.”

“Naturally I insist upon it,” returned madame. “What is your farm to
me? The men shall be paid. Send them off at once. If only there was
some friend near who might help us!”

“Pardon me, madame,” said Caerleon, coming forward. He had been
listening in bewilderment to the colloquy over Cyril’s shoulder, and
picking up snatches of what was said. “I think I have the honour of
addressing Madame O’Malachy? Can my brother and I be of any assistance
to you?”

“My dear sir,” said madame, with a charming smile, “I am ashamed to
trouble you, but you would confer the greatest possible favour on my
husband and myself if you would be so good as to help us. My daughter
is a headstrong child, and she has started off early this morning to
visit the sick daughter of a huntsman in the mountains. To ask you to
give up your own concerns on account of the whim of a foolish girl is
too bad, and yet I have no one else to send.”

“We shall be delighted if we can be of any use,” said Caerleon. “Do I
understand that you would like us to meet Mademoiselle O’Malachy and
bring her home? We were intending to spend the morning in the
mountains, so that we shall not even need to change our plans.”

“Monsieur is too good,” returned Madame O’Malachy. “I am desolated to
be obliged to incommode him in this way, but my daughter has always
lived in the country with her godmother, and knows nothing of the
dangers which beset a young girl alone.”

“Still, madame,” put in Cyril, “one can have nothing but admiration
for the philanthropic instinct which has prompted mademoiselle to set
out by herself to relieve a sick girl.”

“You are too amiable, monsieur,” said madame. “My daughter is
_dévote_, what you call ‘religious,’ and this characteristic makes a
great deal of trouble for herself and for other people. But behold me
only half-dressed!” and madame became suddenly aware that her abundant
dark hair, scarcely yet tinged with grey, was coiled negligently in a
loose knot on her neck; “pardon me, gentlemen, and remember my
anxiety. Pray scold my daughter well when you find her. _Au revoir_!”
and she retreated up-stairs.

“Pleasant woman, Madame O’Malachy,” Caerleon remarked to Cyril when
they had obtained directions from the landlord as to the exact
situation of the huntsman’s cottage, and had started on their walk,
“but I can’t quite make her out.”

“Can’t you?” said Cyril. “I can. I’ve met too many of her before.”

“She seemed so very anxious and excited,” went on Caerleon, pursuing
his own train of thought, “and yet she doesn’t appear to care much for
her daughter.”

“Not a scrap!” said Cyril, emphatically. “Rather hates her than
otherwise, I should say, from her tone. Fact is, either she
particularly wants the hotel to herself to-day, or she wishes to throw
one of us, presumably you, into the society of the young lady. Well,
forewarned is forearmed.”

“But it couldn’t have been all humbug. She wouldn’t have shown up in
that costume if she hadn’t been really anxious.”

“That costume!” said Cyril. “I’m as sure as that I’m here that every
hair of that coil was arranged with an eye to its effect on us.”

“But she came down in a dressing-gown.”

“Yes, but what kind of dressing-gown? When a Scythian lady, and still
more a Sarmatian,--and there’s a good deal more of the Sarmatian than
the Scythian about our fair friend,--shows up in a dressing-gown, you
may be pretty sure that it’s a court-dress rather differently made.
Madame knows how to dress her part to the letter.”

Caerleon only grunted in answer to this, and they went on in silence
for some time. The path was steep, and Cyril found that climbing took
all the breath he had to spare.

“How much farther now to the top?” he asked at last, when they reached
a sheltered nook in the hillside where a few pine-trees nestled.

“A good two miles yet,” said Caerleon, looking back on the way they
had come.

“Then I give in,” said Cyril, resolutely, sitting down on a rock. “I’m
about done, and I shall leave the further chase of this young person
to you. Ten to one but she’ll come down some other way when you are
gone on to the hut, and I shall get hold of her first and give her a
good lecture.”

“Lecture a strange girl?”

“Rather! I shall say, ‘My young friend, to try and thrust your
schoolmistress’s views on papa and mamma is not religion, but
self-will, and to emphasise them by running off like this is not
heroic, but bad-tempered.’”

“All right; I wish you luck. If mademoiselle has a tongue anything
like her mamma’s, you will be pretty well pulverised by the time I
come back. Well, I’m off. See you again in an hour.”



 CHAPTER III.
 “IF THOU WERT KIND AS THOU ART FAIR----”

Leaving his brother to contemplate the beauties of nature under the
shade of the pines, Caerleon walked on, finding his progress much more
rapid than it had been when Cyril was his companion, and arrived
before very long at a point from which he was able to descry the
huntsman’s cottage, built under the shelter of a towering crag.
Pausing for a moment to determine which of two paths now before him
would be more likely to lead him directly towards it, he heard
footsteps above him, and presently a lady came in sight round a
turning in the right-hand path. Tall and slight, she wore a plain
tweed dress and felt hat, and the trim neatness of her appearance
struck Caerleon as most refreshing after the alternate dowdiness and
magnificence of many of the Austrian belles he had come across. It did
not occur to him at first that this stately lady could be the
hoydenish little Scythian schoolgirl of whom he was in search, but
presently it struck him as unlikely that two young ladies would be
wandering alone in the mountains on the same day, and he advanced to
meet the girl.

“Excuse me,” he said, taking off his cap, “but have I the honour of
speaking to Mdlle. O’Malachy?”

“I am Nadia O’Malachy,” she replied, looking at him with an expression
in which he read surprise not wholly unmixed with resentment. He
noticed that her eyes were large and grey, and that her wavy dark hair
grew low on her brow. She spoke English readily, but with a slight
foreign accent.

“I must ask you to forgive me for stopping you in this way,” said
Caerleon, wishing to disarm her evident suspicion, “but the fact is
that Madame O’Malachy was very anxious about you, and I promised to
see you safely back to the hotel.”

“My mother sent you after me?” she said quickly. “It was quite
unnecessary. Pray continue your walk.”

“The object of my walk is achieved,” said Caerleon. “I have only to
return.”

“I have told you,” said the girl, with angry dignity, “that I do not
desire your company.”

Caerleon laughed inwardly. The walk seemed to promise some amusement.
“And I regret, mademoiselle,” he said, “that having promised to see
you home, I must do it. I will walk behind you, if you prefer it.”

“Oh no,” said Mdlle. O’Malachy, pointing to the path beside her with
an imperious gesture, “I do not wish to insult you. You consider
yourself a gentleman. I took you for one.”

She walked on by his side, apparently expecting a retort, but he
maintained a resolute silence, although secretly convulsed by the
contrast between the intention she expressed and the words which
followed it. Suddenly, to his surprise, she turned to him.

“I beg your pardon. I ought not to have said that. I was wrong.”

“Pray don’t apologise,” said Caerleon. “I am here only as your
mother’s messenger, and I quite understand that you find my presence
disagreeable, and that I can’t expect you to consider my feelings.”

“I do not consider them,” she retorted. “I apologised because it was
right to do it when I had been rude.”

“As a punishment to yourself?” asked Caerleon, much amused.

“Certainly not,” she answered. “As a means of self-discipline.”

“I see--and a punishment to me?”

“By no means. Why should I punish you? What you do has no interest for
me. Oh, I beg your pardon. That was rude again.”

“Not at all. But I am interested in your self-disciplinary system. Do
you mind explaining it a little more fully? I think I ought to hear
something about it, you know, since I have to suffer from it.”

“Now she’s going to flare up again,” he thought, as his companion
turned and glared at him, but the anger faded out of her eyes as he
looked at her in calm expectancy.

“It is a just rebuke,” she said, in a low voice. “I will tell you,
although I do not care to speak of myself, but it will be a good
punishment for me, as you say. My godmother, with whom I have always
lived until lately, used to encourage me to self-denial when I was a
child, saying that one could never rise to the height of a great
renunciation unless one trained oneself for it by means of constant
smaller ones. As I grew older, the principle seemed to me so excellent
that I have followed it in other things.--When you were little, did
you never hold your hand in the flame of the candle to try and find
out whether you could be a martyr?”

“No,” said Caerleon; “I have often done it, but I am afraid it was
because I was told not to.”

“Well, I have done it--often. And so with other things. I discovered
in myself a strong tendency to insincerity, and fearing to yield to
it, I made it a duty never to let politeness or the desire to please
keep me from saying what I thought. How dreadful it would be to fail
in truthfulness at some great crisis on account of a long course of
petty hypocrisies! But I found that this made me appear rude, and I am
very proud, and did not like to confess myself in the wrong. So here
was another opportunity for self-discipline, and I resolved to let
nothing prevent me from instantly asking pardon of any one I had
offended in this way.”

“I see--without regard to that person’s feelings. And may I ask
whether Madame--your godmother--pursues the same system?”

“My godmother is Princess Soudaroff. No; she does not need it, she is
too good. Her life is given up to working among the poor. Her house is
an asylum for the wretched. She loves every one, is kind to every
one.”

“And she has impressed her views upon you, has she? Did I understand
you to say that she brought you up?”

“Yes; she pitied the life I led with my parents, and she adopted me as
her own. She gave me everything I could need, and provided excellent
teachers for me; but, best of all, she allowed me to help her in her
work. Sometimes we lived at her country house, and worked among the
peasants, and sometimes in Pavelsburg, and then our work lay among the
poorest of the poor. Oh, what a life it was! She cares for body and
soul alike. The hospitals and prisons are visited, Bible-classes,
sewing-classes held; drunkards reached, young girls away from home
befriended and taken care of. To be in trouble or in loneliness--that
gives you claim enough upon my Princess.”

“I didn’t know that you went in for all this kind of thing in
Scythia,” said Caerleon. “It’s not quite one’s idea of the Greek
Church, somehow.”

“But we are Evangelicals; we are separated,” said the girl, eagerly.
“They say we are heretics,--Non-conformists, I think you call it in
England,--and they persecute us. My godmother has often been in danger
of exile, but something has always happened to save her. She has no
fear at all.”

“Only for you, perhaps. I suppose the reason you are here is that she
sent you away when danger threatened. You didn’t leave her, I am
sure.”

“Not of my own free will, never! My mother sent for me; but not on
account of any danger. She gave me up willingly enough when I was of
no use to her, but now she thinks that I am old enough to be of
assistance. Assistance to her!”

“I daresay it is better for you, after all, than your life with
Princess Soudaroff,” said Caerleon, judicially. “We can’t always have
what we like, you know, and it doesn’t look well for a girl to be
unable to get on with her mother.”

“How dare you say that?” she cried, turning upon him again. “What do
you know of my circumstances? Do you think I have not tried, longed,
_agonised_ to honour my father and mother? but I will not help them in
their work. Don’t talk to me of the look of things until you know
something about them. Oh, I beg----”

“Excuse me,” said Caerleon, quickly, “but if you have to apologise to
me again, do you mind turning your head away, and doing it in a
whisper? The effect on yourself would be the same, and it would spare
my feelings.”

“You are a scoffer!” said Mdlle. O’Malachy, sharply.

“I hope not; but I am afraid that your apologies will get on my
nerves.”

“Your nerves?” she looked him up and down, and then laughed. “You
don’t suffer from nerves?”

“You don’t know how wearing it is to be always looking out for
apologies--and getting them.”

“But why should it affect your nerves? You are English, you do not
drink absinthe?” She was still looking him over in the light of a
curious medical problem, and her tone was full of interest.

“I hope you don’t intend to catechise me upon my private vices,” said
Caerleon, hastily. “What I said was only in joke. I don’t know what
nerves are.”

“A joke?” Evidently it had not occurred to her that any one could take
such a liberty on such short acquaintance. “But I do not even know
your name, sir.”

“And is it necessary to know a man’s name before he may make a joke in
conversation with you?” asked Caerleon, laughing, but she did not hear
him.

“I know you must be one of the English noblemen who are staying in the
hotel, and you cannot be the brother--he is small and delicate, my
father said so. You are, then, the pretender?”

“The pretender?” asked Caerleon in astonishment.

“I beg your pardon--I should have remembered that the word has a worse
meaning in English than in French. The aspirant, I should say--the
aspirant to the throne of Thracia?”

“Well, I was, a year ago; or rather the throne of Thracia aspired to
me. I refused it, you know.”

“I remember; I was sorry. But you are going to accept it now?”

“Now? I don’t know what you mean. I haven’t a thought of it.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Here? in Hungary? To visit my friend, Count Temeszy.”

“But you are on your way to Thracia?”

“I assure you I am not. What can have put it into your head?”

“Every one thinks so. My parents quite believe it--and so do others.”

“Then they are mistaken, that’s all.”

“But why do you stay here, since Count Temeszy is away? You leave
soon?”

“Not that I know of. Why should we?”

“Sir,” her voice was very earnest, “will you be angry if I give you a
warning? If there is no special reason to keep you here, do not
remain. My father is not--is not a good friend for young men.”

“A card-sharper, of course!” was the thought that darted through
Caerleon’s mind. “It’s good of her to tell me, poor girl!” Aloud he
added, “Thank you for your warning, mademoiselle. Perhaps you would be
so kind as to mention to your father that I don’t carry the revenues
of Thracia about with me.”

“You won’t understand,” cried the girl, passionately; “it is nothing
about money. Consider what political disturbances your acceptance of
the crown might bring about, and that there are those who will suspect
you of desiring to provoke them so long as you remain in this part of
Europe, however innocent your motives may be. I remember that when the
crown was offered to you last year, the affair was much discussed in
our circle. I myself heard Count Wratisloff say in my godmother’s
drawing-room, ‘Here is the peace of Europe hanging upon the caprice of
a boy!’”

“I am much obliged to him,” said Caerleon, grimly.

“Now I have offended you again. I am sorry. Count Wratisloff is a man
who speaks a little emphatically sometimes, but he had no intention of
being unkind. He prayed for you himself at our prayer-meeting the next
day.”

“Very kind of him, I’m sure. I suppose he prayed that I might refuse
the crown?”

“Oh no. How could he pretend to regulate the course of public affairs?
If the time is come for a great European war, who can prevent it? He
prayed that all might happen for the best.”

“Then you and your circle are fatalists, mademoiselle?”

“Surely not. ‘What will be, will be’--that is what the fatalists say,
is it not?” she looked at him inquiringly. “But what we say is, ‘What
will be, must be for the best.’”

“But why pray about it, then?” asked Caerleon, interested by this
frank confession of faith.

“That we may be brought to believe that it is so when we cannot see
it,” she answered, in a low voice; and although Caerleon would
willingly have pursued the subject, a turn in the path here brought
them in sight of Cyril, and there was no further opportunity for
private conversation. During the rest of the way home they spoke
chiefly of temperance work, Mdlle. O’Malachy recounting incidents from
her experience among Princess Soudaroff’s _protégés_, and Caerleon
replying with reminiscences of the various abortive attempts at
restrictive legislation which he had supported in his House of Commons
days, while Cyril listened and smiled with lofty contempt.

“Here we are,” he said at last, with undisguised relief, “and here is
your father coming to meet us, mademoiselle.”

“Naughty girl!” cried the O’Malachy, shaking his fist playfully at his
daughter. “I hope you’ve given trouble enough to us and to these
gentlemen? There’s your mother waiting for you on the balcony. Go and
settle ut with her yourself. Me lord, I can’t tell you how grateful I
am to you and to Lord Cyrul for your goodnuss to-day. Me wife is very
nervous, but you have been most kind in relieving her anxiety. May I
hope that you will give us the pleasure of your company at dinner this
evening? Madame O’Malachy will like to thank you herself.”

“You are very kind,” said Caerleon. “We were hoping to call this
afternoon----”

“Call!” cried the O’Malachy in high contempt. “Would you talk about
calling in this wildernuss? Come to-night, and we’ll be delightud to
see you.”

The invitation was accepted with suitable gratitude, and the O’Malachy
returned to his wife and daughter, while Caerleon and Cyril sought
their own quarters. Lunch was rather a silent ceremony, for Caerleon
felt an unaccountable aversion to detailing to his brother his
conversation with Nadia O’Malachy.

“Not going out again, surely?” said Cyril, when the meal was over, and
Caerleon took up his cap from the window-seat.

“I want a smoke.”

“Well, there are no ladies here, thank goodness! Sit down and smoke
like a reasonable human being.”

“No, I want a walk.”

“I should have thought you had had walking enough for one day,”
grumbled Cyril, but Caerleon was already outside, and he was obliged
to address the remainder of his complaint to his cigar. “He walks with
her all morning, does he? and then goes out again to think about her?
I ought to have foreseen this. That’s the drawback of the kind of life
we’ve been leading for a man of Caerleon’s stamp. He’s scarcely spoken
to a lady since the Governor died, and now the first decent-looking
girl he meets bowls him over at once. What a blessing it is that I’m
not susceptible!”

Caerleon’s walk lasted for over two hours, and Cyril, with a telegram
in his hand, was awaiting him impatiently when he returned.

“Back at last!” he said. “Do see what this is. It may be to summon us
home about something, or it may be from Temeszy.”

“It is from Temeszy,” said Caerleon, opening it. “The steward must
have telegraphed to him yesterday as soon as we were gone. He has
business in Paris which will keep him there for more than a month, but
he wants us to take up our quarters at the castle, ride his horses,
hunt his wolves, or whatever else in the way of game there may be
about, and so on--in fact, use the house as if it was our own.”

“Well, what do you think?” asked Cyril.

“If you ask me,” said Caerleon, slowly, “I think that we might as well
have stayed at Llandiarmid as bury ourselves out there without Temeszy
or any one to speak to.”

“I see,” said Cyril. “You mean to stay on here for the present, then?”

“Yes, I think we might.”

“But you forget that Mr or M. O’Malachy is coming back. What is one to
call a fellow who has an Irish father and a Sarmatian mother, and has
been brought up abroad? But anyhow, he is coming, and we have got his
room.”

“I forgot that,” said Caerleon, rather crestfallen. “We must find out
to-night when he is expected. There’s no need to leave until he
comes.”

Once more Cyril drew dark inferences from his brother’s words, but he
made no remark, and at the appointed time they presented themselves in
Madame O’Malachy’s _salon_, where a most cordial welcome awaited them.
They were the only guests, and it fell naturally to Caerleon to escort
his hostess to the table and to sit beside her, a privilege for which
he was not as grateful as he ought to have been, for he could hear
Cyril and Nadia wrangling busily throughout the meal. Guessing that
his brother was treating Mdlle. O’Malachy to a little _fin de siècle_
philosophy, he had no difficulty in imagining the light in which it
would strike her, and his anxiety to hear what she was saying in reply
distracted his attention a little from her mother, who conversed
vivaciously in French, addressing him as “_mon cher marquis_” in a way
that reminded him vaguely of the Molière he had read when at school.

“I am longing that you should know my son,” she observed at last. “He
is of the same age as your brother, and I have a presentiment that
they will be friends. Louis is a true enthusiast, and it is this trait
in his character that has caused us no small anxiety. My husband has
perhaps told you that until a short time ago the unfortunate boy was
an officer in the Scythian army. Would you believe that he has
resigned his post in order to join the Thracian revolutionists?”

“Indeed?” said Caerleon, much interested; “and has he joined them
yet?”

“No, but he intends to do so as soon as possible. Imagine his throwing
away all his prospects like this! It is madness.”

“Come now, Barbara,” put in the O’Malachy from his end of the table.
“Louie is a very decent feller, and he may make his way yet. You
wouldn’t believe that I meself began life as a leader in the Sarmatian
insurrection, would you?” he asked, turning to the young men with an
air of extreme innocence.

“No, indeed,” said Caerleon, dimly conscious that Cyril started, and
pursed up his lips as though to whistle.

“It’s true, then. When I left Ireland as a young man, after a little
difficulty with the Government connectud with the troubles of ’48, I
took, though it is not I should say ut, a prominent part in the
Sarmatian affair, and yet here I am now, a colonel in the Scythian
army. I learned wisdom, you see. The Scythians were not so bad as I
had thought them, and the Sarmatians were a good deal worse, and so ut
happened that I changed sides, perhaps with a little persuasion of
another kind addud on,” and he glanced waggishly at his wife, who
laughed rather nervously, and remarked that the candles were burning
low.

“But have you never visited England since 1848?” asked Caerleon.
“Surely there can be no danger of your being arrested now? I hope I
may have the pleasure of welcoming you at Llandiarmid yet.”

“Yes,” said Cyril, “if you began as a Sarmatian revolutionist and end
as a Scythian officer, we may hope to see you in a comfortable berth
in the Constabulary yet, O’Malachy.”

“Ah, but there’s another businuss since ’48,” said the O’Malachy. “You
know Balster, the feller that was made Irush Secretary two or three
years ago? When I heard he had got the Irush Offus, I sent um a
present of a box of cigars, the brand I always smoke meself--he had
admired them greatly when I met um at Ludwigsbad some time before.
Well, would you believe ut? Sure ’twas a mighty queer piece of
work--the police opened the box when ut got to Doblun, and they found
dynamite in ut. So then they accused me of trying to blow the man up,
and I daren’t set foot in me native land. I was sorry, of course; but
how was ut me fault?”

“Do you mean to imply,” asked Caerleon, “that the police took the
cigars out and put dynamite instead of them?”

“All I can say,” replied the O’Malachy, spreading out his hands with a
deprecatory gesture, “is that I sent cigars, and that the police
fellers found an infernal machine. You must make what you can of ut.”

“Oh, don’t harp on the subject, Caerleon,” put in Cyril, seeing that
his brother was not satisfied. “Can’t you see that it’s very naturally
disagreeable to the O’Malachy? When do you expect your son,
O’Malachy?”

“In two or three days, Lord Cyrul. I am greatly pleased that he will
be so fortunate as to meet you here.”

“Oh, but we shan’t be here,” said Caerleon, seizing his opportunity.
“We must not forget that we are trespassing on your kindness all the
time we occupy these rooms. We will clear out to-morrow, if you like.”

“That you won’t,” returned the O’Malachy. “Why, when I was hearing in
the town yesterday that your friend was in Parrus, and knew that you
would be wanting to come back here, I went straight to the landlord,
and got um to clear out another room for Louie, without any fuss at
all. So now the place is plenty big for both of us, and I will think
that you are offended with us if you turn out before you have seen all
you want of the neighbourhood.”

“Since you are so kind,” said Caerleon, “we will certainly stay on for
the present.” Here a frown from Cyril reached him, and an almost
imperceptible “Don’t!” and he added rather lamely, “That is, if you
are quite sure we are not inconveniencing you--or Miss O’Malachy.”

“My dear marquis,” said Madame O’Malachy, “let me assure you that your
society is already doing my husband far more good than the waters
here. As for my daughter, how should you inconvenience her?”

“Oh no; why should I need two rooms?” asked Nadia, gloomily, and
Caerleon could get nothing but monosyllables from her during the
remainder of the evening. When the guests were gone, however, she
turned to her parents as she was leaving the room.

“You may be interested to know,” she said in her clear hard voice,
“that Lord Caerleon has no intention of going to Thracia, nor of
accepting the Thracian crown. I am not in the habit of helping you in
your work, but I thought that this piece of news might possibly lead
you to alter your plans a little.”

“Many thanks, my daughter,” said Madame O’Malachy, while her husband
laughed softly. “In what way are our plans to be changed?”

“Surely you can leave Lord Caerleon and his brother alone, now that
you know this, and not seek to involve them in any danger?”

“Mademoiselle,” said the O’Malachy, rising and standing with his back
to the stove, “may I remind you of one small fact? We have not, as you
remark, the honour of your assistance, and I regret to say that this
necessarily deprives you of any pleasure you might derive from sharing
our confidence. Whatever plans your mother and I may have in view, we
do not feel inclined to risk their reaching Lord Caerleon by
communicating them to you.”

Nadia’s face grew crimson, but she threw her head back proudly as she
bade her parents good-night and left the room.

“There is a little fool for you!” said Madame O’Malachy with lazy
contempt.



“What did you mean by making signs to me at dinner?” asked Caerleon of
Cyril, when they were alone together in his room.

“Any one with ordinary common-sense would have seen that I meant you
not to accept the O’Malachy’s offer, but to go on at once, away from
here.”

“But why in the world? You said nothing of this before.”

“Because I did not know who he was, but at dinner it suddenly flashed
upon me that he was the hero of a story which I heard when I was in
Pavelsburg. Old Dostelsky, who helped in putting down the Sarmatian
rebellion, told it to two or three of us in the smoking-room one
night.”

“Something spicy, I suppose? Come, let us hear it.”

“Well, it seems that the O’Malachy was, as he said, one of the
Sarmatian leaders, and he gave the Scythians so much trouble that they
were ready to go any lengths to get rid of him. They tried fair means
and they tried foul--open attacks, and bribes, and attempted
assassination, but it was all no good. At last--I don’t know whether
it was a lucky guess, or whether something showed them his weak
point--they thought of working upon his susceptibilities. They had a
decoy handy, Mdlle. Barbara Platovska, a young Sarmatian lady, brought
up in Paris and trained in Scythia. She had done a good deal of work
for them already, and she was as plucky and as wily as she was
beautiful, so that she was a valuable instrument. Well, they sent her
off with a free hand, and a pardon for O’Malachy, signed by the
Emperor, in her pocket, together with a promise of employment for him
in the Scythian army. Mdlle. Barbara lays her plans, and presently,
travelling by night through a forest where the rebels had one of their
camps, she falls into their hands. There was some talk of shooting her
at once, for her face was unmistakable, and they all knew what harm
she had done to their cause; but she singled out O’Malachy, and threw
herself at his feet and demanded his protection. You wouldn’t find
many Irishmen who would refuse to help a pretty woman in such a
plight, and O’Malachy pulled her behind him, and told the rest to come
on. They nearly got to blows, but at last they agreed to give the girl
some form of trial, and they carried her off to their headquarters.
Naturally O’Malachy kept close to her on the way, and she used her
opportunity so well that before the journey was over he was head and
ears in love with her. He soon discovered that the rest were
determined to kill her, and the very first night that he had the
chance he helped her to escape from the ruined tower in which she was
imprisoned, and escorted her back to her friends. Up to that time he
fully meant to go back and give himself up to his comrades, but now
was Mdlle. Barbara’s chance. She never let him alone on that journey,
until she had got him to promise to come in with her and surrender. He
must have been pretty sick of the Sarmatians altogether--they were
rather a shady lot, always quarrelling and fighting among
themselves--and there was nothing to be made out of their job, and he
was in love as well, and he thought she loved him, so he consented. He
got his pardon and his post in the Scythian army, and he meant to get
Mdlle. Barbara. But when he went to claim her she met him as she had
done the other men she had betrayed, turned her back on him and told
him that no traitor should ever be her husband. But she had tried that
trick once too often. He had her against the wall with a revolver to
her head in an instant, and then and there he made her promise to
marry him. And that wasn’t all, either. He took her to the table,
still with the revolver pointed at her, and made her write out and
sign an account of the scene. Then he let her go, but she married him
the next week. You see he could have ruined her with that paper. If it
had once come to her employers’ ears that she had lost her nerve, and
yielded to threats, they would never have made use of her again.
Perhaps, too, the O’Malachy’s style of wooing pleased her, or she may
have had a soft place for him in her heart all along. At any rate,
they married, and went into partnership, and you see what a happy
couple they are.”

“But how did the story get about?” asked Caerleon. “Surely it was to
the interest of both of them to keep it quiet.”

“Oh, the O’Malachy let it out one evening when he had been
dining--told it as rather a fine thing, I believe.”

“The old beast! to go and give his wife away like that,” remarked
Caerleon, with righteous indignation.

“Well, after all, she doesn’t show up so very much worse than he does
in the matter,” said Cyril. “They are rather a well-matched pair. You
know what their present manner of life is?”

“Oh yes, I know. Card-sharping.”

Cyril stared. “Not unless you are speaking in parables, and alluding
to political cards. They are spies of the Scythian Government, _agents
provocateurs_, and so on. The O’Malachy is supposed to be travelling
for his health, a pursuit which enables him to be pretty constantly on
the move, and turn up just where his presence is required. Oh, he’s a
fine old fellow! Wasn’t that rich about Balster and the infernal
machine? It was an awful sell for him, though. Sorry! of course he was
sorry--that Balster didn’t open it himself, and get blown up. That’s
one of his little ways of employing his leisure hours, and the whole
family are really otherwise engaged than in health-seeking, very much
so.”

“Not all of them. Miss O’Malachy is not.”

“Well, you certainly know more about her than I do, so I can’t say.
You have a queer taste in fathers-in-law, though.”

“Don’t talk rot,” said Caerleon, indignantly. “I won’t hear the girl
slandered, but I can’t even make out whether I like her or not. She
says the most appalling things in the coolest voice, and then
apologises.”

“Well,” said Cyril, getting near the door, “when a man goes out to
think about a girl, and wastes two hours of his valuable time in
trying to decide whether he likes her or not, and then comes back
without having found out, it looks as though he was pretty far gone
already.” And Cyril quitted the room in a hurry, dexterously avoiding
the boot which Caerleon hurled at him.



 CHAPTER IV.
 A CANDID FRIENDSHIP.

In the morning no reference was made to the conversation of the
evening before on the part either of Caerleon or of Cyril, although
the latter found an ominous confirmation of his suspicions in the fact
that his brother did not offer to change his plans in any way as a
consequence of what had been said.

“He must really be smitten with the girl,” argued Cyril, mentally,
“for if he wasn’t, he would take fright at the hints I gave him, and
want to part company with these people at once. Well, it’s his own
look-out. He ought to marry, and it’s very evident that he’ll marry
whom he likes. This girl is not bad-looking, and it’s a strong point
in her favour that the O’Malachy daren’t set foot on English ground. A
decent veil can be drawn over his existence so long as he keeps out of
the way. At any rate, it’s not my business to make a fuss, and if I
did, Caerleon would probably go and propose at once. I’m glad I said
what I did, for now he knows what he’s about. He can’t say that he’s
been let in for anything blindfold, but I mean to be satisfied with
that.”

Having decided on adopting the attitude of benevolent neutrality,
Cyril accompanied his brother without a murmur to the post-office, and
the telegram refusing Count Temeszy’s invitation was duly despatched.
Returning towards the inn, they took their way through the Kurgarten,
a desolate piece of ground adorned with a few straggling bushes and a
good many dilapidated plaster statues, and here they found the
O’Malachy family, occupying three of the paintless and rickety chairs
arranged in a circle round the kiosk in which the waters of the
medicinal spring were dispensed by an unattractive Hebe. The O’Malachy
was sipping his morning tumbler of greenish and muddy-looking fluid
with the air of a martyr, while his wife, in the most coquettish of
Parisian morning costumes and hats, was communicating to her daughter
her impressions of the few other health-seekers who patronised the
Janoszwar waters, the majority of whom were the Hungarian Jewesses she
regarded with such strong aversion. Nadia sat bolt upright beside her,
silent and rebellious, her face, with its expression of enforced
resignation, protesting, as clearly as her attitude, against her
mother’s discourse and the delight she took in it. The contrast
between the two figures--the one so markedly rigid and repellent, the
other all that was graceful, pliant, and pleasing--was a sharp one,
and Caerleon, as he approached, found himself wishing emphatically,
although in silence, that Nadia could manage to avoid the
contamination of her surroundings without holding herself so
aggressively aloof from them. Cyril was less reticent.

“Good gracious! how sulky that girl looks,” he remarked. “Wretchedly
bad form to listen to her mother’s talk with that face on. Such talk
as it is, too! I wish we had Madame O’Malachy at some of the houses
one goes to in London. Her conversational powers are lost out here.”

“Perhaps Miss O’Malachy finds the talk less edifying than it is
lively,” said Caerleon, absently, trying to put himself in Nadia’s
place, and to realise the disgust which the stream of scandal and
innuendo in which her mother delighted must arouse in her.

“Don’t be a prig,” was the sole answer vouchsafed by Cyril; and they
went on and greeted the O’Malachys, and annexed two unoccupied chairs
near them, Caerleon contriving to place himself beside Nadia, Cyril
beside her mother. Presently the O’Malachy finished his penance, and
they rose and sauntered together towards the hotel.

“We have heard from my son this morning, my dear marquis,” said Madame
O’Malachy to Caerleon. “He hopes to be with us to-morrow.”

“Does he intend to make a long stay here?”

“Alas, no! He is still mad on the subject of Thracia, and insists on
going there almost immediately. What can he expect but defeat and
ruin? But he shall not go into danger alone. There are mineral springs
at Tatarjé, which the O’Malachy has been advised to visit, and we
shall all accompany my poor misguided Louis. We may not be able to do
much, but at any rate we shall be near him.”

“But if the country is in such a dangerous state, are you not afraid
to visit it?” asked Caerleon.

“Afraid!” repeated Madame O’Malachy, high scorn in her tone. “My dear
marquis, for what do you take us? We are accustomed to danger.”

“I should rather like to see Thracia,” remarked Caerleon, not very
relevantly. “It must be a very interesting country.”

“Then why wouldn’t you and Lord Cyrul come with us?” asked the
O’Malachy.

“Oh no, my friend,” cried his wife, “that would never do. Have you
forgotten the unsettled state of Thracia? Do you not remember that the
people hate travellers, throw all kinds of vexatious restrictions in
their way, seize every opportunity of insulting and injuring them? Our
dear marquis must not come. The country is positively dangerous.”

“Is that intended as a reason for our not visiting it?” asked
Caerleon. “Cyril, I think we’ll make a tour in Thracia.”

“Oh, all right,” said Cyril. “I hope your will is made, though as I am
to be with you, it won’t much matter.”

“But you cannot intend this in earnest?” asked Madame O’Malachy, with
a most ingenuous air of simplicity. “I tell you that it is absolutely
dangerous to go to Thracia.”

“You are going the wrong way to keep our friends back, Barbara,” said
the O’Malachy. “Do you not know that to hear that a place is dangerous
makes ut their juty to visut ut?”

“But these English are so strange!” cried his wife, with artless
amazement. “They write letters to their ‘Times’ to complain if the
slightest inconvenience touches them at a hotel, or if a street-boy
calls them a bad name, and yet they go to look for danger when it is
unnecessary.”

“One of the contradictions of human nature,” remarked the O’Malachy,
grimly, but when he and his wife and daughter had reached their own
room, he returned to the subject: “I don’t know what you were driving
at just now, Barbara. Were you really trying to turn the young fellers
back, or not? Caerleon is a decent boy enough. Was your heart suddenly
filled with compassion for um, or were you trying to make terms with
your conscience?”

“That is it,” returned Madame O’Malachy, with a side-glance at her
daughter. “I do not wish to have it on my conscience that I brought
these young men into Thracia. It is not my affair.”

“Then whose is it?” asked Nadia.

“I say,” went on her mother, “that I have done all in my power to turn
them back. _I_ have not led them on to their ruin. _I_ have not made
myself disagreeable to my own family, and pleasant to them, that I
might induce them to attach themselves to my company. When they get
into trouble--into danger,” raising her voice as Nadia rose hurriedly
and left the room, “their blood will not be on _my_ head.”

“How you women hate one another!” laughed the O’Malachy, softly.



Louis O’Malachy arrived the next day, a dark-browed, taciturn,
broad-shouldered young man, about a year older than Nadia, moving with
a peculiar stiffness, as though his movements had always been
restrained by a tight uniform, or by the orders of a drill-sergeant.
He took a great fancy to Cyril,--at least, his mother said that he had
done so, and it was quite true that he lost no opportunity of seeking
his company. Indeed, the brothers found it almost impossible to escape
from him, for whenever they went out, he invariably made his
appearance, and offered himself as their companion. This being the
case, Madame O’Malachy, out of compassion for Caerleon, who found
himself, as she phrased it, the unwelcome third in this devoted
comradeship, fell into the habit of ordering Nadia to accompany her
brother on all these occasions. To Caerleon himself she observed, with
a cold-blooded frankness which reminded him of her daughter’s first
interview with him, that to no one but an Englishman would she think
of permitting the privilege of escorting Mdlle. O’Malachy in her
walks, but she understood that in England it was only when young
people were not allowed to meet freely that there was any fear that
complications might arise. She made this remark in Nadia’s hearing,
and the girl, who had resisted the proposal strenuously in private,
yielded in sheer terror as to what her mother might proceed to say to
Caerleon if she still hung back. She knew perfectly well that he
divined her reason for coming, and pitied her for it, and the
realisation plunged her into the depths of confusion and shame,
sensations which were quite new to her. That she, who in her Scythian
home had looked the whole world in the face, without a particle of
fear, should now be trembling lest this Englishman, almost a stranger,
should lay his finger on a quivering wound, made her abjectly
miserable. It needed all Caerleon’s tact, all his careful insistence
on the _rôle_ of friendly critic which he had adopted when they first
met, to re-establish matters on a footing of any confidence between
them. He succeeded in appearing so unconscious of anything wrong that
she persuaded herself at last that he had not perceived the
implication conveyed in her mother’s words, and after this she was at
ease with him again, and they discussed social and political problems,
illustrated from the experience of each, to their hearts’ content,
while Cyril and Louis luxuriated in Balkan politics. Cyril was deeply
interested in this young enthusiast, and not a little puzzled by him
also. Louis was still intending to proceed to Thracia in a few days,
in order to offer his services to M. Drakovics, but his utterances on
the subject were not marked by the fiery fanaticism which might have
been expected from him on the authority of his past record.

“An enthusiast?” said Cyril to himself. “He’s no more an enthusiast
than I am, and that’s putting it pretty strong. A plotter he may be.
If he’s a patriot, he’s one of his father’s stamp, the dynamite and
dagger school. And yet only an enthusiast would have taken such a step
as to throw up his commission in the Scythian army for the sake of
joining the Thracians. But what is he doing here? If he means to go to
Thracia, why not hurry on there at once? It’s not like an enthusiast
to stick for days doing nothing at Janoszwar. Perhaps he hopes to
enlist Caerleon and me as volunteers. Perhaps he doesn’t like
Caerleon’s dangling after his sister. Can that be it?”

He thought of the contemptuous sniff with which Louis had more than
once manifested his opinion of the way in which Caerleon gravitated
inevitably to Nadia’s side when they took their walks, but otherwise
there was nothing to show that he disapproved of the intimacy. He
might not welcome it, but he was not actively hostile; by no word nor
action would he influence the result in either direction.

“Is he a philosopher or a blackmailer?” soliloquised Cyril. “Or does
he only think Caerleon is a fool? I know men often are amused when any
one falls in love with their sisters, and I can’t say that I wonder at
it myself in this case. What Caerleon can find to like in that sulky
girl I can’t imagine, but he really seems to be hooked this time.”

Whatever Caerleon’s inducement might be, he went on his way calmly,
heeding neither Cyril’s lack of sympathy nor young O’Malachy’s scoffs,
for he had now fully made up his mind about Nadia. At first he had
been alternately attracted and repelled by her, but the repulsion had
gradually faded before the attraction. The girl was so transparently
honest, so sincere in her earnest intolerance, so unconventional in
the way in which she persisted in testing everything by the standards
of right and wrong, instead of those of custom and fashion, that the
man who had turned in disgust from the artificiality of the frivolous
or emancipated girls he had met in troops in London could not but hail
her as a kindred spirit. It is true that she offended his taste and
outraged his views of propriety twenty times a day by her decided
utterances, but now that he knew what prompted these remarks he could
honour the intention if he could not appreciate the result. And
besides, she was softening, he was sure, under the influence of her
friendship with him--he could not mistake the change; and it was
seldom indeed that she addressed him nowadays with the abruptness
which he had mentally stigmatised as _farouche_ on his first meeting
with her. In the society of her own family, however, this change was
not visible, and she was still rigid, severe, uncompromisingly plain
of speech. In his character of candid friend, Caerleon felt it to be
his duty to take her to task occasionally on this subject.

“I wish,” he said to her one day with some trepidation, for he had
suffered more than once in his self-imposed task of smoothing down the
angles of this young lady’s disposition, “that you could think it
right to leave off apologising when you have said anything unpleasant.
You have quite dropped it with me, you know, but you keep it up with
my brother and your own people.”

“But you told me that it was worse to you than the rude things I had
said,” objected Nadia, “and it is not so with the rest.”

“No, indeed, they enjoy it,” said Caerleon, “and that is just why I
hate it. Can’t you see that your brother and mine think it a good joke
to stir you up to say rude things, just for the pleasure of hearing
you apologise with a jerk the next minute?”

“Yes, I see it,” she answered; “but that makes it all the better
discipline for me.”

“Not for me,” said Caerleon. “I think your system ought to take some
account of other people’s feelings.”

“But surely,” she said, “if I give pleasure to my brother and yours by
acting in this way, I am considering other people’s feelings in doing
it?”

Her voice as she asked the question was not particularly cheerful, but
Caerleon treasured up the remark in his memory as the first approach
to a joke that he had ever heard Nadia utter.

“Wouldn’t it be equally good discipline,” he said, “to stop before
saying the rude things, and try to say something pleasant instead?”

“But that would not be true.” Nadia regarded him with absolute horror.
“Come what may, I must be true.”

“It’s rather presumptuous of me to quote texts to you,” said Caerleon,
“but isn’t there something about ‘speaking the truth in love’?”

“Why should it be presumptuous of you to quote texts to me?” she
asked, quickly.

“Well, you see,” he answered, with some hesitation, “I don’t live by
rule, as you do. I haven’t a system of self-discipline, or anything of
that sort.”

“You think I am proud--conceited?” she said. “You think I set myself
up upon a pedestal? Ah no, Lord Caerleon, I entreat you, do not think
that. God knows how very weak and feeble I am, how continually I
discover in myself that horrible temptation to insincerity. Since I
have known you, it has beset me even more than before. Because I know
that you are listening, I am perpetually tempted to let things pass,
to join for politeness’ sake in conversation that I know is wrong. You
cannot tell what it costs me to speak out, and you try to make it
harder for me.”

“Indeed I don’t wish to do that,” said Caerleon, touched by the
illogical reproach of her last sentence. “I only want to ask you
whether you couldn’t make your protests mentally, and not aloud. I
never like to hear a girl speak to her mother as you do. Can’t you
make some allowance for her? She must have had a hard life--and bad
training, perhaps. There may be more excuse for her than we think.”

“I wish I knew it, then!” cried Nadia. “You have not seen as much of
her as I have; you cannot know her as I do. She delights in intrigue
for its own sake. It gives her an artistic pleasure to do a thing in a
roundabout way instead of straight. Do you not see that it is far
worse for me to realise this than it can be for you? You cannot tell
what torture it was for me to find out, when I first came here from
home--from my godmother’s--that my mother would never tell the truth
if a falsehood were possible. I felt that I must stand against her
influence, or I might grow like her.”

“I don’t fancy you would,” said Caerleon; “but of course, as you say,
you are a better judge of your own circumstances than I am. I suppose
you feel the same with reference to your brother. It seems as though
you had scarcely a civil word for him.”

“He has not many for me,” said Nadia, drily. “No, I do not like Louis.
He is not good.”

“Not like him!” cried Caerleon. “But he is your brother.”

“I hope I love him,” said Nadia, meditatively. “I should not like
anything bad to happen to him. To do him good--to save his soul--I
would die, oh, how willingly! But I cannot like him.”

“But wouldn’t you be better able to do him good if you did like him?”
asked Caerleon. Nadia considered for a moment.

“I can’t help it. One cannot like a person who one knows is not good.
You yourself, if Milord Cyril were to become false, to break his
faith, you could not like him any longer.”

“I see what you mean, but I’m afraid I should have a sneaking fondness
for the poor old chap still,” said Caerleon. “But has your brother
done anything, that you should talk of him in this way?”

“I do not _know_,” was the reply. “I only guess. They tell me nothing.
But I have found out enough to be sure about him.”

“And what is that?” asked Caerleon, incautiously. Nadia drew herself
up.

“That I cannot tell you, Lord Caerleon. If you had now any interest in
Thracia, or were likely to be at all affected by my brother’s doings,
I might tell you what I believe to be the truth, but you cannot expect
me to gratify mere curiosity.”

“I beg your pardon, I’m sure,” said Caerleon, taken aback by this
outburst. “Pray don’t think that I want to know anything you don’t
wish to tell me.”

“Please forgive me,” said Nadia. “I was rude again. Only I am afraid
of telling you what I ought not, and I don’t wish to be disloyal, even
to my family.”

“I quite understand,” said Caerleon, although at the very moment he
was reflecting that the ins and outs of a woman’s mind were beyond the
wit of man to penetrate. “But tell me what you mean by saying _if_ I
had any interest in Thracia? I remember that on the day I met you
first you told me you were sorry when I declined the crown. Why was
it?”

“Because I thought you ought to have accepted it,” returned Nadia.
Then, fearing that her tone had been slightly dictatorial, she added,
hastily, “I mean that if I had been in your place I should have
accepted it.”

“But you thought so--you, a Scythian in politics?” asked Caerleon.

“I thought I had told you that our circle--my godmother’s--are not
necessarily Scythian in politics,” said Nadia. “We desire to take the
side of justice, of right. I am certain that if Scythia were to enter
on an unrighteous war, Count Wratisloff would lift up his voice
against it at once. And so we desired for Thracia only the man who
would be most likely to rule it well.”

“Then you think I ought to have accepted the crown?” said Caerleon
again. She caught him up quickly.

“I cannot judge for you. Only your own conscience can do that. But I
have always been taught never to refuse work that offered itself
unsought, unless it would interfere with other work on which one was
already engaged, and even then one should consider carefully which was
the more important of the two. You know best where your
responsibilities would have been greatest--in Thracia, or at home in
England. Wherever there was most to do, there your work lay, I think.
And you might have done so much for Thracia!”

“But would you have had me go there against my father’s express wish?”
asked Caerleon, indignantly. “If you will allow me to have had a
conscience at all in the matter, I believe it pointed distinctly to
staying at home as the right thing for me to do.”

“That made a difference,” assented Nadia. “I cannot judge of your
circumstances for you, as I have said, but I was sorry at the time
that you refused the crown, and I am sorry still that you are not King
of Thracia now. You might do so much good there.”

A little annoyed by her persistence, Caerleon walked on beside her in
silence for a while. They had left Cyril and Louis far behind, and
were following a path which presently crossed the main road cut
through the mountains. At ordinary times the road was almost as lonely
as the rocky paths, but on this occasion a band of men were visible in
the distance, coming from the direction of the plain.

“It must be some of the Thracian harvesters,” said Nadia. “When their
own harvest is ended, numbers of them cross into Hungary and hire
themselves out to help the farmers, for the corn ripens later here. I
suppose they are returning home with their wages, now that the harvest
is over.”

As they walked on, they gained a closer view of the Thracians, a body
of tall, lithe, dark-skinned men, tired and footsore, wearing ragged
clothes that had once been gaily coloured, shirts that had once been
white, and great leather boots. They slackened their pace as they
approached the strangers, and one man, who seemed to be the leader of
the party, addressed Nadia in broken German.

“Oh, the poor things!” she said, turning to Caerleon. “This has been a
terribly bad year for them. The rain and the floods have injured the
corn so much that there was scarcely any harvest. They have only
earned enough to keep them while at work, and they have nothing to buy
food with on their journey home. I wish I could give them something,
but I have no money,” and she exhibited an empty purse as she spoke.

“Poor beggars!” said Caerleon. “Give them this, Miss O’Malachy,” and
he turned a handful of loose coin out of his pocket and poured it into
Nadia’s hand. She gave it to the man, who was profuse in his
gratitude, and rapidly reckoning up the value of the money, said that
it would be enough to feed himself and his companions until they
reached their homes. Turning over the coins in his hand as if to
assure himself of their reality, he came upon an English shilling, and
looked at it in a puzzled way.

“Tell him that it’s all right, and that he can get it changed in the
first big town he comes to,” said Caerleon to Nadia; but when she
interpreted the words to the man, he scouted the idea that there was
anything wrong about the coin. They liked English things, he said, and
he would make a hole in the shilling and wear it in memory of the
gracious lady who had given it to him.

“Oh, but it was not mine,” said Nadia, hastily. “You must thank Lord
Caerleon.”

“Lor’ Carlin’?” repeated the man, puzzled. Then, as Nadia pointed to
Caerleon, his faced beamed with delight. “Not Carlino? the English
Prince Carlino?”

“Yes,” said Nadia. “Prince and king are the only titles they
understand,” she added, to Caerleon, who was suffering agonies of
embarrassment at the moment, for the man went down on his knees before
him, and kissed his hand and laid it on his head. Then, before
Caerleon could protest, he had risen, and was beckoning frantically to
his companions, calling out to them in an unknown tongue.

“This is too much,” said Caerleon to Nadia. “I shall tell them that
you gave them the money after all.”

“But that would not be true,” responded Nadia, in her matter-of-fact
way; and Caerleon was forced to allow his hand to be kissed by each of
the men in turn, the leader closing the ceremony by going through it
himself a second time, saying earnestly in his barbarous German--

“Ah, why did not your Highness come to Thracia?”

“There!” said Nadia, when they had gone on their way, followed by the
blessings of the Thracians, “think how much you might have done for
these poor men if you had been king. The whole country is desolate, or
only half cultivated. It needs draining, improving, farming on proper
methods. You Englishmen all understand farming, don’t you? You could
teach them just the things they ought to learn, and introduce English
implements. And then, you could also enforce temperance legislation.
The people drink dreadfully, rich and poor alike, and there is no
Government control of the liquor traffic. It would be virgin soil, the
ideal spot for testing all the schemes. You could try as many
experiments as you liked, even if you did not insist on total
prohibition at once.”

“I’m afraid I should experiment myself off the throne in no time,”
said Caerleon, laughing, but Nadia glanced at him without a smile.

“Better to fall through doing right than to succeed through doing
wrong,” she said.

“You are oracular to-day,” said Caerleon, but this made her angry, and
she told him that as he did not like the way she talked, she would not
talk at all,--a decision to which she adhered persistently, so that
they returned to the hotel in silence. Her petulance was the more
provoking in that this was their last day at Janoszwar, and that on
the morrow the O’Malachy family would start on their journey to
Thracia, while Cyril and Caerleon continued their walking-tour. It was
their intention first to visit a number of ruined castles and other
objects of interest out of the beaten track, and then to rejoin their
friends at Witska, a mountain village celebrated for a medicinal
spring, and situated exactly on the Thracian frontier. Just at the
last moment Louis O’Malachy volunteered to accompany them on their
tramp, and as they could not very well refuse his offer they accepted
it, although neither of them anticipated much pleasure from his
society.

“He must be up to something,” soliloquised Cyril; “but what can it be?
I suppose we have merely to await developments; but meanwhile, to
avoid any risk of accident, I will get Miss O’Malachy to do a little
piece of business for me.”

This piece of business was merely the posting of the letter of
introduction to M. Drakovics which Mrs Sadleir had intrusted to Cyril;
but he had an idea that Louis might wish, for some reason of his own,
to intercept the missive if he knew of its existence, or even saw it
posted, for he could not rid himself of the notion that the taciturn
young patriot had other ends in view than that of furthering the
independence of Thracia. Acting on this resolution, he succeeded in
finding Nadia alone, and gave the letter into her charge, to be posted
as soon as possible after her arrival on Thracian soil, adding at a
venture that it might prove to have an important effect on the
after-history of Europe. He saw at once that she understood what he
meant, and that she sympathised with his object, for her face lighted
up.

“I see. I will be most careful. I thank you for trusting me--for
letting me help, Lord Cyril.”

“What a fanatic the girl is!” said Cyril to himself, as he went his
way; but he entertained a comfortable conviction that it was rather
safer to trust a fanatic than a cynic, and he felt secure as to the
fate of Mrs Sadleir’s letter, and the note he had written to accompany
it. An hour later he left Janoszwar with Caerleon and Louis, and they
began a tour for which none of them cared much, except to count the
days until it should come to an end. Caerleon missed his talks with
Nadia, Cyril was anxious to get to Witska and see whether the letter
had produced any effect on M. Drakovics, and Louis displayed an
eagerness to reach Thracia, and enlist in the patriot army, which was
rather inconsistent with his having come on the tour at all. In
consequence, they clung most carefully to the route they had laid down
previously, and no one suggested digressions even when the most famous
ruins or inviting landscapes were found to lie just a few hours’ march
off the road. On the very day they had fixed they reached Witska, a
picturesque little town with rocky streets, and whitewashed houses
clinging to the steep hillside, and found it filled with numbers of
men from the plains in their holiday attire.



 CHAPTER V.
 A CALL OF DUTY.

“There must be a fair or festival of some sort going on,” said
Caerleon, as they made their way to the inn, where it had been
arranged that the O’Malachy was to secure rooms for them.

“Perhaps the people have come together to do you honour,” suggested
Louis, lightly enough, but it struck Cyril that there was a shade of
anxiety in his tone.

The inn was an oriental-looking house built round a courtyard, but
conforming to the customs of the West so far as to possess a
coffee-room--a fact which was proudly announced in German and Thracian
in very large letters. There were no windows on the exterior of the
house to the ground-floor rooms, a testimony to the frequent
occurrence of border raids and attacks from brigands in the days when
the inn was built, but balconies ran round each of the two upper
storeys, both inside and outside, giving the only means of access to
the rooms which opened upon them. The courtyard was thronged with
people, among whom Caerleon fancied he recognised some of the
harvesters that Nadia and he had met a fortnight before, and they
watched with breathless curiosity the three dusty figures in tourist
suits and hobnailed boots, and commented upon their appearance audibly
but unintelligibly. The landlord, who met them at the door, bowed
almost to the ground before them, but as he could speak no tongue of
Western Europe, they were unable to question him as to the nature of
the attraction which had brought the crowd together. Behind him,
however, stood Wright the groom, doing his best to compose his face,
which had wreathed itself into an irrepressible grin of delight at
welcoming his master, into the blank immobility which he considered
becoming and suitable. In his hand was a visiting-card, which he
presented to Caerleon.

“The gentleman up-stairs give it me for you, my lord, and ’e’s waitin’
for you in the coffee-room, and I do ’ope, my lord, if I may make so
bold, as your lordship don’t think of stayin’ long in this ’ere
country, where there ain’t a creetur can speak a word of a Crishtan
tongue.”

“That remains to be seen,” said Cyril, looking round Caerleon’s
shoulder at the card, and seeing, as he expected, the name of M.
Drakovics.

“Has the old brute come to plague me again about his precious
kingdom?” said Caerleon, impatiently. “He might have waited until I
had made myself respectable, at any rate. Well, I suppose I must see
him, but I’ll wash off a little of the dust of travel first”--“and
just ask Nadia what she really thinks about the business,” he added to
himself, as Wright led the way up-stairs, and along the gallery which
crossed the front of the house.

“Which are the O’Malachy’s rooms, Wright?” he asked aloud, but as he
spoke, Madame O’Malachy glided out of a doorway near him with her
finger on her lip.

“Ah, my dear marquis, I am enchanted to see you!” she said, brightly.
“But I will not detain you; you are summoned to more important
business than talking with a chattering old woman--is it not so? Only
I would ask you to have the great kindness to step softly and not to
speak loud, for my daughter is a little indisposed.”

“Miss O’Malachy ill? I hope it is not serious?” cried Caerleon.

“Nothing serious, I assure you. Merely a slight headache and
lassitude, which will pass off to-morrow. Rest and quiet are her best
medicines. She is too energetic, too eager for work, my dear marquis,
but I know that I may count on your consideration.”

She went back into her room, and Caerleon pursued his way
disappointed.

“I shan’t be able to ask her about this wretched kingdom, then,” he
grumbled to himself. “But, after all, I know what she thinks, for she
gave me her views pretty plainly the last time I talked to her.”

“The old gentleman seemed to be in a orful ’urry, my lord,” put in
Wright, and Caerleon made a hasty toilet, and entered the coffee-room,
where M. Drakovics was marching impatiently from the door to the
window and back again. Caerleon would have shaken hands with him, but
he drew back with a low bow.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “I am here to announce to you that by a
_plébiscite_ of the whole nation you are a second time invited to
occupy the throne of Thracia. I have with me a petition signed by
every member of the Legislative Assembly, and by the mayor of every
township and the head of every village community in the country,
entreating you to lay aside your scruples, and come to our help. The
people will accept any conditions you may choose to make, as to
advisers, Civil List, or anything of the kind;--I know that this will
not affect your decision,” as Caerleon turned away with an impatient
gesture, “but I mention it to show you that the Thracians wish to deal
generously with the man who will honour them by taking up their cause
against the world.”

“I must have the night to think it over,” said Caerleon, after some
moments of futile consideration. “You will remain here as my guest, I
hope? By the bye, who are all the people outside?”

“They are your Majesty’s loyal subjects,” returned M. Drakovics, “who
have come here to conduct you, as they hope, in triumph to
Bellaviste.”

“Very kind of them,” said Caerleon, “but I am not their king yet. This
proceeding looks unpleasantly like compulsion, M. Drakovics. I have no
idea of being made king by force.”

“Your Majesty is entirely mistaken,” returned M. Drakovics in alarm.
“These men are here with the sole intention of doing you honour, and
of adding their entreaties to mine if you should prove to be still
obdurate. They are all patriots, almost in despair for their country,
for we are convinced that Scythia is meditating some great blow
against us.”

“Well, I will think about it,” said Caerleon, and no further allusion
was made to the subject during the evening.

On the plea of extreme fatigue, Caerleon and Cyril excused themselves
to their guest as early as was possible with due regard for
politeness, and prepared to consider the situation in concert. Leaning
out of the window of Caerleon’s room, with the watch-fires of the
expectant Thracians starring the mountain-slopes on every hand, they
discussed the subject in all its bearings. As was generally the case
on such occasions, Cyril did most of the talking, and he summed up his
arguments very concisely before they separated for the night.

“The question is just this, Caerleon: have you backbone enough to be a
Thracian for the future, instead of an Englishman? That’s what it will
come to, you know. There will be the most awful row at home, and we
may find ourselves outlawed, or declared guilty of high treason, or I
don’t know what. So long as we keep to Thracian soil, we shall be all
right, if we can only manage to stay there; but I suppose if we
ventured into any British possession they might put us in prison and
keep us there out of harm’s way. Scythia is bound to make a fuss, and
to send the strongest possible diplomatic representations to St
James’s about us even if she doesn’t go to war, and you must make up
your mind to disregard appeals and commands, from whomsoever they may
come, and public opinion too. You won’t any longer be a British peer,
poor, perhaps, but universally looked up to--but an adventurer,--a
filibuster, in fact. That’s the bad side of it. On the other hand, you
consider that your country has treated you pretty shabbily, and holds
out no particular prospects to you in your present circumstances.
Forfar and the Duke never did much for you either, and I don’t see
that you need refuse such an offer as this just to save them from
diplomatic complications. Of course, if the worst came to the worst,
you might sacrifice yourself, and abdicate magnanimously in order to
prevent a European war, but I don’t think it will get as far as that.
Scythia will brag and bluster--perhaps try to put you out of the way,
but that is our private affair. And in Thracia you have just the field
you have always wanted for your administrative and philanthropic
talents. From what Drakovics says, they seem to have a fairly good
army, but very little else. You will have to make the nation. Oh,
there’s no question as to which is the biggest thing to do. As King of
Thracia, in the people’s present state of mind, your opportunities
would be limitless.”

“And that is what one ought to think of,” said Caerleon, recalling
Nadia’s words. “Cyril, old man, I’ll take it.”

“Good for you, old chap,” returned Cyril. “I say, I suppose I shall
have to call you ‘your Majesty’ now--in public, that is. Behind the
scenes, the augurs may wink as they please. Well, I bag the post of
your private secretary, at any rate. That will enable me to give your
Majesty a good wigging when I think it called for, and to keep you
from getting into trouble. Well, now that your royal mind is made up,
I’m off. Ta, ta.”

When the two young men entered the coffee-room in the morning, M.
Drakovics advanced to meet them, far too anxious as to the result of
their conference to let the matter rest until after breakfast, as
Caerleon had intended. The Premier’s face was worn and haggard with
anxiety, and his voice shook as he asked--

“May I inquire whether your Majesty has decided what course you will
take?”

“Yes,” said Caerleon. “I have made up my mind to accept the crown.”

He had no time to say more, for, to his horror and Cyril’s delight, M.
Drakovics fell at his feet and covered his hands with kisses, while he
tried in vain to induce him to rise. Cyril recovered himself first.

“Perhaps we might postpone any further raptures until after
breakfast,” he suggested, mildly. “Even kings have appetites,--their
brothers certainly have.”

“One moment!” cried M. Drakovics, rising and going towards the window.
“Your majesty cannot tell what a load you have taken from my heart,”
he added, huskily, turning again to Caerleon. “I am satisfied now as
to the future of my country. But I must tell the people. They have
been as anxious as myself, and they will rejoice as I do.”

He stepped out on the balcony, and addressed the crowd of Thracians,
who had again gathered in front of the house. A tremendous shout burst
from them when he had finished speaking. Turning round with blazing
eyes he beckoned to Caerleon.

“Show yourself to your people, your Majesty. Speak a few words to
them--I will interpret--and they will love you for ever.”

Caerleon followed him out, intending to comply with the request, but
speech was impossible in presence of the cry of welcome that went up
as soon as he became visible. For some minutes he was perforce silent,
while the people shouted themselves hoarse, flung their caps into the
air, leaped for joy, embraced one another, and wept copiously. He felt
oddly reminded of his coming of age, and how he had risen to make his
speech at the great dinner his father had given to the Llandiarmid
tenants amid a scene of excitement such as this, when the sturdy
farmers had sprung up like one man, and drunk his health with
acclamations. They had presented him with an old silver
punch-bowl--rather an incongruous gift for an uncompromising
temperance man--and it had put him into an awkward predicament. A
happy thought had struck him, he remembered, and he had told them that
he would use the bowl for salad--a statement which was regarded as an
exquisite joke, and received with shouts of approving laughter. It was
queer that this should all pass through his mind now, as he stood
waiting until the rejoicing calmed down a little, and he was able to
obtain a moment’s silence. He found himself almost as much at a loss
for words as on that earlier occasion, but at last he managed to say--

“Gentlemen” (he felt strongly that this form of address sounded as
though he were speaking to his former constituents rather than to his
subjects, but it was difficult to know what other to use. “My people”
would be a ridiculous affectation as yet, and “Men of Thracia” sounded
theatrical). “Gentlemen, your trusted leader, M. Drakovics, has done
me the honour of inviting me in your name to accept the crown of
Thracia. It is only fair for me to tell you that I don’t feel at all
equal to the task of governing; but I have thought over the matter,
and I hope that I am doing the right thing in undertaking it. God
helping me, my sole aim will be to do what I can for the good of
Thracia and the peace of Europe. I feel sure that I may count upon the
help and advice of M. Drakovics in the difficulties which are sure to
meet us, and I can promise to stick to you if you will stick to me.”

There! it was over, and he was conscious that he had made a wretched
mull of what he had meant to say, and felt certain that Cyril was
grinning behind him, and maturing chaff on the subject of “House of
Commons oratory,” but M. Drakovics was translating his words to the
Thracians, and they were replying with shouts of applause which echoed
back from the mountain-side.

“Long live the English prince! Long live King Carlino! Down with
Scythia! Long live Thracia and King Carlino!”

“I say, you know, this won’t do,” Cyril was saying to M. Drakovics, as
soon as the three on the balcony could hear each other speak. “What do
they mean by talking like that? His name is Philip. He can’t go down
to posterity as King Caerleon. It would be as bad as King York or King
Lancaster. You must put them right.”

“That we can do in his Majesty’s proclamations,” said M. Drakovics.
“The people have grown so much accustomed to the name Carlino that I
fear they will always apply it to him. It sounds familiar to their
ears, and it is a kind of affectionate diminutive. But with regard to
our future plans----” he went on, addressing Caerleon. “Will your
Majesty allow me to tell the people that you will start to-day on your
journey to Bellaviste?”

“Is it really necessary?” asked Caerleon. “I hate doing things in such
a hurry.”

“It is absolutely necessary,” returned M. Drakovics, “that your
Majesty should be crowned as speedily as possible. The whole future of
your reign may depend upon it.”

“Oh, very well,” said Caerleon. “In for a penny, in for a pound. I
have to live for Thracia now, I suppose. I’ll tell my man to pack up.”

He went back into the room before M. Drakovics could forestall him, or
even intimate to Cyril that it would look well for him to do his
brother’s errands in future, and ran up-stairs to look for Wright, for
bells there were none in this primitive hostelry. But Wright and the
reason for seeking him were speedily forgotten when he reached the
upper balcony, for he saw Nadia coming towards him from the direction
of the rooms occupied by the O’Malachy family.

“I hope you are better this morning,” he said, eagerly, hastening to
meet her. “I am so glad to see that you are able to be up.”

“But I am always up at six,” said Nadia. “Did you think I was ill?”

“I understood from your mother----” he began, but remembering that to
finish would be to charge Madame O’Malachy with deceiving him, he
changed the form of his sentence lamely enough, “I saw nothing of you
when I got here yesterday, you know, and I was afraid you were not
well.”

“Did you expect to find me at the gate waiting for you?” asked Nadia,
sharply. “Oh, I did not intend to be so rude,” and she blushed
crimson. “I only mean that my room is at the back of the house, and I
did not even know you had arrived.”

“I was hoping,” said Caerleon, deliberately, “that we might meet again
as friends, though I was so unfortunate as to offend you the last time
we had a talk.”

“Now you are trying to make me ashamed of myself for being cross,”
said Nadia, “and it is not kind of you. Lord Caerleon,” she broke off
suddenly, and surveyed him with puzzled eyes, “has anything happened?
What is the matter?”

“Why?” he asked.

“Because you look different. Something has happened. What is it?”

“Well, I am once more king elect, or designate, or whatever you like
to call it, of Thracia, if that will account for it. I didn’t know
that the divinity that doth hedge a king was visible outwardly, but I
suppose that’s what you mean.”

“You have accepted the crown?” she asked, anxiously.

“I have accepted it, bearing in mind my last conversation with you. I
hope you are pleased with me now?”

“It was what I said that influenced you to consent? You would not have
done it otherwise?”

“Scarcely, I think; but you showed me my duty so very clearly that I
could hardly turn my back on it. You made it quite evident that you
considered I was shirking responsibility when I refused the crown
before.”

“But how can it signify what I thought of you? How can my conscience
judge for yours? Oh, I have been thinking often since we have been
here that I may have led you wrong. I ought to have advised you to see
which was the harder to do--to accept or decline the crown--and to
choose that.”

“But this is a new standard!” cried Caerleon. “Is it to take the place
of the measuring of the responsibilities?”

“Not exactly; only to be used with it. Don’t you see? Perhaps you
prefer a responsible position, and then it might be better for you to
take a lower place.”

“I don’t quite see it,” said Caerleon; “but no doubt it’s all right,
since it satisfies you.”

“Oh, don’t follow me!” she cried, passionately. “I may have led you
wrong already. Is it too late to do anything?”

“Quite too late, I’m afraid,” said Caerleon. “I am as much King of
Thracia as I can be before I’m crowned, I suppose. Won’t you
congratulate me on my elevation, since I owe it to your influence?”

He held out his hand, and Nadia took it, but to his horror she stooped
and touched it with her lips. “May God grant your Majesty a long and
useful reign!” she said, and turned to fly, but Caerleon caught her
wrist.

“Nadia, are you joking?” he said, angrily.

“Let me go! let me go!” she panted. “Oh, please let me go!” The cry
seemed to be wrung from her by some sudden sharp pain, and Caerleon
saw that her lips were quivering and her eyes full of tears. He loosed
his hold, and she made her escape, leaving him gazing stupidly at the
hand she had kissed.

“Oh, this little fool!” groaned Madame O’Malachy, at the partially
open door of her room, whence she had witnessed the whole scene. “She
might have had him at her feet at this moment, and now he may not be
able to declare himself for weeks. And for what? A trifle, a caprice,
a nothing! I snap my fingers at it! Will nothing but a crowned king
serve you, mademoiselle? Surely it is as well to receive a crown with
your husband as after him? Ah, these niceties of lovers’ etiquette!
Who cares whether the marquis thinks that his prospective kingdom has
induced you to accept him, or not? You know, and I know, that you have
been in love with him since the second time you saw him. Fool! I have
no patience with you,” and hurling these words through her clenched
teeth at the absent Nadia, her mother hurried through two or three
intermediate rooms and came upon Caerleon through a door at the end of
the balcony.

“What, my dear marquis, is it you?” she cried, with a start. “You are
early this morning. But perhaps I ought to say ‘your Majesty’? One
cannot pretend not to know the reason of M. Drakovics’s presence
here.”

“I hope M. Drakovics is happy,” returned Caerleon, in a tone which
showed pretty plainly that he himself was not. “I have accepted the
offer of the Thracian crown.”

“Then I congratulate the Thracians,” said Madame O’Malachy, heartily.
“My dear marquis (you really must excuse my employing the old title),
I have seldom heard a more delightful piece of news. The Thracians
could not do better, and for yourself it is a situation exactly
adapted to your character and talents. You have your opportunity now.”

“I thought so myself until a minute ago,” said Caerleon, gloomily;
“but now I begin to doubt it. Nadia will have nothing to say to me.”

“Nadia--my daughter?” with a slight elevation of the eyebrows.

“Yes,” said Caerleon, scarcely noticing the touch of _hauteur_ which
the lady had infused into her tone. “She seemed so much disappointed
about my having refused the crown before that I thought she would
certainly be pleased now, and she--she spoke as if she had never met
me before in her life.”

“But that may be quite as well,” returned Madame O’Malachy, gracefully
determined not to be baulked of her point. “You must remember that the
friendship _à l’anglaise_ which has subsisted hitherto between your
Majesty and my daughter cannot continue under present circumstances.
You will now occupy very different positions.”

“Is that what Miss O’Malachy is thinking?” asked Caerleon, quickly.

“I have not spoken to her on the subject, but I have no doubt that she
has that in her mind.”

“Then might I beg that you will have the kindness to let me see her
again at once, madame? I will do my best to disabuse her of the idea.”

“But what will you do, my dear marquis?”

“Ask her to share the throne with me.”

“But it is impossible!” cried Madame O’Malachy. “I cannot hear of such
a thing. Your Majesty’s chivalrous sentiments have carried you away,
and you are willing to atone for a slight mistake by a lifelong
sacrifice. Your friendship was a mistake--I admit it freely, in view
of the events which have since come to pass--but we will not make
matters worse by overestimating it. I sympathise with you, but I
assure you that you need fear no trouble from us. Suffer us simply to
retire quietly--we will not force ourselves upon your notice, and my
daughter is far too proud to exhibit any regret for what has
happened.”

“But you don’t understand, madame,” cried Caerleon, impatiently.
“There is nothing to regret in our friendship--on my side, at any
rate. Of course I can’t answer for Miss O’Malachy’s feelings, but I am
only anxious to replace the friendship by--by something stronger.”

“My dear marquis, I honour your chivalry, but your future is not in
your own hands. M. Drakovics will have something to say about it.”

“M. Drakovics will have nothing to say on the subject of my marriage.
That is a question I shall settle for myself.”

“But you must consider your kingdom. Much may depend on your marriage,
and an alliance with a penniless girl not of royal blood--in modern
times, at any rate,” she laughed, “might do you a great deal of harm.”

“I don’t think I am called upon to consider my kingdom to such an
extent as that,” said Caerleon. “I am anxious to have the matter
settled before I am crowned, so that if the Thracians think themselves
entitled to complain, they may do it before I am irrevocably their
king.”

“But there is no need to publish your determination,” said Madame
O’Malachy, anxiously. “It would sound as though you wished to defy M.
Drakovics and his party. And there is another reason why you must
proceed very cautiously, and that is Nadia herself. You may trust
me--I am an old woman, old and experienced, and Nadia is very young
and foolish. As a woman of the world, I can appreciate your
willingness to jeopardise your position for her sake; but you know
what she is--an eccentric, a fanatic. I am convinced that she fears
being thought to pursue you on account of your kingdom, and thinks
also that you may have perceived her feelings towards you, and only
desire to marry her out of pity.”

Caerleon stood pondering. He knew that the woman before him was false
to the core--that very morning had given him another proof of the
fact--but her words sounded so likely to be true, and the state of
feeling they described so characteristic of Nadia, that he was bound
to believe them. After all, she was Nadia’s mother, and ought to
understand her, and what interest could she have in misrepresenting
things in this case? It was only natural to suppose that she would be
more likely to strain every nerve to forward his wishes than to put
obstacles in his way. Moreover, he had now confided in her to such an
extent that he might as well throw himself on her compassion
altogether.

“But what can I do?” he asked. “You will let me see her and plead my
cause?”

“Not at present, if you are a wise man,” said Madame O’Malachy. “Leave
her to herself for a little. Let her please her pride with the belief
that she has repulsed you effectually--her heart will suffer all the
more. Then, when you are in your rightful place at Bellaviste, with
all your splendour about you, speak to her again. She must see then
that you seek her only because you love her, and she will be thankful
to perceive it.”

“But how shall I see her at Bellaviste?” asked Caerleon. “Are you
going on there?”

“Have you forgotten,” asked Madame O’Malachy, rather reproachfully,
“that it has always been our intention to accompany Louis when he goes
to try and obtain a post in the Thracian army? Shall we be less likely
to visit Thracia now that we have a friend upon the throne?”

“But why not come on with us now?” asked Caerleon. “May I not have the
pleasure of receiving you as my guests? I don’t know the capacity of
the palace at Bellaviste; but it must certainly be large enough to
accommodate your party, if you don’t mind roughing it for a time in a
bachelor’s household.”

“A thousand thanks,” said Madame O’Malachy, with her sweetest smile,
“but I am afraid we must decline your hospitable proposition. However,
we will certainly continue our journey into your kingdom, and no doubt
there will be a hotel at Bellaviste which can take us in. Rely upon me
as your friend. I am not an enthusiast, I do not pretend to have no
regard for the splendours of a throne, but I wish you well, and what
help I can give you with this daughter of mine I will.”

And with this assurance of support Caerleon was obliged to be content.



 CHAPTER VI.
 A ROYAL PROGRESS.

“Where is the King?” asked M. Drakovics, coming into the coffee-room
hastily about an hour later, and finding only Cyril, who was engaged
in performing some complicated operation with a bradawl and the strap
of a knapsack.

“His Majesty,” returned Cyril, in the choicest ‘Court Circular’ style,
“is walking out this morning, and at this moment is probably
conversing in a friendly spirit with some of his faithful subjects,
through the medium of Mr Louis O’Malachy.”

“These O’Malachys again!” cried M. Drakovics. “This must be stopped!”

He turned angrily to leave the room, but Cyril was at the door before
him.

“One moment, monsieur. I wish to know on what terms we are to stand?”

“I do not understand you, milord”--M. Drakovics was astonished--“but I
hope to satisfy you later. Meanwhile, are you aware that Colonel
O’Malachy and his family leave this place to-day, before his Majesty,
for Bellaviste, and intend to reside there for the present? That
cannot be allowed.”

“Now we have come to the point,” said Cyril. “I want a plain answer to
a plain question, M. Drakovics. Are you and I to work together or not?
If we are to be friends, I will tell you at once that you are
meditating a very great mistake, and that I should be glad to help you
to avoid it.”

“Milord!” The Kossuth of the Balkans looked Cyril up and down in
amazement visibly mingled with scorn. “I am highly honoured by your
offer of co-operation, but my dull mind fails to perceive its
advantages.”

“No?” said Cyril, with unruffled good-humour, “and yet there are two
very obvious ones. In the first place, you have to reckon with my
influence over my brother. You cannot persuade yourself that you know
him as well as I do, and if you consider the matter a little, I think
you will see that my advice is quite as likely to be followed as
yours, and that the consequences of this might be unpleasant if you
and I had the misfortune to disagree. In the second place, although
you are very clever and very powerful, you are neither omnipotent nor
omniscient, and there are circumstances in which the help of a man who
has a certain amount of knowledge of the world, and some slight
experience in diplomacy, might possibly stand you in good stead, even
though he were the humble individual before you.”

M. Drakovics gasped. The colossal impudence of his sovereign’s brother
appeared literally to take away his breath. “If you were not an
Englishman,” he said, slowly, “I should think that you wanted to be
bought off.”

“But since I am an Englishman,” said Cyril, “you can’t quite see what
Thracia could offer me that I should care for; and you are about right
there. I am going in for this business just for the fun of the thing,
and for the sake of backing up Caerleon. I don’t know, of course, what
Mrs Sadleir told you about me in the letter I forwarded; but from what
she said when she wrote it, I think she must have let you know what my
views were.”

“She did,” said M. Drakovics, with some hesitation, “but still----” He
looked thoughtfully at Cyril for a moment, and then spoke quickly,
“You have no doubt studied carefully the present position of affairs
in the Balkans, milord. What should be my course at the moment with
regard to Roum, which holds suzerain rights over Thracia?”

“Despatch a special messenger, well provided with money, to Czarigrad
immediately,” said Cyril, without an instant’s pause. “Make the
Government there see that the election of an Englishman as king is a
fresh bulwark against Scythian aggression. Secure their moral support
at any cost, and get an assurance, no matter what you have to pay for
it, that even if Scythia brings pressure on them to censure or disavow
your action, they will at least take no active steps against you.”

“Excellent!” cried M. Drakovics. “My dear friend, the messenger has
already started. How your ideas jump with mine! But tell me, what
next?”

“Send off immediately notes to the various Powers, informing them of
my brother’s election, and inviting their sovereigns to be present at
the coronation. Once the despatches are gone, don’t lose a minute.
Instead of heading straight for Bellaviste, let us go at once to the
nearest city or monastery where an archbishop is to be found. Beg,
borrow, or buy a crown--you could make one with two or three of those
gold plates from the _icons_, fastened together--and get Caerleon
crowned without the smallest delay. Remonstrances from the Powers will
be beginning to pour in by that time, of course; but they will have to
follow you about the country, and you won’t open them until after the
ceremony. Then you will regret that they arrived so late that, in the
bustle and rush attendant upon the coronation, they remained
unnoticed.”

“Oh, my friend, why were you not born a Thracian?” cried M. Drakovics,
seizing Cyril in his arms, and imprinting a fervent kiss on each of
his cheeks. “Your plan is almost perfect: it has only one
drawback--that it is impossible. Every King of Thracia must be crowned
in the chapel of St Peter at Bellaviste. It is a small, rude building,
standing in the quadrangle of the palace, and in it Alexander Franza,
first of the name--the patriot king--saw a vision of St Peter, the
night before the great battle in which he burst the Roumi yoke. No
other coronation would be valid in the opinion of the people, nor can
the crown be legally removed from the chapel. It is kept in a great
chest built into the wall, of which I hold one key, the Metropolitan
another, and the king the third. I have it now to deliver to his
Majesty, but none of the keys will open the box without the other two.
Your brother cannot be crowned until we reach Bellaviste, for no
make-shift crown would be tolerated by the Thracians.”

“It is an enormous pity,” said Cyril. “Time is everything to us just
now. Why not disregard the superstition of the people, and spring on
them a king ready crowned, and safe on his throne?”

“Ah, you do not know my countrymen,” said M. Drakovics, sorrowfully.
“Such a thing would be an outrage, a defiance of their religious
feelings. No, we must wait until we reach Bellaviste; but I will take
your advice as to the protests from the Powers. What is your feeling
about Scythia?”

“Send the same note to her as to the other Powers; but let it be well
understood privately that if she makes one hostile movement, you are
prepared to contest every inch of ground, and will at the same moment
throw yourself upon the protection of Pannonia, who will be only too
ready to interfere if there is any likelihood of war in the Balkans,
and will be supported by her allies. Meanwhile, see that your army is
ready to mobilise at the shortest notice, and look out for Scythian
spies.”

“But that is my very point!” cried M. Drakovics. “These O’Malachys are
Scythian spies, all of them. That is one imperative reason for their
not being allowed to approach Bellaviste, and the other is that Madame
O’Malachy is anxious to entrap the King into marrying her daughter.”

“Let us take the charges one at a time,” said Cyril, calmly. “The
O’Malachy and his wife are spies--there is no doubt of that--but for
that very reason I would not only welcome them to Bellaviste, but I
would find room for them in the palace itself, if I could.”

“You are joking!” said M. Drakovics, in astonishment.

“Not at all, I assure you. Think a moment. The more completely we can
treat the O’Malachy family as my brother’s guests, the better we can
have them under observation. There is such a thing as a censorship
even of private letters and telegrams in disturbed times, I believe;
and it would be easier to work it with people we knew, and on whom we
kept a constant watch, than with obscure persons whose doings might
escape our attention. Again, expelled from Thracia, which is what I
suppose you would suggest, the O’Malachys would linger just across the
frontier, setting in motion a whole horde of spies, all of whom we
could not hope to discover, while we could never be sure that they
themselves had not re-entered the kingdom in some disguise. It
certainly seems a bold thing to admit them into the very heart of our
defences, but they would be clever if they managed to see more than
they were meant to see.”

“But about Mademoiselle?” asked M. Drakovics, anxiously. “The King
cannot marry her. He must form an alliance which will strengthen his
throne.”

“You are right,--he must. But did you intend to tell him so? I know
Caerleon a good deal better than you do, and you may take my word for
it that as soon as you had finished your remarks he would go straight
to Miss O’Malachy and lay the crown at her feet. So far as he is
concerned, you must let the matter take its course. Nothing can be
said to him.”

“But how, then, would you prevent it?” cried M. Drakovics. “Is the
girl to be kidnapped and carried off?”

“My good sir--no! Do you want all Europe in a ferment, and Caerleon
throwing up the kingdom to go and look for her? The O’Malachy and his
wife would make the finest political capital possible out of such a
tale. No; we must act merely by means of moral suasion, you and I and
Miss O’Malachy.”

“Miss O’Malachy? The girl?” gasped M. Drakovics.

“Exactly--the young lady. You are a very clever man, M. Drakovics, but
you have not had the advantage of spending a year in the British
Embassy at Pavelsburg, and making an exhaustive study of Scythian
society ladies. I know well enough the Cercle Evangélique in which
Miss O’Malachy was brought up--not that it is in favour in high
quarters, quite the contrary; but I was interested in it out of
curiosity. Its members may be called fanatics--they certainly are not
worldly-wise--and I am pretty sure that Princess Soudaroff has made
her god-daughter as great an enthusiast as she is herself. Now you
will see why I am ready to lay aside in her case the usual rule of
considering every one a knave until he or she is proved otherwise, and
why I expect her to do our business for us.”

“But how?”

“I will lay the case before her, and point out that Caerleon will ruin
his cause and jeopardise his crown if he marries her. Then she will
refuse him for his own sake.”

“Impossible, milord! Refuse a crown?”

“For his sake, I tell you. That’s what the girl is like. Well, will
you leave it to me? If I fail, after fair trial, I give you full leave
to break off the match in your own way.”

“I agree, milord, though I cannot believe you will succeed. No woman
on earth would decline a crown, to be shared with the man whom,
according to you, she loves passionately. But you shall try. By all
means, milord, we work together, if you please.”

“I thought so,” laughed Cyril to himself, as M. Drakovics went out.

A little later, he saw from the balcony the O’Malachys’
travelling-carriage coming round to the door, and watched while the
family took their places in it. Madame O’Malachy, gracious and
graceful as ever, was nodding pleasantly to the landlady as the
luggage was put up, and her husband was cracking a joke with the
travelled waiter, through whom all communications with the authorities
of the inn were obliged to be conducted. Louis, surly and
unapproachable as usual, took his seat in the carriage without a word,
and Nadia was equally silent as she sat upright by her mother’s side,
her face covered with a thick veil, which aroused Cyril’s suspicions
instantly.

“She has been crying,” he said. “What a pity her complexion isn’t like
her mother’s, for a little powder and paint would put it all right in
that case. What Caerleon can see in her I cannot imagine.”

In spite of his antipathy to the O’Malachys, he kept his place on the
balcony and waved a farewell to the travellers, watching the carriage
as it wound round the curves of the rough mountain road until it was
finally out of sight, when he went back into the coffee-room to join
Caerleon and M. Drakovics, who were discussing the question of the
costume in which the new King was to make the journey to his capital.
Evening dress and a tall hat formed M. Drakovics’s idea of the clothes
suitable to the occasion; but Wright, who was assisting uninvited at
the discussion, and who bore a grudge already against the Premier for
inducing Caerleon to remain in Thracia, flatly declined to “make a
tomfool” of his master by helping him to don a swallow-tail coat in
the daytime. Caerleon himself thought it would be the proper thing to
adopt the Thracian national dress, as a delicate compliment to the
people; but M. Drakovics objected to this on the ground that the
Thracians were expecting an Englishman, and would be disappointed if
they found him dressed like themselves.

“Will your Majesty not wear your uniform?” he asked, offering another
suggestion in his turn. “That of your Volunteer cavalry, I mean?”

“My Yeomanry uniform?” said Caerleon. “I haven’t got it here. In fact,
I should have no right to wear it any longer if I had, for I resigned
my commission before I left home, because the expenses connected with
the troop were too much for me to meet in my present circumstances.”

“But your uniform’s ’ere, all the same, my lord,” said Wright. “If
your lordship remembers, it was sent on with the ’eavy luggage before
the troop was decided to be given up, in case there was any grand
doin’s while your lordship were at the castle,” and he nodded vaguely
in the direction which he imagined to be that of Château Temeszy.

“Oh, well, if you’ve got it, you may as well wear it, Caerleon,” said
Cyril. “It’s only a cast-off now, after all, and if Ceylon coolies and
African chiefs are allowed to sport discarded British uniforms, I
don’t see why the King of Thracia shouldn’t.”

“Your comparisons are not exactly flattering to Thracia,” said
Caerleon, “and I don’t think it’s quite the thing to sport the old
uniform under the circumstances. Ordinary riding-togs are the best
thing for a long ride like this, and if it’s absolutely necessary, one
can add a top hat and a black coat before entering Bellaviste;” and to
this decision he adhered, in spite of the Premier’s remonstrances and
of Cyril’s jeers.

It had been arranged that the King and his companions were to ride the
greater part of the way to Bellaviste, escorted by the Thracians who
had accompanied M. Drakovics, and most of whom had brought horses with
them; for although a railway from the frontier to the capital was
nearly completed, it had not yet been opened for passenger traffic. It
was a picturesque procession which wound down the mountain-side,
headed by Caerleon and M. Drakovics; but when the level ground was
reached the symmetry of the march was much disturbed, for the younger
men among the Thracians broke the line out of pure gladness, racing
their horses against one another, and riding hither and thither on
either side of the main body. Whenever a village was reached, the
inhabitants were summoned to the church by the ringing of the bell,
and Caerleon, standing on the steps, was proclaimed king by M.
Drakovics. Everywhere the people poured forth in delight to meet the
party, bringing offerings of bread and salt, which were to be touched
by the King and afterwards consumed by the givers.

On these occasions Cyril generally remained in the background, afraid
of being caught laughing, as he told M. Drakovics, to the no small
indignation of the Premier. Wright shared his objection to publicity,
but for a different reason, feeling very uneasy in his mind as to the
whole proceeding, now that he understood its import, and not at all
sure that it was consistent with his duty to Queen Victoria to become
a subject of Caerleon. There was an unhappy consciousness that
something was wrong about his whole aspect, which would have afforded
Cyril infinite amusement at any other time; but now, as from his
commanding position on horseback he watched his brother’s
close-cropped fair head towering above the unkempt locks of his new
subjects, he was busy trying to enter into the feelings of the
Thracians. Mothers brought their children to look at Caerleon, for
good luck, as they said, “that their eyes might see the King’s face”;
old men came tottering up to touch his coat or his riding-whip, and to
call down blessings on his head. It was all too absurdly medieval,
thought Cyril, as the office-bearers of the little towns came hurrying
to take the oath of allegiance to their new King, and the peasants
crowded round to entreat him to raise an army to conquer Scythia, in
which every man of them would enlist. Why should they make all this
fuss about an unimaginative Englishman, who merely looked
uncomfortable when a more than usually fervent assurance of devotion
was translated to him, and who could say nothing in return but that he
would try to do his best for the people and the country? There could
be no idea of Divine Right in this case, for how could such a
sentiment consist with the popular election of the monarch? and as for
loyalty, how could they feel loyalty to a man of whom they knew
nothing but that he was an English prince, for whom M. Drakovics
vouched as a suitable candidate for the throne? Cyril decided at last
that they regarded Caerleon as the incarnation of the spirit of the
late revolution, and as a bulwark against Scythia and the return of
the House of Franza; but the Thracians themselves would probably have
explained their delight much more simply by saying that they had a
king at last, that he was young, good-looking, and fair-haired, and
that he spoke courteously and looked like a soldier.

After three days spent in this kind of travelling the party came in
sight of Bellaviste, and here they were met by what M. Drakovics
called the “Sacred Band,” but which was known to military critics as
the crack regiment of the Thracian army. It had been recruited on the
classical principle, the men being divided into little groups of five
or ten, all hailing from the same village, while in the same way each
company represented a district, and each battalion a province.

“This regiment, your Majesty,” said M. Drakovics, as he presented the
officers to Caerleon, “is the backbone of your army. Representative,
from its composition, of the whole nation, it was the first to declare
for freedom, and when it had done so, the doom of the House of Franza
was sealed. I can assure you that the Sacred Band, to which, with your
gracious permission, I will from to-day grant the honour of calling
itself the Carlino Regiment, will prove to be the bulwark of your
throne.”

The grant of its new name was received with great enthusiasm by the
regiment, which was formed up for inspection, and when this ceremony
was over, proceeded to escort the King into his capital. M. Drakovics,
riding as usual beside his sovereign, pointed out the chief features
of interest on the road. The city of Bellaviste itself was situated on
a hill, which rose steeply from the river, but fell away gradually on
the other sides. The highest portion of the hill was occupied by the
palace, which with its gardens was surrounded by a strong wall capable
of defence against a foe unprovided with artillery. Below this, on
three sides, the houses of the town covered the slopes as far as the
lowlands, while a broad rampart ran round the whole, set with towers
at intervals.

“That is all our work since the revolution,” said M. Drakovics,
pointing to this rampart with pride. “Under the Franzas, the money
voted for fortifications was all spent on excavating and arming
useless batteries along the river-front, which no foe would think of
attacking, while the town was left defenceless.”

“I don’t think you are giving King Peter the credit he deserves,” said
Cyril. “If his batteries on the river-face are well placed, he ought
to be able to command the whole channel, and his position would be
most important in view of a European war. Matters would be very much
in his hands, for unless he chose, the Pannonian gunboats could not
get out to sea, nor could the Scythian war-ships get up the river. The
great danger would be that he might find himself taken in the rear. I
suppose he meant to see to that when he had finished his batteries.”

“Our views were not so exalted, milord,” said M. Drakovics. “Safety
was our great consideration, and when we were free our first thought
was to erect a wall, which, if it could not stand against modern
artillery, would at any rate serve to resist any insurrectionary
force.”

“And to whom is the defence of the wall intrusted?” asked Caerleon.
“To the Sacred Band?”

“No, indeed,” answered the Premier. “Their barracks are two miles away
from the city, on that farther hill. The people were afraid that if
their king had a regiment at his command in Bellaviste, he might use
it to overthrow the constitution. The city is garrisoned by the city
guard, which is entirely composed of young men belonging to Bellaviste
families. One company of this forms the palace guard, with a very
elaborate uniform and special rights. It was the favourite corps of
King Peter Franza, and we scarcely expected that its members would be
willing to fall in with the new state of things, particularly when we
were forced to deprive them of some of their privileges. But the
officers are all staunch--we took care of that.”

“Did your care extend to giving the palace guard as many occasions of
discontent as possible?” asked Cyril. “You owed the success of your
revolution to the co-operation of the army, and the army must be very
dense if it has not learnt the lesson. What you will have to guard
against in the future is a military revolt, and it sounds to the
uninitiated as though you were carefully working one up.”

“We were obliged to deprive the guard as far as possible of its power
of mischief, milord. In its former state it was a standing menace, but
under its present officers it is excellently affected to the
Government.”

At the gate of the city the Sacred Band handed over its escort duties
to the guard, which was paraded for the King’s inspection, after which
all the troops fell in for the march through the streets. The houses
were gaily decorated, and the windows and roofs crowded with people,
who welcomed Caerleon with shouts of joy. It was still early in the
day, and M. Drakovics had arranged a programme of events. Orders had
been sent forward to prepare for the coronation; but it was found
impossible to complete the arrangements before the morrow, and all
that could be done on this occasion was to visit the hall of the
Assembly, in order to receive the loyal addresses of the Legislative
body, and their oath of allegiance. Then followed the reception of
addresses from the municipality of Bellaviste, and as many other local
authorities as had been able to get them ready in time; after which
came lunch at the Hôtel de Ville, and a state progress through the
town. Further receptions followed this, and the events of the day
concluded with a parade of the palace guard in the courtyard of the
palace. It needed all M. Drakovics’s powers of persuasion to induce
his sovereign to conduct a third inspection after his round of duties;
but he represented so forcibly the disappointment which would be felt
in the city if any slight were offered to the guard, that Caerleon
yielded. They were a fine body of men, wearing a very handsome, if
somewhat foppish, uniform, and their officers were seasoned old
soldiers, whose aspect presented a curious contrast to that of the
rank and file. One more speech, translated by M. Drakovics, was
necessary here, and this duty performed, Caerleon entered his palace
with a sigh of relief. Owing to the delay in the coronation
arrangements, which included a state banquet, no special function had
been fixed for that evening, except that the town was to be
illuminated later on; and although M. Drakovics would have liked to
linger at the palace and talk international politics, Caerleon’s
disinclination for further conversation on the subject was so
extremely pronounced that he found it impossible to remain, and the
brothers were left alone together.

“Call this being king?” said Caerleon, when he and Cyril met at dinner
in the comparatively small room which they had chosen out of the
wilderness of state apartments as their dining-room when by
themselves, for there were few regular court officials at present. The
chief functionaries had all gone into exile with the late king, and it
had not been possible to appoint their successors as yet, so that
matters were in the hands of such of the less important officials as
had adopted the cause of the revolution. These had not yet acquired
the reverential obtuseness which would have enabled those whose places
they had taken to maintain their position about the king as long as
etiquette required, in spite of his disinclination for their society.
Accordingly they effaced themselves obediently when their sovereign
intimated that their attendance was not further desired that night,
and it did not strike Caerleon that even the freedom he now enjoyed
would have been impossible in a properly constituted court. “I call it
being a slave, no less,” he went on. “What a luxurious beast old
Franza must have been! I never saw anything like the rooms up-stairs.
Well, if luxury could compensate him for all the bother and fuss, he
deserved it.”

“‘Uneasy lies the head----’” began Cyril.

“Oh, shut up, and don’t quote moral platitudes,” said Caerleon,
wearily. “I tell you what, Cyril, there are two things we’ll do. We’ll
look out some attic place where we can smoke in peace, with two chairs
in it and a rug on the floor, and we will break through that absurd
rule of never going out without an escort. I mean to do the
Haroun-al-Raschid business, and poke about a little _incog_.”

“All right,” said Cyril; “I’ll be Grand Vizier. We will get hold of a
couple of fur caps and these Thracian cloaks with high fur collars,
and have some fun. Shall we begin to-night with the illuminations, or
are you fagged out?”

“I don’t see why we shouldn’t,” said Caerleon. “Root out some cloaks,
will you? There are servants enough, and it’s a charity to give them
something to do. It’ll be all right if we are in by eleven o’clock,
when some of those chaps from the town are coming to serenade us.”

Through the medium of Wright, who was preparing very reluctantly to
resign the care of his master’s personal belongings into the hands of
the new servants and return to his natural sphere, the charge of the
stables, Cyril procured the required disguises, and he and his brother
wrapped themselves up and slipped out. The palace was built round a
square courtyard, in the midst of which stood the rude little chapel
of St Peter, where the workmen had been busied all day in making
preparations for the coronation. As the servants were all at supper,
and the guards in their own hall, only the sentries were to be seen,
and Caerleon and Cyril stole along in the shadow, giving the password
when it was demanded, and reaching the gardens in safety. A private
gate, to which they alone possessed a key, supplied them with the
means of exit, and they descended the steep street and mingled with
the crowd which was admiring the illuminations. These were more
ambitious than successful, and although the Thracians were full of
delight, Cyril turned up his nose at the display, and commented on it
in disparaging whispers.

“It _is_ rather slow here,” said Caerleon, stopping short suddenly.
“Let us go and look up the O’Malachys.”

It was in Cyril’s mind to say, “I wondered how soon you would get to
that,” but he held his tongue, and followed Caerleon to the Hôtel
Occidental, the whereabouts of which the King had discovered in the
course of his progress through the town. Keeping their cloaks well up
to their faces, they passed through the hall without being recognised,
and were conducted up-stairs to the O’Malachys’ sitting-room, where
they found the Herr Oberst himself, Louis, and Nadia. Madame O’Malachy
was suffering from a bad headache, and had gone early to her room.

“Indeed and ’tis very condescending in your Majesty to come and see us
like this,” said the O’Malachy, when he had apologised for his wife’s
absence. “Sure ’twas only an hour ago I was saying to Louie here,
‘What will we do about paying our respects to the King? Will we call
upon um, or wait until he sends for us?’ And we couldn’t make up our
minds about ut at all.”

“That’s not true,” said Cyril to himself. “I’m pretty sure you decided
to wait until Caerleon came and looked you up, which you guessed he
would do before long.”

“For pity’s sake,” said Caerleon, sinking into the chair which Louis
pushed towards him, “leave the kingdom alone for a little while,
O’Malachy. I am sick to death of it. Here, at any rate, let me have a
little respite.”

“As you please,” said the O’Malachy, with a gracious wave of the hand.
“I suppose a king may take a holiday like other people if he wants ut.
You will find Liberty Hall here, whenever you like to look in.”

Caerleon sighed contentedly, and leaned back in his chair. The room
looked comfortable and home-like, very different from the gorgeous
solitudes at the palace. The O’Malachy, white-haired and soldierly,
with a sly twinkle in his eye, was the picture of a courteous host.
Nadia sat close by, under the light, with her work; and Louis, buried
in a Bellaviste weekly journal, seemed less out of harmony with his
surroundings than usual. The place was a haven of rest. But rest in
itself was not sufficient for complete happiness, and Caerleon’s state
of contentment did not last long. Cyril, watching from the background,
was no better pleased. Before the evening was over, he had lost
patience altogether with Nadia. Why did she sit there stiffly, in the
full blaze of the electric light, working with unremitting assiduity
at some coarse and unlovely garment for the poor, and refusing to
answer any remark except in monosyllables? She would not take Caerleon
into the conservatory to show him the flowers, as he asked her, nor
did she respond to her father’s suggestion that she should point out
to him the view from the balcony. There she sat, never looking up,
sewing away as if for dear life, and acting as an effectual damper on
the conversation of the rest, while Cyril was longing for a smoke with
Louis and his father, and one or two of the latter’s stories, which
were not altogether suited for ladies’ ears. All that Caerleon wanted
was to be left alone with her, but she succeeded in baffling all his
efforts, and Cyril waxed furious over her foolishness. Did she really
imagine that by dint of coyness and coldness she could keep her lover
from making her an open avowal of his feelings? Surely she must know
that he would insist upon a plain answer, and that it would be
impossible to put him off for ever? Caerleon would hear her decision
from her own lips at one time or another, and the sooner she dismissed
him and bade him turn his mind to other subjects the better.

These thoughts were seething in Cyril’s brain all the evening; but
Nadia remained unconscious of their import and as immovable as before.
The only time she exhibited any animation was when the brothers rose
to go.

“You have not seen much of this place yet,” she said to Caerleon as he
bade her good-night, “but I have gone about a good deal yesterday and
to-day. There is plenty for you to do. The drunkenness is awful. You
have before you as much work as you can wish.”

A chuckle from Louis followed her eager speech, and Caerleon had no
opportunity to say more than that he would give his best attention to
the matter, before Cyril hurried him away. They passed through the
streets almost in silence, reached the palace without attracting
notice, and after enduring patiently a long performance from the town
band, went to bed.



 CHAPTER VII.
 CHECK.

“I feel I’ve about earned my night’s repose,” yawned Cyril to
himself in the solitude of his own room. “If all the Thracians have
worked as hard to-day as their king and his brother, they’re an
industrious nation. Hullo! some of them must be at it still. I suppose
old Drakovics has been hurrying them, for fear things won’t be ready
for the coronation.”

His eye had caught a faint glimmer in the eastern windows of St
Peter’s chapel, which could hardly be the effect of moonlight, and as
he lay down he congratulated himself that he was not obliged to work
all through the night at putting up decorations. For an hour or so he
slept the sleep of the weary; then he was aroused by shouts and cries
pealing through the palace.

“Another revolution!” was his first thought, as he jumped out of bed
and groped for his revolver; but as soon as he threw back the
window-curtains, a flood of light poured into the room. The chapel of
St Peter was blazing furiously, and the courtyard was full of guards
and servants, some staring stupidly at the flames, others tumbling
over one another in eager but ineffectual efforts to take measures for
stopping the fire.

“Put on some clothes and come out, Cyril,” said Caerleon’s voice at
the door. “Those idiots there haven’t an idea what to do.”

Hastily obeying, Cyril found himself placed at the head of a band of
water-carriers, while Caerleon took his stand close to the burning
pile, and directed the throwing of the water as the buckets were
passed from hand to hand. There were proper appliances all over the
palace for use in case of an outbreak of fire, but the buckets were
rusted into holes and the hoses were leaky; and if Wright had not
organised from among the onlookers a force to fetch pails from the
stables, it would have been impossible to procure a sufficient
quantity of water. Even as it was, the flames were not finally
vanquished until the roof and walls of the building had fallen in, and
the morning light showed only a heap of smoking ruins. St Peter’s
chapel was a total wreck, and the crown and other regalia of Thracia
were buried under the _débris_.

When the fire had been practically extinguished, Cyril returned to his
room, but not to sleep, for his mind was occupied with a very
pertinent question,--What was the cause of the conflagration? To most
of the household at the palace, the answer appeared obvious. Of course
the men at work in the chapel must have dropped some sparks on the
woodwork or the draperies, or have left a candle burning close to
them. The sentry at the door had noticed nothing until his comrade at
the opposite side of the courtyard, who could see the windows, had
remarked that the workmen must be burning candles enough to light the
whole of Thracia. Astonished to hear this, since he knew that all the
workmen had gone home some hours before, the sentry had at once
alarmed the guard, and the officer in charge procured the chapel key
and opened the door. The place was already a mass of flame within, and
the fire gained additional strength immediately, owing to the rush of
air from the doorway, and burst forth from the windows. The guard
raised the alarm at once, but nothing effectual had been done to
extinguish the flames until Caerleon took command of the amateur
firemen, and his help came too late to be of service. Over all these
details Cyril pondered as he lay in bed. It seemed to him almost
impossible that the fire should have been accidental, for its sudden
outbreak and great strength alike appeared to point to its having been
caused intentionally. Moreover, the time at which it occurred was a
most fortunate one for the Scythian party in the State, for it was
certain that the coronation must now be postponed, if only for a day.
But if the conflagration were the result of a plot, where was the
incendiary to be sought? Was he a traitor in the household, or a
Scythian emissary who had passed himself off as one of the workmen?
Cyril went down-stairs in the morning with his mind full of questions
of this nature, and in the breakfast-room he found M. Drakovics, who
was overflowing with the information he had already gained.

Immediately on hearing of the fire, the Premier had sent to arrest
forthwith all the workmen who had been employed on the decoration of
the chapel; and they had already been interrogated, with the result
that it seemed certain that none of their number was the culprit. The
antecedents of all of them were well known and satisfactory, and the
contractor was able to show that he had purposely employed none but
strong Carlinists on the work. The men were certain that they had left
no lights behind them in the chapel, with the exception of the lamps
always kept burning before the sacred pictures, and they venerated the
place far too highly to smoke there, so that the question of sparks
was disposed of.

“Now,” said M. Drakovics, triumphantly, “we have proved who did not
cause the fire; but beyond that, I am in a position to inform your
Majesty that the miscreant was undoubtedly an emissary of Scythia, and
was either a woman or a man in women’s clothes.”

“If you can prove that already, your police must beat ours hollow,”
said Caerleon. “Let us hear about it.”

“In the first place, your Majesty, I have been examining the ruins,
with the aid of a detachment of sappers. We were searching for the
crown jewels--which are now, alas! shapeless lumps of metal, their
precious stones for the most part calcined--and we found distinct
traces of petroleum in more than one spot. Does not that fact speak
for itself? Petroleum is never used in lighting the chapel, and it is
a favourite weapon of incendiaries. Upon making this discovery, I
proceeded to interrogate the guard, who were all under arrest. Those
who were posted at the gates last night were unanimous in declaring
that no unauthorised person had passed in after the workmen had
departed, with the exception of one woman, who said that she was the
mother of one of the decorators employed, and that her son had left
behind him his book of gold-leaf, which she had come to fetch. The
sentries describe her as very old and bent, but with piercing dark
eyes,--and wearing the dress of the respectable artisan class. The
acting master of the household had not yet locked the chapel doors,
and the woman was therefore allowed to go in and look for the book,
which took her some time to find. She came out with it in her hand,
and the door was immediately locked. The theory is that she carried in
with her a supply of petroleum in a can----”

“Or perhaps in bladders hung round her waist, as brandy used to be
smuggled into England,” put in Cyril, who had been following the
details with much interest.

M. Drakovics bowed. “Very possibly, milord. Having saturated the
woodwork behind the screen of the sanctuary with the oil, she would
arrange a slow match which would not come in contact with it for some
hours, and would then take her departure, provided with a book of
gold-leaf to deceive the guard. The master of the household, looking
in from the doorway, would notice nothing, and would lock the door and
take away the key, leaving the match to do its work.”

“But why may not the culprit be the woman she gave herself out to be?”
asked Caerleon.

“Because, your Majesty, the woman’s son and the other members of her
family are all able to swear that from nine to ten o’clock, the hour
at which the incendiary did her work, Nicola Stanovics’s mother was
engaged in a violent quarrel with her daughter-in-law, who had left
her infant at home while she went out to see the illuminations. The
old woman met her at the door as she returned, and their dispute
almost ended in blows. Moreover, the guard, when confronted with
Marynia Stanovics, declared without hesitation that she was not the
woman whom they had admitted.”

“Well, that seems to clear the old lady, at any rate,” said Caerleon.
“Your work has been most successful in a negative direction. Have you
any positive clue to go upon?”

It did not appear that M. Drakovics as yet possessed anything of the
kind, although he was willing to detail the various theories which had
been formed on the subject, but Cyril did not listen. His mind was
occupied with a hypothesis of his own, the foundation fact of which
was Madame O’Malachy’s headache of the evening before. Again and again
he went through the details, for his suspicions at first seemed
preposterous, but the more he thought over the matter, the more likely
did it appear that Madame O’Malachy had slipped out of doors in
disguise, carrying with her the necessary supply of petroleum, and
successfully effected the firing of the chapel. His visit to the hotel
with Caerleon had given him the means of reaching this conclusion,
inasmuch as if they had not happened to call no one would have known
that Madame O’Malachy was not spending the evening hours in the
society of her family. The plot must have been maturing for some time,
since both the disguise and the petroleum would be difficult to
procure in Bellaviste without exciting suspicion, and it could not be
doubted that its object was to delay the coronation,--although whether
the lady had done her work in pursuance of orders from her Scythian
employers, or with an eye to her daughter’s future, Cyril found
himself unable to determine. It was not difficult to guess that she
was playing a double game, and that whereas she had been commissioned
to use every possible means to prevent Caerleon’s ascending the
Thracian throne, she was not unwilling to assist him in establishing
himself there, provided that her daughter shared his elevation. To
pursue at the same time two lines of policy so diametrically opposed
to one another might well need almost superhuman skill, and it
appeared evident to Cyril that for the sake of placing her good faith
to her employers beyond suspicion, Madame O’Malachy had taken a step
so desperate that it bade fair to ruin her private schemes. Had he but
overheard his brother’s parting conversation with her at Witska, he
might have discovered that she had not yet found the problem of
serving two masters an insoluble one. In spite of his ignorance of
this factor in the case, however, he was filled with a lively
admiration for both her resolution and her daring.

“What an actress the woman must be!” he said to himself. “What pluck,
what nerve she has! But this sort of thing won’t do. She will think
nothing of dynamiting us before long, if this is the way she begins.
We shall be obliged to take a hostage from her. She doesn’t care a
scrap for the girl; but if Louis, for whom she does seem to have a
little natural affection, were safely installed here, she would think
twice before blowing us up. I must get that settled.”

“There is one thing that makes me feel less regret than I should
otherwise have done for the postponement of the coronation,” M.
Drakovics was saying. “I have received this morning a despatch in
cipher from my agent at Czarigrad, saying that he finds the Roumi
Government far more favourably disposed towards Thracia and your
Majesty than we could have dared to hope. He has even received a hint
from a very high quarter to the effect that if we could put off the
coronation for a certain length of time, so as to avoid anything that
might have the appearance of a desire to force the hand of the Grand
Signior, our right as a nation to choose our own sovereign would
before very long be recognised. That would strengthen our position in
Europe enormously. If Roum recognises us, Scythia can do little.”

“But Scythia will in the meantime bring pressure on Roum to refuse to
recognise us,” said Cyril. “Surely you are losing a great opportunity
for the chance of grasping at a shadow. Is it decided that the
coronation shall be postponed?”

“What else can we do?” asked M. Drakovics. “The King must be crowned
in St Peter’s chapel, and with the crown of Alexander the Patriot. The
chapel is in ruins, the crown a mere lump of metal, and both must be
restored before they can be used.”

“But this is madness!” cried Cyril. “Do you intend to wait for the
chapel to be rebuilt? It will probably take months. After all, when it
is restored, it won’t be the old chapel, so why not have the
coronation somewhere else at once?”

“Because you are not acquainted with our people, milord,” was the
studiously mild reply of M. Drakovics. “They would not recognise any
king not crowned on that spot, and with that crown. Moreover, in an
emergency like the present, when our actions are certain to be
jealously scrutinised in order to discover the least flaw in the
legality of our proceedings, we must be doubly careful to do
everything in the very strictest order.”

“Then why not clear away the ruins and hold the ceremony in the open
air, or in a tent pitched on the site of the chapel?” cried Cyril.
“There must be jewellers in Bellaviste, who would not take more than
a day to knock together out of your lump of gold something
sufficiently like a crown for all practical purposes. Take my word for
it, M. Drakovics, if we lose the day finally, it will be owing to
delay now.”

“You must allow me to differ from you, milord,” was the answer. “In my
opinion, the day is far more likely to be lost through undue
precipitation. But after all, the matter is entirely in his Majesty’s
hands. Is it your wish, sir, that the coronation should take place
immediately or not?”

“Well,” said Caerleon, “you ought to know best,--and naturally it
would be a very good thing to begin the reign with full recognition
from Roum.”

“Your reign has begun,” said Cyril. “The coronation only puts a seal
upon it, half-sentimental, half-religious.”

“Still,” said Caerleon, “we are not the best judges, Cyril. If M.
Drakovics, who is better acquainted with Thracia than we are, thinks
that it will be more serviceable to the country to delay the
coronation, I have no objection.”

“That’s all very well,” thought Cyril. “You are calculating that in a
month or two you ought to be able to break down Miss O’Malachy’s
scruples. I am sorry to be under the painful necessity of putting a
spoke in your wheel, my dear fellow.”

“If your Majesty is pleased to delay the coronation,” said M.
Drakovics, “may I ask you to visit the Hôtel de Ville with me this
morning? The people have been gathering together from all the country
round to witness the ceremony, and it will be necessary to explain to
them what has occurred. There is another thing I was anxious to know.
Your Majesty mentioned a few days ago that your brother had some idea
of offering himself as your private secretary. I see that
correspondence is already beginning to pour in, and as the office is a
very delicate and important one, I venture to ask whether Milord Cyril
is still in the same mind?”

“M. Drakovics means me to earn my board and lodging,” said Cyril, who
was conscious of a grudge against the statesman for rejecting his
counsel.

“I am quite sure that M. Drakovics means nothing of the kind,” said
Caerleon, sharply. “He knows very well that you are here as my guest.”

“As the guest of the nation, if I may be permitted to correct your
Majesty,” said M. Drakovics. “Thracia owes far too much to your family
not to desire to see as many of its members as possible. My reason for
asking this question to-day is that Milord Cyril has displayed such a
talent for diplomacy that I am anxious not to lose his co-operation in
the work I have in hand at present. His one fault is that, like all
young diplomats, he wishes to begin, as you say in England, at the top
of the tree, and in this he does himself an injustice, for his forte
lies rather in working in combination with others than in isolated
action, if he will allow me to say so.”

“Well, Cyril, the bitter pill is pretty well gilded,” said Caerleon,
laughing. “What do you say? Will you take the situation?”

“I suppose I should have to read all your letters,” said Cyril. “That
sounds fairly interesting. Then I should have to write the
answers--not quite so delightful, but still passable. Yes; I’ll take
it.”

“If your Majesty will permit me, I will give Milord Cyril a few hints
as to the duties of this new position,” said M. Drakovics.

“Very well,” returned Caerleon. “I am going to stroll round to the
stables, Cyril. When your initiation is complete, you’ll find me
there.”

“Now,” said Cyril, closing the door on his brother, and turning to M.
Drakovics, “I want to know what you expect to gain by putting off the
coronation in this way. You are giving the Scythians and their
sympathisers a gratuitous triumph, and losing time, which is of
inestimable value. If you have a reason, why keep it a secret?”

“I have a reason, milord,” answered M. Drakovics. “That my opinion
does not accord with yours is a matter for regret; but I hope that it
will not be anything more. I am deeply anxious that you should remain
at Bellaviste, for I need your help.”

“Oh, I suppose I may as well stay here and take Caerleon’s body home
when you have got him shot as a filibuster by a Scythian force sent to
restore order,” said Cyril.

“You are pleased to be sarcastic, milord,” said M. Drakovics. “Without
in the least allowing that the calamity which you prophesy is likely
to occur, I would ask you to remember that the cause is more important
than the man. If Roum recognises our choice of a king, our future
position as a free nation is unassailable, and we are justified in the
sight of Europe. If your brother is crowned king at once, we are
merely, under present circumstances, a vassal State which has
rebelled, and elected its own ruler. No one could be more grateful to
his Majesty for accepting the crown than I am, but Thracia must come
first.”

“I see,” said Cyril; “your business is to take care of Thracia. Very
well, be it so; mine will be to take care of Caerleon. The kingdom
will only be a secondary thing with me, as part of Caerleon’s
property.”

“Then I hope, milord, that you will prove your care by persuading his
Majesty to exercise greater prudence than you both showed last night.
To walk through the streets alone, and in disguise, in the midst of
crowds of strangers, to the lodging of a family of Scythian spies,
where the merest trifle--an accident with a pistol, a drop of poison
in a cup of coffee--might have effected the utmost that Scythia could
desire, can scarcely be called wise.”

“Well, if you had your eye on us all the time we ought to have been
fairly safe,” said Cyril, angry but taken aback.

“You surely do not imagine that I should allow the King to risk his
life so rashly without taking precautions to ensure his safety?” said
M. Drakovics. “You were followed the whole way by one of my most
trusted agents in the Police, a man whom you will do well always to
order to accompany you if his Majesty chooses to go out again
_incognito_. You had no idea that you were tracked, but he never lost
sight of you.”

“Until we reached the hotel, I suppose?” said Cyril.

“On the contrary, you were never more carefully watched than during
your visit there. Ever since Colonel O’Malachy and his wife arrived in
Bellaviste, a police agent in a room on the opposite side of the
street has kept them under constant surveillance by means of mirrors
ingeniously placed at different angles, so that you were in full view
during the whole time you spent in their _salon_.”

“But what is the object of all this police shadowing?” asked Cyril,
rather disgusted.

“To avert mischief,” returned M. Drakovics. “And although we did not
succeed in preventing the burning of the chapel, yet we have
discovered its author. Perhaps you would be surprised to hear how
Madame O’Malachy was employed during the time of your visit last
night?”

“On the contrary,” said Cyril in his turn; “I am flattered to find
that you have come to the same conclusion as myself. She was burning
the chapel.”

M. Drakovics was a little disconcerted. “I congratulate you on the
soundness of your instincts, milord,” he said.

“But why did you not prevent the fire, if you knew of it beforehand?”
asked Cyril.

“Unfortunately, milord, my agent was so much occupied in watching his
Majesty and yourself, that he failed to observe Madame O’Malachy
leaving the hotel, and only saw her return. It was not until he heard
the evidence of the sentries that he divined what her errand had been.
But perhaps you will now agree with me in my estimate of the O’Malachy
family?”

“By the bye,” said Cyril, quickly, “what did you mean just now by
saying that you needed my help?”

“It was on the subject of his Majesty’s marriage,” said M. Drakovics,
looking rather confused. “This morning, before you came in, I ventured
to suggest to the King the advisability of his consolidating his
position by an alliance with some lady belonging to a royal house, but
he refused to allow me to say anything on the subject.”

“It’s just what I told you!” cried Cyril. “Englishmen are not
accustomed to have their marriages arranged for them, and Caerleon is
the very last man to stand it. Now, M. Drakovics, I thought this
matter was to be left to me. Am I to have a free hand or not? If I am
to be interfered with, I will have nothing to do with it.”

“If you can guarantee a successful result, milord, I shall be most
happy to leave it to you,” returned M. Drakovics.

“Because,” continued Cyril, “you are making exactly the same mistake
as Miss O’Malachy. I believe she thinks that she can tire Caerleon out
by snubbing him, and you intend to make use of the information you
have gained, by dint of spying on her mother, to terrify the whole
family into leaving the kingdom. Miss O’Malachy is as anxious to be
out of Thracia as you are to get her out; but you had better not put
that beautiful plan of yours into execution unless you want Caerleon
to go after her. He will have his answer, and if you leave things to
me I will arrange that he shall have it soon, so that the affair may
be over.”

“You seem very certain of success, milord.”

“If I am to succeed, I must be absolutely free. The first thing to be
done is to give Lieutenant O’Malachy a commission in the palace
guard.”

“And why, milord?”

“To keep him out of mischief, and to prevent his mother’s perceiving
that we have discovered her little game. This is my test of the extent
of your confidence in me, monsieur. Is it to be accepted?”

“It shall be,” returned M. Drakovics, after a severe mental struggle.
“The matter is so important that it is worth even a dangerous
experiment.”

When his protracted interview with M. Drakovics was over and Cyril
went in search of Caerleon, his first words on finding him were to
suggest that it would be a graceful recognition of the sacrifices
Louis O’Malachy had made in the cause of Thracia to appoint him at
once to a lieutenancy in the palace guard, thus showing him special
favour by placing him close to the sovereign’s own person. Caerleon
looked surprised.

“I think it’s a very good idea,” he said; “but you have always been so
suspicious of the poor fellow’s motives that I should not have
expected you to propose it. I will have the commission made out at
once. And as we are now on the subject of the O’Malachy family, I may
as well remind you of something of which Drakovics apparently is not
aware. He attacked me this morning about marrying; but you know, if he
doesn’t, that I intend to marry Miss O’Malachy, and no one else.”

“I never imagined that you wanted to imitate the Grand Signior of
Roum, and marry twenty or thirty ladies at once,” said Cyril; but
seeing Caerleon’s face darken, he added hastily, “I beg your pardon,
old man. I was only joking. Do you intend to make formal proposals at
once to papa for the hand of mademoiselle?”

“Not yet,” said Caerleon. “You see,” he went on quickly, as if it was
a relief to unburden himself to his brother, “I can’t tell a bit how
she’ll take it. She has never given me the least encouragement, and
last night she scarcely spoke to me. Unfortunately, I can’t help
guessing that the kingdom would weigh pretty heavily with her parents
in my favour, and I don’t want the poor girl worried into marrying me,
nor her life made a burden to her because she won’t. Madame O’Malachy
has promised me her support; but though it sounds a little ungrateful,
I would rather manage the business without her interference.”

“I don’t think any amount of worrying would make Miss O’Malachy do a
thing she had made up her mind not to do,” said Cyril. “But seriously,
Caerleon, I can’t believe she means to marry you. She gave you the
cold shoulder pointedly enough last night. Can’t you chuck up the
business, old man? I don’t imagine you care for her very
particularly.”

“Don’t you?” asked Caerleon, looking down on him with a smile. “My
dear boy, you are very young still.”

“If you mean to insinuate that I haven’t had twice as much experience
in affairs of the kind as you have,” began Cyril, with a great show of
indignation, “I’ll----”

“I daresay--ten times as much. That accounts for your ignorance.”

“Well, don’t look so horribly superior. It’s awfully riling for the
other fellow, don’t you know? Now, look here, you leave this thing to
me, and I’ll do you a good turn. You want to find out the state of
Miss O’Malachy’s feelings before approaching her father. I’ll manage
to get you a chance of speaking to her alone.”

“Thanks, but I think I can look after my own opportunities.”

“No, you can’t; not as king, with Drakovics and his spies always
prowling about after you. Do you know that we had a fellow shadowing
us last night?”

“Yes, I felt sure at the time that we were being dogged.”

“But why didn’t you say so?”

“I didn’t want to make you nervous.”

“Stuff!” cried Cyril, ungratefully. “You were afraid I should consider
it wiser to give up the expedition and go back. Keep your
thoughtfulness for Miss O’Malachy in future. After that piece of
cheek, you don’t deserve a good turn, but I will mention that I am
going down to the O’Malachys’ this morning to tell them about dear
Louie’s commission. Shall I take any message from you?”

“I’ll come too,” said Caerleon, promptly.

“No, you won’t. You are due at the Hôtel de Ville, to hear old
Drakovics spout from the balcony. It would be ‘Hamlet’ with Hamlet
left out if you weren’t there. Well, shall I take her a bouquet in
your name? No, that would be too pronounced--might be regarded by the
family as a declaration. Shall I say anything to her for you?”

“Yes; you can say that I mean to begin this very day the inquiry she
suggested to me.”

“All right; nothing like setting to work at once. Now, off you go to
uniform and duty. I am the best off this morning.”

Sauntering down to the hotel, Cyril came upon Louis and his father in
the hall, waiting impatiently for Madame O’Malachy, who was going with
them to hear the speeches in the market-place. Going up-stairs, he
found Nadia in the sitting-room, arranging the flowers for the table,
carefully and conscientiously, as she did everything, adding a spray
here, and taking one away there, and holding up the vase to see the
effect, then lifting everything out and beginning again.

Before her stood a glass in which her mother had placed carelessly two
or three blossoms and a spray or two of feathery fern, which seemed to
have arranged themselves, but of which the effect was perfect. By the
table stood Madame O’Malachy, buttoning her long gloves and
criticising freely her daughter’s work.

“You have no taste, Nadia. Surely it must be evident, even to you,
that a brick is not the best model for a bouquet? Don’t pull the
flowers about so much; you will ruin them, and I cannot afford any
more to-day.”

“I am commissioned to say that the hothouses at the palace are at your
disposal, madame, if you would honour my brother by allowing him to
send you some flowers,” said Cyril, coming forward.

“His Majesty’s conduct is angelic,” returned Madame O’Malachy. “But of
what use are all the flowers in Thracia if the artist’s eye for their
arrangement is wanting?” She had taken the vase from Nadia and removed
half its contents, then, with a twirl here and a poke there, she
transformed the remainder into a thing of beauty. “I regret to
perceive that the artistic instinct, the soul of poetry, is wanting in
my daughter. She is very thorough, extremely conscientious, but what
one may call--not heavy, that would be unkind--shall we say _solid_? I
am perpetually worrying myself to discover why she bears no
resemblance at all to me. ‘A reversion to an earlier type,’ I suppose
the scientific gentlemen would call it; _I_ say that she is one of the
trials of my life. For me, I am not at all conscientious, I do nothing
thoroughly; but I think I am not heavy?” She paused with her eyebrows
uplifted in interrogation; and Cyril, though he had been reflecting
what wretchedly bad form it was for a woman to try to make her
daughter feel small in this way, had presence of mind enough to answer
that such a word could never be mentioned in the same breath with the
name of Madame O’Malachy.

“But I must hurry away,” the lady went on, “or O’Malachy will come up
to look for me. I shall hear your news when I return, Milord Cyril.”



 CHAPTER VIII.
 FOR HIS GOOD.

“I think I have one piece of news that at any rate you will like to
hear,” said Cyril, as Madame O’Malachy rustled out of the room and
down the corridor towards the lift.

Nadia’s grey eyes glanced towards him. “You did not come here to offer
us hothouse flowers,” she remarked. “There is something else that you
have to say.”

“Won’t you believe that I came to enjoy the delightful conversation of
Madame and yourself?” asked Cyril, lazily, for he was in a
particularly comfortable chair, and found the spectacle of Nadia’s
laborious dealing with the flowers very entertaining.

“No,” she answered, bluntly, irritated by his manner.

“Well, Caerleon intends to offer your brother a commission in the
palace guard. Is that important enough to satisfy you?”

“I daresay it is important, but it is not what you came to say.”

“You are a little exacting, mademoiselle. Is this what you want? My
brother asked me to tell you that he proposes to begin to-day the
investigation you recommended him to set on foot.”

“That is good!” she cried. “I knew I should not be disappointed in
him. But you have another message still.”

“Pardon me, I have no other message, although my business with you
grows, if I may say so, out of that last message.”

“Precisely, and I know what it is. You wish to say that his Majesty’s
eager compliance with my wishes betokens a state of affairs which you,
as a man of the world, consider highly inexpedient when it exists in
connection with the King of Thracia and a penniless foreigner.”

“I had no intention of saying anything so rude; but I will own that
although when Caerleon and I first had the honour of meeting your
family, I saw no insuperable objection to his pleasing himself in
marrying, things are different now. I blame myself very much that I
did not foresee this change and try----”

“I don’t want your regrets, Lord Cyril,” interrupted Nadia. “Let us
keep to the facts as they are. They are sufficiently obvious. I agree
with you, that for the King to marry me would probably cost him his
throne, and that is a sacrifice I could not accept.”

“I’m very glad you see it in this light,” began Cyril, rather taken
aback by her coolness; but she interrupted him.

“You know quite well that I should have preferred our acquaintance to
cease when we parted at Witska, and that since that could not be, I am
most anxious to leave Thracia as soon as possible. I have done all I
could to induce my parents to return to Janoszwar, but in vain. You
must do your part. Why will you not help me? Why have you given Louis
this commission, when it will only be an excuse for our remaining in
the country?”

“As a delicate compliment to the future Queen of Thracia,” said Cyril,
in his smoothest tones. “At least, I am sure that is the light in
which Caerleon regards it.”

“He should not be so confident,” said Nadia. “Queen of Thracia you at
least know that I shall never be. I expect you to help me in
disappointing the King for his good. This is my plan. My parents are
Scythian agents--you know that already, but I make the admission that
you may have fuller right to take action”--and she laughed bitterly.
“As for Louis, I don’t know whether he has accepted the commission you
are offering him or not; but if he has, it is only that he may do you
greater harm. He is here for the purpose of plotting against the
independence of Thracia. Well, then, have us arrested to-night and
conveyed to the frontier; then your anxieties may cease.”

“I beg your pardon; they would only begin,” said Cyril. “You are
leaving Caerleon out of your reckoning altogether, Miss O’Malachy. Do
you know, I wished most fervently as I came down here just now that I
could bring myself to say that I was come to make terms with you on
Caerleon’s behalf and with his knowledge. Matters would be so much
easier if I could only request you in his name to leave the kingdom,
and not seek to continue a friendship begun under such different
circumstances. But I couldn’t make up my mind to rob the poor fellow
of his character in that way, and so----”

“I should never have believed you!” cried Nadia, with flashing eyes.

“You are very flattering. But if I had assured you that it was true?”

“I should have asked the King himself.”

“Surely not?” said Cyril. “I thought that young ladies never, under
any circumstances, spoke out boldly and asked for an explanation?”

“I should in such a case,” said Nadia, proudly. “I would do anything
rather than believe him false and a coward.”

“Well, unfortunately, I can’t make you think that of him,” said Cyril.
“I know perfectly well that if you left Bellaviste, as you propose, he
would simply follow you anywhere, and insist upon your marrying him.”

“I would never do it,” said Nadia, her lips white.

“I never thought you would; but I am afraid it would move Europe to
laughter to see the King of Thracia pursuing from place to place a
young lady----”

“Who was the daughter of a Scythian spy!” cried Nadia, with a fierce
laugh. “You are right, Lord Cyril; it would be worse than wrong, it
would be ridiculous. And ridicule must never touch any one connected
with Lord Cyril Mortimer; he could not endure it, all his relations
must be above suspicion in that respect. Well, I will not only leave
Bellaviste, but I will write to his Majesty a letter explaining my
reason for doing so. Does that satisfy you?”

“But--excuse me,” said Cyril; “has my brother ever really asked you to
marry him?”

“If he had, he would have received his answer already,” returned
Nadia. “Most certainly he has not.”

“You really must pardon me--but do you intend to write a letter
declining a proposal that has never been made to you?”

“Why not? You know, and he knows, and I know, that he loves me. Why
make all this trouble? You do not wish him to write to me first? I
might keep his letter, sell it to a newspaper, make it the groundwork
of a scandal that would spread through Europe, who knows? Come, I will
write now: you shall tell me what to say if you like.”

“Excuse me, but this will never do,” said Cyril, refusing to give way
when she tried to pass him and reach the writing-table. “Do you think
Caerleon would under any circumstances consent to regard a message in
a letter--which was not even written in answer to one from him--as
your final decision? He would see at once that there had been outside
influence at work, and suspect that you had written under pressure. He
must hear everything from your own lips.”

“Oh, why must you make it so hard for me? Let me write,” entreated
Nadia, standing before him with clasped hands.

“It is impossible,” said Cyril, firmly. “You must see him.”

“Is it absolutely necessary? Then I suppose I must,” said Nadia,
drawing a deep breath. “But remember, Lord Cyril, I will tell no lies.
He shall know my reason for refusing him.”

“I thought,” said Cyril, “that young ladies considered themselves
justified in telling a little fib on such occasions, such as saying
that they found they did not care for their suitors in quite the right
way, or something of the kind?”

“The young ladies with whom you are acquainted may tell fibs,”
returned Nadia, with a cool incisiveness that reminded him of her
mother, “but I do not. Does it not seem to you hard enough to have to
refuse the man who loves me, that you wish me to do it by means of a
lie?”

“How can you expect him to accept his dismissal if you go into details
in the way you propose?” asked Cyril. “Can’t you simply refuse him
without giving a reason? It is a lady’s privilege, you know.”

“That I will not do!” cried Nadia, fiercely. “He shall not be forced
to think that the woman to whom he has given his love is insensible--a
stone. He shall know that her suffering is at least as great as his.”

“Well, you have your own ideas as to the best way of imparting
consolation, certainly,” said Cyril. “I suppose I can’t quarrel with
you, so long as you do really send him off.”

“Of course I shall send him away,” said Nadia. “I have known for a
week that it must be done. Bring him here, and I will tell him that I
cannot marry him. Perhaps you would wish to remain in the room, so as
to assure yourself that I keep faith with you?”

“Caerleon must not come here,” said Cyril, thoughtfully, disregarding
the taunt. “It is most important for us to avoid notice. I must
contrive a meeting for you somewhere, which may seem accidental, even
if it is observed.”

“Do you wish to destroy my good name as well as your brother’s
happiness, Lord Cyril?” she asked, cuttingly. Cyril made a movement of
impatience.

“You are determined to put me in the wrong,” he said, facing her
indignant eyes without flinching. “If you will only remember that my
brother’s name would be at least as much affected as yours in such a
case, you will judge me more fairly. I can assure you that the only
meeting of which I was thinking was one in the intervals of a dance,
or some entertainment of the kind. Surely you must see the need for
secrecy? It is not merely that my brother must not marry you. He must
marry some one else.”

Cyril had his revenge for all the unpleasantness of the morning, for
Nadia, after one wild start, stood as if she had been turned to stone.

“Another girl?” she gasped at last. “Who is she? Do I know her? No;
don’t tell me her name. I shall hear it quite soon enough, and I don’t
want to hate her. Some princess? and she is to marry him?--and he is
mine!”

“I am sure you must see,” Cyril went on quietly, “that both for her
sake and his we must get this matter settled without any fuss.”

“If she marries him, I don’t think a little trouble would hurt her,”
said Nadia, enviously.

“I hope it may be so. But you must remember that this marriage would
be an arranged thing--a literal _mariage de convenance_, indeed. We
could hardly expect her to feel towards Caerleon as--as you do, and
although, if she cared for him, she might overlook even a scandal, yet
if she did not, the merest whisper might turn her against him. Without
considering her feelings in such a case at all, you must remember that
it would be very painful indeed for Caerleon. I am sure you would not
wish their married life to be unhappy.”

“If she married him for the sake of the crown, she would deserve to be
unhappy,” said Nadia.

“I am afraid we must leave that to her own conscience,” said Cyril.

“Conscience!” cried Nadia, “and what of yours? If the King ever
discovers what you have been doing this morning, I think--I should be
almost sorry--even for you.”

“I leave myself in your hands, you see, in perfect confidence.”

“Oh yes, honour among thieves!” said Nadia, bitterly. “We are both
plotting against the King, and therefore we may well keep faith with
one another. Have you delivered all your messages now, Lord Cyril? If
so, I must ask you to go, for I am busy. Pray ring for a waiter to
attend you down-stairs.”

She gave him a distant bow, and remained standing by the table, tall
and rigid, until he was out of sight, then dragged herself slowly
across the corridor to her own room, groping with outspread hands as
though she had been in darkness, opened the door, entered, locked it,
and threw herself on the floor, a shuddering, sobbing heap.

“Quite an exciting morning!” said Cyril to himself, as he strolled
back to the palace. “It’s a pity that that Nadia girl can’t be queen,
after all. She is cut out for ruling a nation given to revolutions,
like this one. I can fancy her facing a yelling mob without turning a
hair. But melodrama in daily life is a bore. After our conversation
one feels mean, somehow--rather as if one had been committing murder.”



All unconscious of what Nadia stigmatised as the plot against his
happiness, Caerleon spent the morning in the balcony of the Hôtel de
Ville, listening, with what patience he might, to speeches of which he
could not understand a word. It was his first opportunity of making
the acquaintance of the other members of the Drakovics Ministry, who
were on ordinary occasions rather cast into the shade by the
commanding personality of their chief. The greater number of them were
country gentlemen, belonging to the class of landed proprietors which
formed the backbone of the nation, since each man’s tenants and
villagers followed his lead in peace and war as his feudal vassals.
Living in rude plenty, untouched by the influence of western luxury,
on their own estates, these chieftains had found their patriotic and
religious instincts outraged by the irregular life and Scythian
sympathies of the late king, and they had given their support loyally
to M. Drakovics at the time of the revolution, believing him to be the
only man who could save the State from the various dangers which
threatened it. They had accepted posts in the Administration merely in
order that the prestige of their names might assist the Premier in his
task, and he reciprocated the service by allowing them to remain at
their ease in the country unless their presence was demanded at the
capital on some important occasion, such as a parliamentary crisis;
but they had rallied around him to-day in their full strength without
being summoned, conspicuous in their rich national costume,
magnificent with fur and gold embroideries. Caerleon they were
prepared to welcome as the Premier’s choice, but their first meeting
with him disposed them to take a fancy to him for his own sake; and
when some one had remembered that the English were supposed to be, as
a nation, lovers of sport, he received so many invitations to come and
hunt various animals that he might have imagined that life in Thracia
was mainly devoted to the chase.

The persons who in reality carried on the work of government were not
the grey-haired chiefs who surrounded their new King, but the army of
inferior officials to whom the Scythian newspapers were wont to refer
scathingly as “briefless barristers and unsuccessful journalists.”
They were western to a fault, wore their black broadcloth as though to
the manner born, and it was easy to see that it was on them, and not
on the titular heads of their departments, that M. Drakovics relied
for the prosecution of his policy. Each of these men was directly
responsible to him, for the nominal Ministers relied on him to tell
them what papers they were to sign, and what orders they were to give,
and he sent them as subordinates whom he chose. On these subordinates
he could depend, for he had raised them from their original obscurity
to the position they occupied at present, and all their interests were
bound up with his, so that they were ready to cling to him through
thick and thin. Perilous as such an autocracy may appear, the dangers
which usually accompany an experiment of the kind had not as yet shown
themselves in any great degree, probably owing to the common peril
from Scythia which menaced ruler and ruled alike, while the
administration of King Peter Franza had been so corrupt that the
people hailed the present one as a foretaste of the millennium.

During the greater part of the time Caerleon found abundant interest
in watching the throng around him, while the Ministers made speeches
one after the other, or presented loyal addresses from the districts
they represented, and the people in the market-place cheered whenever
they caught an allusion to the revolution or to the new King. When
this preliminary business was over, M. Drakovics came forward for the
most important event of the day--the speech which was to explain the
postponement of the coronation. As he proceeded, Caerleon became
interested in spite of his ignorance of the language, for the
Premier’s tones and gestures were almost eloquent enough to take the
place of words. He had appeared hitherto as an astute politician,
genuinely patriotic, no doubt, according to his lights, but not
capable of any very lofty flight of imagination. But now Caerleon
could wonder no longer at his power of swaying the susceptible
Thracians, since he himself could feel the force of his scathing
denunciation of the former _régime_, his reference to the revolution,
brief yet full of meaning, his indignant declaration that to Scythia,
their constant enemy, they owed the two years of uncertainty and
instability which had retarded the rightful development of the
country, and his joyful reminder that at last they had found a prince
willing to cast in his lot with theirs, and to dare and suffer as a
Thracian. When the wild outburst of cheering which followed the last
sentence had ceased, M. Drakovics continued in a lower voice, charged
with deep meaning. Scythian jealousy was not yet dead, Scythian enmity
was not even slumbering; already had an attempt been made to prevent
the ratification of the people’s choice. Be it so! Thracia was in no
hurry; she would delay the ceremony of crowning her king for a while,
and make more seemly preparations for conducting it with fitting
splendour. Scythia had endeavoured to brand the opening of the new
reign with a bad omen, by the destruction of the ancient relic which
was at once the sign and the home of the nation’s faith; but Thracia
would turn the omen into one of joy, for as St Peter’s chapel rose
stronger and more beautiful from its ashes, so would the kingdom of
Carlino rise powerful and pure from the unavoidable disorders of the
revolution, and the oppression and corruption which had marked the
rule of Peter Franza and Ivan Sertchaieff.

“If that man’s words are equal to his voice and manner,” said Caerleon
to himself, as M. Drakovics ceased, “he must be one of the greatest
orators in the world.”

More speeches from different representatives of the people followed;
but at last the King was able to return to the palace, and to seek his
brother in the room which M. Drakovics had recommended should be
allotted to him for the performance of his duties as Caerleon’s
secretary. Cyril was testing the security of the cupboards which lined
the panelled walls, and he was so resolutely bent on expatiating on
the business-like appearance of his surroundings that it was some time
before Caerleon could put the question he was anxious to ask.

“Well, did you see her?”

“Oh, Miss O’Malachy?” asked Cyril, raising his eyebrows. “Yes, I saw
her. I can’t say that she impressed me favourably. She never does,
somehow.”

“Happily it’s not necessary that she should,” returned Caerleon,
sharply. “When am I to see her?”

“I have been thinking about that, and I can’t find an opportunity
earlier than that ball which the municipality are to give next week.”

“But how am I to speak to her when we are dancing?”

“You don’t imagine she would dance? You must sit out, of course. This
is how we shall have to work it. I will ask her to sit out with me,
and take her into the conservatory, or some place of that kind, where
you will be waiting. Then I’ll keep guard until you have said what you
want to say (I hope and trust it won’t take long), and I will convoy
her back to her mother.”

“I think I am capable of doing that,” said Caerleon.

“Yes, if she accepts you; but I don’t for a moment think she will. You
see what I mean, old man?--it seems rather a nasty thing to say--but I
don’t believe she cares for you sufficiently. She’s as proud as
Lucifer, and people are bound to say that she married you for the sake
of the crown. Would she be able to stand it?”

“I believe she is sensible enough not to care what people say if she
once sees that it is right to marry me. But you never have understood
her. Look here, Cyril; why should we put it off so long? Let us give a
ball ourselves one evening this week.”

“How can we, when you haven’t a lady at the head of affairs? You might
let yourself in for most horrible awkwardness. I don’t even know
whether it would be proper for Madame O’Malachy to bring her daughter.
You can’t go compromising yourself in the eyes of Europe in this way.
Don’t think of giving balls until you are married, unless you like to
get Mrs Sadleir out from home, and introduce her as your aunt and the
natural head of your establishment.”

“I’m certain she would never come,” said Caerleon, gloomily. “But
after all,” and his face brightened, “perhaps it is as well to wait
for a week. If I can tell Nadia that I have come to some conclusion on
the question of initiating temperance legislation, it may please her,
so I will set to work at once. I am going to send to England for some
books I want. I don’t know whether there is anything you would like me
to order for you at the same time?”

“Give me the list, and let me write,” said Cyril, quickly. “You have a
secretary now, Caerleon, and you mustn’t go sending orders to
tradesmen with your own royal hand. It’s making yourself too cheap.”

But writing to a London bookseller was an inconsiderable trifle
compared with the work which Caerleon proceeded to undertake as a
necessary consequence of his promise to Nadia. Cyril showed no
inclination for the inquisitorial rambles he meditated, and he was
therefore obliged to secure the services of the detective whom M.
Drakovics had recommended, and who spoke English sufficiently well to
be of use. Under his guidance, the King paid surprise visits to
different parts of his capital at various hours of the day, mingling
freely with the people who thronged the _cafés_ and there spent their
time in drinking brandy and discussing politics. It was in vain to
attempt any disguise, for the Thracians knew their sovereign’s height
and figure too well for anything of the kind to be successful; but
they are a polite nation, and when Caerleon came among them
_incognito_, they did not appear to recognise him, perceiving that he
wished to acquaint himself with the characteristics of the national
life. Perhaps they were also a little flattered by the interest he
showed in their favourite pursuits, for they were always ready to
talk, and through the medium of his escort he obtained a great deal of
valuable information, the result of which went far to convince him
that Nadia was in the right, and that temperance legislation of some
kind was a crying need of the country. There seemed to be no effective
restraint on the sale of spirits, and during the last two years more
especially the vendors had reaped a golden harvest. The feeling of
uncertainty and unrest caused by the revolution, and the delay in
obtaining a king, had disposed the people to indulge in much talk and
speculation on political subjects; and to enjoy this to its fullest
extent, it was natural that they should resort to the _cafés_, where
coffee proved inadequate to quench their patriotic thirst. That some
change must be made in this state of affairs if the country was to
prosper, Caerleon was not slow to recognise, and the wisdom of his
decision was confirmed by the statistics which M. Drakovics obtained
at his request from Government officers all over Thracia; so that the
subject cost him much anxious thought during the week which preceded
the municipal ball at the Hôtel de Ville.

For Cyril, also, this was a period not devoid of anxiety. In spite of
all his precautions, the secret of Caerleon’s admiration for Nadia had
become public property. The disclosure was mainly due to an American
journalist who was supposed to be writing up the minor Courts of
Europe for the benefit of aspiring New York belles, and who had
hastened to Thracia as soon as he heard of the accession of a bachelor
king, and taken up his quarters at the Hôtel Occidental. At the
_table d’hôte_ he fell in with the O’Malachy family, and was
immediately captivated by the cosmopolitan charms of Madame O’Malachy.
From her he learnt all that there was to be learnt about the new
sovereign, and not improbably a good deal more; and since nothing is
sacred to the New Journalist, he worked up all that he heard into what
he called “A Real Royal Romance,” for the columns of the paper he
represented. The details caused great excitement among the heiresses
of the Fifth Avenue, and filtered gradually back, through the medium
of English and Parisian newspapers, to those of Bellaviste, where M.
Drakovics, after reading them, made Cyril’s life a burden to him.

“There has been frightful mismanagement somewhere!” he cried, charging
into the secretary’s office on the very morning of the municipal ball,
after Cyril had with difficulty restrained him hitherto from issuing
edicts for the suppression of the offending newspapers and the
expulsion of the American special correspondent. “This is the point to
which your diplomacy has led us, milord. Here is the editor of the
‘Empire City Crier’ telegraphing to this Mr Hicks, ‘Cable immediately
full particulars of Miss O’Malachy’s appearance, style of dress, taste
in perfumes and bonbons. All the latest novelties here are named after
her. Send any recent portraits.’ And here in Bellaviste we have the
whole female population, from the wives of the Ministers to the
shop-girls, crowding the street in front of the hotel to catch a
glimpse of her, and insisting on dressing their hair like hers. It is
intolerable!”

“It is,” assented Cyril. “But I hope this state of affairs will come
to an end to-day. If it does not, I shall perceive that in some way or
other you have failed to adhere to our compact. Have confidence in me,
and you will see that it will be all right. Only you must be
absolutely passive at the ball to-night; and if you happen to miss my
brother from the room at the same time as Miss O’Malachy, merely try
to cover his absence as far as possible. If you don’t, I give you fair
warning, I’ll advise her to marry him.”

“Naturally I will keep to our agreement, milord,” said M. Drakovics,
and went away unhappy. But Cyril was doomed not to be left in peace
this morning. Another visitor was announced--this time the O’Malachy,
who entered with his most military air, and with a look of repressed
sadness on his face.

“Come to play the outraged parent!” groaned Cyril, mentally, and he
was not mistaken. The O’Malachy refused to take a chair, and stood
tall and solemn in the middle of the floor, looking at Cyril more in
sorrow than in anger.

“Lord Cyrul,” he said, “I’m aware that your position and ours have
changed since circumstances first introjuced us to each other. But I
am still a father, with a father’s feelings, and the representatuv of
the ancient kings of Leitrum is not a man that can rightly be
slighted. I’d willingly have remained with me family in our modust
obscurity, but we have been removed from ut by the King’s action. I am
not an ambitious man, there’s no one can accuse me of thrusting me
daughter upon his Majusty, but neither will I have a slur cast upon
her. You know as well as I do how greatly your brother sought me
daughter’s presence until a week ago. Since then he has never come
near her, and people are talking. I ask you plainly, what are his
Majusty’s intentions?”

“The most honourable possible,” replied Cyril, with suitable
seriousness. “I may mention to you, in the strictest confidence, that
my brother is hoping to propose to Miss O’Malachy at the ball
to-night. Of course she will be there?”

“The last thing I heard was that she did not dance, and would not
come,” said the O’Malachy, ruefully. Cyril smiled.

“I think Madame O’Malachy will be able to induce her to come, if you
take them a special message from me to say that her presence is
indispensable,” he said.

“Ah now, if you could write that to them in the King’s name?”
suggested the O’Malachy, brightening.

“Wouldn’t you like to have it to show?” thought Cyril. Aloud he added,
“I think you must know, O’Malachy, that M. Drakovics is bent upon the
King’s marrying some lady belonging to a royal house. Under these
circumstances, it is as well not to give him any opportunity of
interfering until my brother has settled things with Miss O’Malachy.
Such a paper as you propose might lead to complications with him.”

“I dislike all this secrecy greatly,” grumbled the O’Malachy. “Why
would not his Majusty have given some public hint of his intentions?
’Twould have been an excellent opporchunity when he gazetted umself
honorary colonel of the Carlino Regiment.”

“My dear O’Malachy, would you have him imply that your daughter was
ready to jump at his offer?” asked Cyril, and he looked rather
nonplussed.

“I’ll not keep you longer now,” he said, moving towards the door. “You
understand, Lord Cyrul, that in case of--of an alliance between your
family and mine, me wife and I would esteem ut alike our juty and our
pleasure to place what little experience and influence we may possess
at the disposal of his Majusty and the Thracian Government?”

“What a double-dyed old traitor he is!” thought Cyril, as he returned
from seeing his visitor to the door. “I believe I should prefer his
enmity to his friendship.”

And having disposed of the matter satisfactorily, he applied himself
to more important business, not thinking again of the evening until it
was time to dress for the ball.



 CHAPTER IX.
 A WOMAN OF HER WORD.

The ball given by the municipality of Bellaviste at the Hôtel de
Ville in honour of their new King was the grandest entertainment ever
seen in the city. Every one who had the slightest claim to receive an
invitation was present, with the exception of the agents representing
the various Powers, and the staffs of their respective consulates, who
held themselves severely aloof from a festivity of which the _raison
d’être_ was the social inauguration of a sovereignty not recognised
by the arbiters of European opinion. The display of Thracian costumes
and Parisian toilettes was dazzling, but the observed of all observers
were Madame O’Malachy and her daughter, who were by no means among the
smartest people present. Mr Hicks, the American newspaper
correspondent, who had attended so many society functions that he knew
as much about female dress as the cleverest lady paragraphist that
ever reported an aristocratic wedding, was inclined to be dissatisfied
with Nadia’s appearance. There was a kind of affectation of humility,
he thought, a too evident desire to emphasise the distance between
Caerleon and herself, in her severely plain dress of black net, cut
barely low enough to pass muster on such an occasion, and in the
absence of any relief, such as might have been afforded by flowers or
ornaments, that marked it. It was true that her beautiful head and
shoulders appeared to derive additional grace from the simplicity of
their surroundings, but there was something unsuitable about the
general effect. Did the beggar-maid don her oldest rags when Cophetua
came to woo her? Mr Hicks thought not. And again, why did Miss
O’Malachy look so like a victim led to the sacrifice as she followed
her mother into the room, and so anxious and unhappy when her eye
rested on the King? Mere excitement would not account for her troubled
expression, and she was sure enough of her prize not to be fearful as
to the outcome of the ordeal of the evening. Could it be possible that
she did not reciprocate the King’s affection? Was it--could it be--Mr
Hicks ground his teeth as he intercepted a disapproving glance
levelled at Nadia by Cyril, and felt for one agonised moment that he
had missed the most thrilling point of his romance--was there a
rivalry between the brothers?

“I call it real mean of the old lady never to have given me a hint,”
he groaned, thinking of the extra columns of copy such an intimation
would have supplied, but presently he grew calm again. “There’s
nothing of the sort, or those two fellows couldn’t carry on as they
are doing. A woman can be as sweet as possible to another when she
hates her like poison; but two men can’t be easy together when they
have quarrelled over a girl.”

Reassured to find that he had not let slip an opportunity of gaining
information, he set himself once more to watch the glittering scene
and observed that Caerleon invited Nadia to dance with him as soon as
he had done his duty to the wives of the city fathers. He saw Madame
O’Malachy’s thrill of anxious expectation as the King approached her,
and divined instantly that the offer of such an honour was in itself
equivalent to a proposal of marriage. But Nadia declined it, although
her watchful mother softened the refusal by adding that she did not
dance.

“He shouldn’t have come to ask her himself,” soliloquised Mr Hicks,
who knew a good deal more about the etiquette proper for royalty than
did most of the exalted personages at whose Courts he sojourned.
“Ought to have sent his brother, or his equerry--if he has one. And
she had no business to refuse, anyway. A girl that don’t dance ought
not to go to Court balls.”

But although he turned away with a feeling of lordly contempt for
people who could manage their affairs so badly, Mr Hicks took care not
to lose sight of Nadia during the evening. More than half the
programme had been gone through when he saw Cyril sauntering up to
her. He also saw Nadia shiver slightly, then sit very erect, and he
guessed that the fateful moment had come.

“Will you sit out this dance with me?” asked Cyril, adjusting one of
his sleeve-links as he spoke. The American, watching him, thought the
action a piece of aristocratic rudeness, but Cyril was merely doing
his best not to look towards Madame O’Malachy. If she should gain from
his face an inkling of his compact with her daughter, she was quite
capable, he was sure, of making a scene in public, supposing that she
judged it to be to her interest to do so, and he felt much relieved
when he had succeeded in avoiding her eye, and had left her engrossed
in conversation with Mr Hicks. With Nadia on his arm, he led the way
to one of the smaller balconies, which were curtained off from the
corridors, and decorated with plants and palms, and here he found her
a seat.

“Caerleon may not be here just yet,” he said. “I saw him dancing with
Madame Sertchaieff just now. He has to be civil to her, you know, as
she is the War Minister’s wife.” He went on talking lightly in his
ordinary tones, and did not testify any resentment when Nadia
vouchsafed no answer to his cheerful commonplaces, but sat still, her
rigid hands outstretched before her and locked in one another, until
her face changed suddenly at the sound of a footstep without.

“I was very lucky in getting off so soon,” said a voice, and Caerleon
drew back the curtain and stood before them, in all the magnificence
of the full-dress uniform of the Carlino Regiment. “I caught my spur
in Madame Sertchaieff’s dress,” he went on, “and tore it so badly that
she had to go and get it sewn up. Now, Cyril, old man, if you will add
to your kindness by making yourself scarce for a little while, I shall
be much obliged.”

Resisting the temptation to give Nadia a last glance of warning, Cyril
departed obediently, and mounted guard in the corridor outside with an
air of philosophical calmness, which he was very far from feeling. If
she should fail him now! “It would make Thracia too hot to hold me,”
he mused, “for she’s bound to tell Caerleon the whole story at once,”
and he shifted his position impatiently as he pictured the look of
pain and aversion which the revelation would bring into Caerleon’s
honest eyes. He would have been still more anxious as to the results
of his diplomacy if he could have heard the words in which, without
wasting time on preliminaries, his brother went straight to the matter
in hand.

“I am going to ask you to make a great sacrifice for me, Nadia. Those
silly women out there may think that it’s something very grand to be
Queen of Thracia, but you know better, and so do I. It means
isolation, and worry, and being opposed and thwarted in what you have
set your heart on, and it is very likely to mean danger, perhaps
death. There are not many women I could ask to share these things with
me; but I think that you care for me enough to be willing to help me
through it all.”

He had struck the right chord at once, and the eloquence of Nadia’s
eyes encouraged him to go on.

“I know,” he said, taking her hands in his, “that it doesn’t sound the
proper thing for me to throw it all on you, and ask you to take me as
a charity, but it seems to appeal to you more strongly if it is put in
that light. Doesn’t it signify to you at all that I care for you,
Nadia? that I have loved you since the very first day I saw you? I
don’t believe you realise in the least what you are to me. I wish I
could make you understand how I love you. Look at me--look into my
eyes, and perhaps you will see.”

But Nadia shivered, and drew her hands out of his clasp. The vehemence
of his tone frightened her, and she dared not meet his eye. She could
not say a word, for the lump which had suddenly risen in her throat
seemed to choke her. He noticed her agitation, and tried to speak more
calmly.

“I am sure you can’t possibly know,” he said, “what a revelation it is
to a man who has become accustomed to look at things in an ordinary
everyday way, to be brought into close contact with a woman whose sole
idea is to do right. One’s courage fails sometimes, when one is alone
against the world, and I want you to help me to do what ought to be
done for the kingdom.”

“I can’t marry you,” gasped Nadia, looking up at him with anguished
eyes; “it would not be right.”

“Not right! Why not?” he asked in astonishment.

“On account of so many things. My parents--Louis----”

“I am sure you need not trouble yourself about them,” said Caerleon,
with an involuntary smile at the thought of the ease with which the
O’Malachy family would almost certainly be managed. “Louis is provided
for in the army, and your father and mother will give up their
wandering life, and settle down quietly here.”

“But it is myself!” cried Nadia, desperately. “I am not what you want
in a wife, not good enough, not--not important enough. I should do
nothing but bring trouble upon you. I am afraid to marry you. I dare
not do it. I will not.”

“I think you will, when you understand how much I want you,” said
Caerleon, with all the spirit of his fighting forefathers roused by
her opposition. “Why, I am offering you work, and you know you have
often told me that it is wrong to refuse work when it comes in one’s
way. You cannot tell me that you mean to cast me off because you are
afraid of the silly remarks people will make?”

“Oh, why will you make me say it?” she cried, driven to bay by his
tone. “I will not marry you, then, because you ought to marry a
princess--some one who has been brought up to be a queen, and whose
family will be a support to you in Europe. That is what you must do.”

“Nadia!” he said in astonishment, “you tell me to marry a stranger,
when I love you? You can’t think that right?”

“I know,” she said, despairingly. “It all seems to me horribly,
fearfully wrong, but it must be right, because it is so hard to do.”

“You are in love with martyrdom,” he said, with unwonted sternness;
“but you have no right to try to sacrifice me as well as yourself.”

“Very well, say that I am in love with martyrdom, then,” she answered,
drearily. “Persuade yourself that I love it better than I do you.”

“I have no doubt you do,” returned Caerleon; “but I have the
misfortune to love you better than an utterly unnecessary sacrifice.”

“And I,” she said, “love you so much that for your sake I can separate
myself from you for ever.”

“Is that your idea of love?” he asked bitterly, but with something of
dismay in his voice.

“It is,” she answered.

“But, Nadia, this is monstrous!” he cried. “You tell me that you love
me, and yet you order me to marry some one else. You must know that
such a thing can’t be right. Sit down here quietly, and let us talk
the matter out. I think you will see that you are cruelly unfair.”

“I daresay I should,” said Nadia, refusing to take the seat to which
he tried to draw her. “I have not a doubt that you could convince
me--make me yield, at any rate, since my own heart is on your side.
But you will not. I know that you are stronger than I am, and you will
not take an ignoble advantage of your strength to make me do what I
know is wrong. Think,” as he gazed at her in silence, “how we should
feel, if I married you, and our marriage plunged Thracia into
misfortunes--if you were forced to abdicate.”

“I should do it with a good conscience, and go home happily with you,”
returned Caerleon, with unexpected promptness. “If that’s all, I’ll
abdicate now. What do I care for the kingdom? There has been nothing
but worry and rumours of approaching trouble since I accepted it, and
if it’s to come between you and me, I’ll have nothing more to do with
it.”

“Oh no, no,” entreated Nadia, clinging to his arm as he turned towards
the doorway. “Don’t talk like that! Let me believe in you still. You
accepted the kingdom because it was right, for the sake of the people,
and I know you will govern wisely. Don’t let me be disappointed in
you. If I can give you up because it is right, you can give me up. I
can bear anything if I am sure that I can trust you to go on as you
have begun.”

“What can I do?” broke out Caerleon in his despair. “You do your best
to break my heart, and then you expect me not even to struggle. Nadia,
have you no pity? Give me some hope. Say that after a year--two
years--any length of time--I may speak to you again. What is a man to
do when you bring up his own sense of honour against him?”

“He must submit,” said Nadia. Caerleon stood looking at her in
silence, his heart protesting wildly against the barriers she had
raised between them. It was on his lips to say, “You have told me you
love me, and that’s enough. Nothing shall part us.” He felt sure that
his love must prevail over her scruples; she had said so herself. But
she had appealed to his chivalry; how could he disappoint her? The
struggle was a cruel one, and he turned away from her without a word.
She saw her advantage, and went on--

“I know you will let me be proud of you still. You won’t know where I
am, but I shall always watch what you are doing, and I shall feel glad
to think that perhaps I have helped you--a little. And then some day
you will meet some one whom it is right for you to marry, and you will
remember that I wished it----”

“Are you trying to drive me mad, Nadia?” he cried, turning upon her
fiercely. “If you told me you did not care for me, I could bear it
better. But it makes one feel such a fool, when you have said you love
me, to stand back and let you go. How can you expect it of me?”

“It is right,” she answered, slowly.

“Let me kiss you once, only once,” he entreated.

“Oh no, no, no!” she almost shrieked, feeling that her resolution must
give way at the touch of his lips. “Keep your kisses for your bride!”

“I don’t think I have deserved that,” he said, bitterly. “Understand
once for all, Nadia, that you need not lay the flattering unction to
your soul that I shall comfort myself as you please yourself by
imagining I shall do. I can’t marry you against your will, but I won’t
marry any other woman. Until I met you I thought that I should never
marry, and now that you won’t have me I know it. It is you or no one,
and you will cheerfully sacrifice me to a fancied scruple----”

“You see that you are well rid of me,” said Nadia.

“Nonsense!” cried Caerleon. “I love you more than ever. I can’t do
without you. Just think of the life to which you are condemning me. To
be alone always, never to be able to get away from the glare and rush
of public life, never to have any one to cheer me on, never to have a
home. I thought you would have helped me. I thought you would be there
to advise me when I could not see my way clearly. You always seem to
be sure of the right path at once. Do you really think that marrying
the Emperor of Scythia’s daughter--if I had the faintest intention of
taking the advice you have been giving me to-night--would ever make up
for that? I don’t mean to marry to strengthen my position in Europe. I
want a wife who will look at things without fear or favour, and help
me to do what is right. Isn’t this a mission for you? Tell me, my
dearest, is there no chance for me?”

“None,” she answered, with difficulty, the fervency of his pleading
almost destroying her power of speech. “Please, please, say no more.
You cannot tell how my heart is longing to say Yes; but I dare not
yield. Don’t you see that all the course of our lives has been leading
up to this--to the great choice between right and wrong? It is right
now to think of the kingdom, and not of ourselves, and so I can be
strong to refuse you for your own sake. It is hard for you, I know,
but I think it is harder for me. You can stand alone, but I--oh! I
could not do it if I was not sure it was right. Never, never think
that I did not love you. Please let me go.” He loosed her hands, and
she drew aside the curtain and passed out, looking back at him as he
stood watching her in despairing silence, then tapped Cyril on the
shoulder with her fan. “Will you kindly take me back to my mother,
Lord Cyril? She was intending to leave early.”

Mr Hicks, when in after days he related his impressions of the
incidents of that evening, whether in conversation or in the columns
of the ‘Empire City Crier,’ was wont to remark, with much originality
and force, that coming events cast their shadows before them, and that
there is no accounting for the sympathetic movements of certain finely
constituted minds. This was his way of leading up to the striking fact
that while he and Madame O’Malachy were in the midst of a pleasant
chat, in which the reputations of various Thracian notabilities
suffered rather severely, the lady broke off suddenly in the course of
a sentence and sighed deeply. In response to his anxious inquiries,
she assured him that she was not ill, but that she felt a presentiment
of coming misfortune,--“and at such a time as this,” she added, “you,
monsieur, as a friend of the family, will be at no loss to understand
the subject of my anxiety. You will pardon a mother’s weakness, but it
is hard to see two young lives wrecked by an obstinate pride. You have
watched with interest the course of the attachment--the royal idyl, as
I might call it--between the King and my daughter, and I know you will
sympathise with me in my fear lest Nadia, in her sensitive delicacy,
should have refused her lover through fear of being supposed to covet
his throne.”

“And you’ll scarcely believe me,” Mr Hicks was accustomed to continue,
ignorant that by means of a mirror behind him Madame O’Malachy had
noticed Nadia approaching her from the other end of the room, and
discerned in an instant that her companion was not Caerleon, “but the
words were not out of her mouth when I saw Lord Cyril in the distance,
with Miss O’Malachy on his arm as white as a sheet, and I knew her
mother was right at once. No girl that had just accepted a king ever
went about with a face like that.”

“Oh, Mr Hicks, do tell!” his enraptured audience would exclaim; and Mr
Hicks would go on to detail how Madame O’Malachy had turned as white
as her daughter on seeing her face, but had said calmly that the heat
of the room was too much for Miss Nadia, and they must go home; and
how she had turned to him with a sorrowful look that went to his
heart, and whispered, “My kind friend, do this for us. If any one
speaks to you of the matter we were discussing, let it be known that
my daughter has refused his Majesty for the reason I feared.”

In fulfilling this parting request Mr Hicks, as a gallant American,
and therefore a sworn servant of the fair sex, had spent the remainder
of the evening, only pausing to glance at the King as he passed
through the hall about half an hour later with set face and firmly
closed lips on his way back to the palace, on the plea of illness. To
the observer who had noted duly at the beginning of the entertainment
that “his Majesty looked extremely well, and conversed affably with
the different persons presented to him,” the change spoke volumes; but
other people were not quite so ready to accept Madame O’Malachy’s
explanation as he was. More than one of the chaperons with whom he
touched on the subject gave it as her opinion that the King had
informed Miss O’Malachy that he could not, consistently with his duty
to the nation, marry her; and that a harrowing scene had ensued. It
was extraordinary how widely it was known in the ballroom that
something of the kind had occurred, and Mr Hicks found his duty of
impressing Madame O’Malachy’s view of the case on his friends to be no
sinecure. But he persevered, for he sympathised deeply with her in her
disappointment, and he was also sorry for Nadia, who, as he rightly
supposed, would have a good deal to endure from her mother on the way
home. “Those outspoken, affectionate women can do an astonishing
amount of reproaching when they are once worked up,” he said to
himself; but he never dreamed of the storm of sarcasm and cruel
invective under which Nadia was writhing at the moment.

The next day found Bellaviste society divided into two parties, one of
which accepted Madame O’Malachy’s account of the events of the evening
before, and believed that an insane pride had driven Nadia to refuse
the King; while the other, led by Madame Sertchaieff, and relying on
the authority of M. Drakovics, held that his Majesty had, more or less
directly, declined to marry her. Madame Sertchaieff was the great lady
of Bellaviste. As the wife of the Minister for War (the brother of the
Ivan Sertchaieff who had been the last Premier of the late king), she
took the lead in the society of the city, and derived no small honour
from the fact that her husband was the only member of the Ministry
whom M. Drakovics treated on anything approaching a footing of
equality. With every desire to make the Thracian army invincible, the
Premier was handicapped by an absolute ignorance of military affairs,
and since General Sertchaieff had turned his back on his brother and
his party to adopt the cause of the revolution, he left all the actual
work of the bureau in his hands, and also consulted him frequently on
the general policy of the Government. Consequently, when Madame
Sertchaieff (it is needless to say that she had not been among the
ladies whose eagerness to see Nadia had so deeply scandalised the
Premier) averred that she had guessed, from the excitement visible in
the King’s manner when he danced with her, that he was screwing up his
courage to the point of formally breaking off his relations with Miss
O’Malachy, and further hinted that the step had been taken on the
advice and with the full approval of M. Drakovics, she carried many of
her hearers with her. Curiosity was rife as to what would be the next
step on either side; but on the evening after the ball the public
excitement was cruelly balked by the news that the O’Malachy family,
with the exception of Louis, had left the city. They were gone because
it could not but be disagreeable to Miss O’Malachy to run the risk of
meeting her rejected lover at every turn, said Mr Hicks and his party;
because they had received a secret mandate from the police advising
them to depart, said Madame Sertchaieff and her friends; because the
O’Malachy and his wife, perceiving that there was no opening in
Thracia for their peculiar talents, had determined to return to the
service of their Scythian employers, thought Cyril.

Had Cyril possessed a conscience in good working order, it might have
given him a certain amount of trouble at this time; but systematic
neglect and snubbing had reduced his to a condition in which, while it
prevented his full enjoyment of his achievements, it never interfered
with him during their performance, nor caused him to wish that they
had not succeeded. Like the British matron in “Locksley Hall,” he had
amassed “a little hoard of maxims,” or perhaps it would be more
correct to say impressions, during his social career, and these he
employed as balm whenever his conscience gave him a feeble prick. On
the subject of love and marriage these impressions were particularly
vivid. Every man, Cyril considered, was bound to fall in love a
greater or less number of times, and the malady was like the measles,
in that some took it slightly and others severely. Marriage was one of
the things which were better managed in France. Even as it was, every
sensible man with a name and a possible career married with a keen eye
to present and future advantage, but the alliance ought to be arranged
for him as soon as he entered public life, in order to avoid wasting
time in the unprofitable experiments mentioned above. Marrying for
love was a folly which only the most foolhardy of men would commit,
for when the love was gone--and in Cyril’s scheme of life it was bound
to go very soon--where were you? Circumstances had forced him hitherto
to acknowledge a possible exception in the case of his brother. It was
eminently desirable that Caerleon should marry; but it was equally
evident that he would not marry any one who did not captivate his
fancy, and when Nadia appeared on the scene Cyril saw no invincible
objection to his pleasing himself. His tastes were simple, and his
income, in ordinary years, quite sufficient for his moderate wants, so
that money was not a necessity; and if Nadia was not likely to achieve
a success in society, Caerleon, on his side, was too much of a faddist
ever to get on in Parliament, and thus it might be the most suitable
thing for them to settle down at Llandiarmid and elevate the peasantry
and lead the county. In this roseate view, as Cyril now ruefully
perceived, his wonted foresight had been badly at fault, for he ought
to have remembered the shadowy crown, the bestowal of which had since
changed everything. Nadia O’Malachy as Queen of Thracia was simply
_impossible_, and Caerleon ought to have seen this for himself.

“Why, if I had been in his place,” thought Cyril, forgetting that
their views upon the subject were diametrically opposed, “I would have
settled the matter off my own bat, and not thrown it all on the girl.”

It was in this view that, after seeing Madame O’Malachy and her
daughter to their carriage on the fateful evening, he had returned to
his brother, and found him still standing as Nadia had left him.

“Anything up, old man?” he inquired, sympathetically.

“She won’t have me,” responded Caerleon with a kind of dull despair.

“I thought so.” Cyril was careful not to assume a tone of superiority,
which his brother might have resented under the circumstances. “Well,
one doesn’t object to a spice of pride in a girl, but this is rather
too much. I’m awfully----”

“It was not what you think,” Caerleon interrupted quickly. “She
refused me because she thought it best--for the kingdom.”

“If only Drakovics knew how completely she agreed with him!” murmured
Cyril. “But really, you know, Caerleon, such virtue is a little too
bright and good for daily life. It’s convenient for the rest of us
that there are people like that, though they might be rather
overpowering to live with, and all we can do is to profit at their
expense.”

“If you came here to rot me about her----” began Caerleon, angrily.

“I came to fetch you back to the ballroom. People are asking what has
become of you.”

“Let them ask. You don’t imagine that I am going to dance again
to-night?”

“I suppose you don’t mean to stay here. You had better get home. You
look seedy enough for anything. I’ll end up the business for you.”

The offer was thankfully accepted, and it was late when Cyril returned
to the palace; but he saw by the lights in Caerleon’s rooms that he
was still awake, although a knock at the door only produced a mandate
from his brother to “go to bed, and let him alone.” But Cyril did not
sleep that night as soundly as a conscienceless man ought to do, and
whenever he awoke he heard Caerleon tramping backwards and forwards
through his series of rooms.



 CHAPTER X.
 REASONS OF STATE.

The reader will without doubt expect to hear that the King appeared
in public at his usual hour the next morning, bearing the traces of
the night’s vigil in his haggard face and deeply lined brow; that he
went through the day’s business with invincible resolution, but with
an abstracted manner, the gloom of which was lightened by an
occasional unconquerable sigh; and that he frequently put his hand to
his forehead as though to push back the brooding weight of care which
oppressed him. It is disappointing to be obliged to chronicle the fact
that Caerleon made no attempt to act in this heroic but rather
harrowing fashion. He did not appear at all outside his own rooms, but
remained shut up in his study, where he buried himself in the piles of
blue-books and parliamentary reports for which he had sent to London,
growling at Cyril through the door when he besieged him in his
retreat, and sending word to M. Drakovics that if he had anything
special to communicate he might state his message in writing. For
three days he laboured unceasingly, consulting authorities, drawing
up, testing, and destroying draft schemes, guarded by the faithful
Wright, who had been summoned from the stables by a sudden message
from his master, and informed all comers that “’is Majesty was not to
be disturbed.” The fact that he would have found great pleasure in
knocking the Premier down, if he had attempted to force an entrance
into the room, undoubtedly contributed to the success of his
guardianship.

It happened fortunately that nothing occurred during the three days to
render necessary an interview between the King and his Minister, and
Cyril and M. Drakovics, giving out that Caerleon had not yet recovered
from the illness which had attacked him at the ball, took things into
their own hands, and got through a large amount of important business.
In so far as international politics were concerned, their course lay
at present chiefly in the direction of bluff, for the Powers, scarcely
recovered from their surprise at Caerleon’s election, had not as yet
determined upon the action to be taken in the matter. Notes and
protests were flying about from cabinet to cabinet, and the papers
announced daily, with awful and mysterious joy, that such and such a
statesman had been closeted for over an hour with such and such a
potentate, or that this great personage had visited that great
personage, and that each had emerged from the interview with a clouded
brow. In England, Parliament was enjoying a long recess, and the few
stray politicians who were in the habit of arrogating to themselves an
interest in the peace of Europe were reduced to writing frantic
letters to the papers to demand that a special session should be
summoned immediately for the purpose of dethroning Caerleon, or else
to inquire why the Government did not at once recognise him as King of
Thracia, according to the direction taken by their respective
sympathies.

But Cyril’s chief concern was with less responsible
individuals,--inventors who wished Caerleon to purchase the secret of
their new and destructive engines of warfare, or Englishmen who were
anxious either to enlist in the Thracian army or to raise a troop of
irregular horse in the King’s name. To them all Cyril replied with a
polite assurance that at the present moment the Thracian army was on
so satisfactory a footing that his Majesty had no intention of
increasing it, but that when he did so, the correspondent’s obliging
offer should be borne in mind. This form of words committed Caerleon
to nothing, while intimating also that although he desired peace he
was prepared for war, and it was calculated to convey a gentle warning
to Scythia, and to keep the rest of Europe in a state of agreeable
expectancy. Cyril was not a little pleased with his own capacity for
statecraft, and he did his best to raise the spirits of M. Drakovics,
who was inclined to fear that the King’s persistent seclusion
foreshadowed some kind of _coup d’état_, or even a determination to
govern altogether without a Minister in future. Caerleon was merely
working off his disappointment, Cyril assured the Premier, and he
would be all right in a day or two. But even Cyril had not calculated
on the manner in which his brother had employed his time in his
solitude. It was brought to his knowledge at last through the medium
of Wright, who on the third evening after the ball entered the
smoking-room, where Cyril was sitting with M. Drakovics, and laid a
large sealed envelope on the table between them.

“’Is Majesty says, my lord, will you and ’is Excellency,” with a nod
in the direction of the Premier, “kindly read that, and be ready to
discuss with ’im to-morrow any improvements you can suggest.”

It was with no small apprehension that Cyril and M. Drakovics, when
Wright had departed, opened and read the paper. They did not quite
know what they feared, but their brows grew no lighter as they
advanced, and at the close Cyril summed up in a tone of utter
despair--

“A strict system of licensing to be established for three years all
through the kingdom, preparatory to the general adoption of a
modification of the Gothenburg scheme! It is the biggest thing ever
undertaken in the temperance way!”

“It is absolutely impossible,” said M. Drakovics. “It cannot be done.”

“I am very much afraid it will have to be done,” said Cyril, “if you
mean to keep your king. Caerleon has always been mad on the subject of
temperance. His extreme views on that question destroyed his chances
of office in England, and it would be just like him to risk his crown
by putting them forward now. Besides, monsieur, it is just possible he
may have noticed that there is sometimes a slight confusion as to
which of you is King and which is Minister, and that he means to have
it cleared up.”

“It cannot be done,” repeated M. Drakovics, hopelessly, as he rose to
go home, taking the paper with him; but when he met his sovereign in
the morning he found that the plea of impossibility was not accepted.

“I am not King for my own pleasure, nor did I come here to rule
Thracia in accordance with your ideas, M. Drakovics,” said Caerleon,
“but for her own good. If I can’t do that, I had better go back to
England.”

“But this legislation is undertaken so suddenly--so early in your
Majesty’s reign,” objected M. Drakovics.

“Exactly. The people are well affected towards me just now, and will
accept a change more readily than they would later, when things had
settled down. But of course I have no intention of forcing my views on
them against their will.”

“Your Majesty will listen to my advice on the subject?”

“As to the best method of introducing the scheme, certainly. I know
that you agree with me as to the necessity of stringent
legislation--you have said so several times. I think it will be best
to bring in the measure at once as a Government bill, letting it be
known at the same time that my retaining the crown depends upon its
passing without delay.”

“This is interfering with the liberty of the subject with a
vengeance!” said Cyril. “Are you really bent on risking your crown in
this way, Caerleon?”

“I will not rule over a nation of drunkards,” returned Caerleon.

“But set to work gradually. Do things by degrees,” urged Cyril.

“And establish vested interests,” said Caerleon, quickly, “and thus
have all our difficulties at home reproduced? No; things are in a
state of chaos at present, and there is just this chance of bringing
them into order. The more thoughtful among the people see that
something must be done, and the Thracians will understand--and
appreciate--a single act of authority--call it despotism if you
like--better than any amount of compromises.”

“But why not go the whole hog, then, and decree prohibition right off?
I know that is what you temperance fanatics are always aiming at in
the far distance.”

“Because it would simply lead to the spread of smuggling and secret
distilling, and an illicit traffic which the police would be bribed to
condone. They would be corrupted, and the people as bad as ever.
Moreover, we should need to revise our commercial treaties, especially
with Pannonia, so as to forbid the importation of spirits, and this is
too big a thing to be carried through in a hurry, particularly just
now. And then, though you call me a fanatic, I am not so bigoted a
temperance man as to feel called upon to deprive those people of
alcohol for whom a moderate amount of it may be desirable, or even
necessary. I merely wish to keep the younger generation from growing
up with a taste for dram-drinking, and to make it impossible for men
to meet at the _cafés_ and muddle themselves with adulterated spirits
as they do now.”

“But why fool about with licences at all, instead of establishing your
beloved Gothenburg system at once throughout the kingdom?”

“Because our present statistics are so imperfect that we have no idea
either as to the number of existing public-houses, or the proportion
which would meet the actual needs of the country. At present, any man
who has a front yard and a table has only to borrow a bench or two and
get in a cask of spirits on credit, and there is a new dram-shop. To
buy out all these fellows at once would entail an expense impossible
for us to meet. In future, as you see, no further taverns are to be
opened, except by permission from the central authority, while each
year, by means of the sum of money I propose to appropriate for the
purpose from my civil list, the rights of a certain number of existing
proprietors will be compulsorily acquired. By the end of the third
year we ought to have reduced the multitude of public-houses to
something corresponding with the needs of the country, and then there
will be a chance for the Gothenburg system. The surviving publicans,
who will have been chosen for their good behaviour and careful
management during the three years of probation, will have become used
to State control, and will have the choice of continuing their
employment as salaried servants of the State, or of being bought out
at once. I know the scheme is not perfect, but it is the best I can
devise with the means at our disposal. We have to deal with the
Thracians as we find them.”

“Then what are the advantages you claim?”

“Restriction without confiscation, the limitation of public-houses to
the smallest possible number, the placing of control in the hands of
an impartial central department, with trustworthy inspectors at its
command, instead of biassed local bodies, and the chance of weaning
the younger generation from the drinking habits of their fathers.”

“I call it grandmotherly legislation,” murmured Cyril.

“There are worse things even than that. I am convinced that this is
our one opportunity of action, while the country is in its present
unsettled state. The licensing plan will be established before the
people know where they are, and according to the scheme that will
develop into the Gothenburg system as soon as the idea has become
general. If you will be so good as to have the Bill drafted, M.
Drakovics, I shall be glad to go through the several clauses with
you.”

And Caerleon saw his brother and his Prime Minister retire
discomfited. The die was cast. He had embarked on the course Nadia had
pointed out, and begun the work to which she had urged him. At least
she would know that he was doing his best. His action might be
unconstitutional, but if so, that was for the people to resent. If
they were wise, they would prefer to be well governed, even by a
stretch of the royal prerogative, rather than continue in their
present state. If they were not wise, they might seek another king.

But the Thracians proved that they were wise. Caerleon’s researches
into the social life of Bellaviste, and some of his speeches to
prominent persons since he had been in the city, had awakened public
feeling on the subject of the drinking customs of the community. The
chief desire of the people was to appear in the eyes of Europe as an
enlightened nation, and it was a grievous blow for them to discover
that they had struck their new King as an assemblage of drunkards. The
reproach must be rolled away, and the proposal for reform was
accordingly received with acclamation. M. Drakovics was sufficiently
far-sighted to perceive that divided councils at this juncture would
ruin the future of the kingdom without doing any good to the question,
and on the principle of giving up his own way with a good grace when
he surrendered it at all, he threw himself loyally into the King’s
scheme, bestowed endless trouble on the drafting and details of the
measure, and introduced it himself in one of his famous speeches. Nor
did his pains end here. It was necessary to press the Bill through all
its stages as quickly as possible, as, in spite of the enthusiasm with
which it was received, a strong opposition to its provisions soon made
itself felt, which gathered strength as time went on. The distillers
and shopkeepers of Bellaviste, who had been among the staunchest
supporters of the late king, but who had profited much by the
excitement of the revolution and the thirst it engendered, were
disposed to resist strenuously any interference with their thriving
trade of spirit-selling. Opposed to them were the bulk of the national
party, young students and politicians principally, with a sprinkling
of old patriots who remembered the emancipation of Thracia from the
Roumi yoke, and the simple and frugal life which had preceded the rule
of the later Franzas. These men had the courage of their convictions.
A temperance society, which had been founded by the wife of a former
British Consul-General, and had for some time led a languishing
existence in Bellaviste, took a new lease of life, and added numbers
of enthusiastic converts every day to its roll. Caerleon was
unanimously entreated to become the president, and consented to accept
the office, whereupon a loyal member made a suggestion for a new medal
bearing the King’s portrait, which was taken up with enthusiasm, and a
large supply ordered. From that day forward the display of a blue
ribbon, with one of these medals hanging from it, betokened the ardent
Carlinist; and those English reformers who deprecate the degrading of
the temperance question into a matter of party politics, would have
been forced to admit that in Bellaviste to have taken the pledge was
the unerring mark of a member of the national party. But in spite of
the ardour of the new converts, the voting power of the liquor-sellers
would have swamped the Bill in the Legislative Assembly, if M.
Drakovics had not summoned to his aid in the Upper House his
supporters from the provinces. The chieftains rallied around him at
his call, and since they all entertained a wholesome dislike and
contempt for the vices of the city, they voted with one accord for the
Bill, which was passed triumphantly into law. M. Drakovics stood by it
to the end without flinching; but when it had received the King’s
assent, he relieved his mind in private to Cyril.

“One would scarcely have anticipated,” he said, “that the people would
so enthusiastically support the new King without once asking what were
the views of the old Minister.”

“Why, what could you expect?” said Cyril. “You introduced the Bill;
naturally they thought you approved of it.”

“They took it for granted,” said M. Drakovics. “The King is now
everything; I have only to execute his orders.”

“Yes,” said Cyril, “you meant him to be figure-head, and he insists on
steering. It must be slightly disconcerting.”

“You laugh at me, milord? I would ask you to remember that cases have
been known in history in which a Minister who has raised a King to
power has also deprived him of it.”

“And other cases in which the King has dispensed with the services of
the Minister,” said Cyril, quickly. “I will back my reminiscences
against yours, M. Drakovics. But it is foolish to go on quoting modern
instances in this way, especially when you remember that Caerleon
doesn’t care a straw whether you deprive him of the kingdom or not.
You have done your best for the Bill, and laid my brother under an
obligation. You can’t do without him, nor he without you; so don’t let
us hear any more about dethroning kings and that sort of thing. It’s
very bad form to talk to me in that way, at any rate, and I don’t like
it. We shall rub along together very well if we are willing to give
and take on both sides. And to cheer you, I’ll tell you something that
will please you. I shouldn’t wonder if Caerleon has done a very good
stroke of business in getting this Bill passed.”

“A good stroke for himself? Naturally so.”

“And for the kingdom too. Here is a regular assemblage of English
papers which has just come in, and I have been looking through them to
see how our proceedings are regarded. Our own men, poor beggars! are
waiting for an authoritative pronouncement from the Government before
saying anything; though it is easy to see that they consider Caerleon
a rather dangerous lunatic at large. But the Radical papers, from
which I was anticipating floods of eloquence, are checked in their
wild career, most of them, by this Liquor Bill. They are nearly all
committed to temperance reform at home, and they positively can’t
slate the first man that’s courageous enough to try it, even if he is
defying their dearly beloved Scythia. Of course their cry is for
absolute prohibition; but none of them have been able to get so near
it as even to bring about the adoption of the Scandinavian system, and
though they scout the idea of compensation as unnecessary, they can’t
help respecting a man who sacrifices a third of his civil list to form
a fund for buying up licences. The non-temperance papers are rabid,
naturally. Caerleon is a faddist, and a Puritan, and an Exeter Hall
autocrat, and all the rest of it. In ‘Mendacity,’ Dickinson calmly--or
rather frantically--demands that he should be impeached, not for his
temperance legislation, of course, but for poaching on Scythia’s
preserves. Rather a fine idea to impeach the king of a foreign
country, whom you can’t possibly get hold of, isn’t it?”

“Then the English papers have awakened to a knowledge of our
proceedings at last?” said M. Drakovics, with rather a sickly smile.
“The Government has given no indication of its policy as yet, I
suppose?”

“No,” returned Cyril; “but I think there is a storm brewing.”

“Ah!” said M. Drakovics, quickly. “Why?”

“On account of the extraordinary number of letters which have come for
Caerleon from different family friends, old comrades of my father’s,
and so on. The Master of his college has written, and the Bishop of
Carsfield--who was head of Eton in our day--and a good many others
whose names carry weight; and all their letters are in the same
strain, begging him to reconsider the step he has taken, and return to
England at once, while he has the chance. No doubt the Powers have
begun to see that it’s all very well to send notes to St James’s
demanding that Caerleon shall be recalled, but that St James’s has no
power in the matter. If the Government had sent him out, it might
recall him; but he came on his own initiative, and it would only be
courting a rebuff to order him back if he wouldn’t come. Our men are
too wise to lay themselves open to such a slight, but all the moral
influence they can exercise unofficially will be brought to bear.”

“Ah!” said M. Drakovics again.

“For instance,” Cyril went on, “here is a long screed from Forfar,
writing, as he says, not as leader of the party, but as a personal
friend of Caerleon’s. That’s all very well; but it’s quite evident
that the letter is a private warning from him and the Duke----”

“What Duke?” asked M. Drakovics.

“His brother-in-law, the Duke of Old Sarum, of course,” said Cyril,
impatiently. “He entreats Caerleon to withdraw from Thracia
immediately, and hints how very painful it would be for the Government
to be forced to take action against him. He says that he has broken
through strict official usage in sending him this friendly warning,
and earnestly trusts he will accept it. After this they must act as
they find necessary, and he will have to take the consequences. That
last little touch of menace is the Duke’s, I know.”

“And what does the King say? Will he take the advice proffered by all
these old friends and kind people?” asked M. Drakovics, anxiously.

“Rather not!” laughed Cyril. “He means to stick to you and Thracia.
No; there’s only one thing that would uproot him, I think. If Forfar
and the Duke had the sense to get a certain Person to write to him and
request him as a favour to abdicate, and not to imperil the peace of
Europe----”

“I see,” said M. Drakovics, “you mean the----”

“There is no need to mention names,” said Cyril. “I merely say that I
am afraid Caerleon’s chivalry would incline him to follow the advice
of a Person in such a position, and with so much experience.”

“But have they tried the expedient?” asked M. Drakovics, looking
anxiously at the heap of papers on the table, as though he expected
the letter of the Illustrious Personage to arrive by the ordinary
post, bearing a 2½d. stamp.

“Not they!” said Cyril. “A bold, picturesque dash like that is quite
undreamt of in their philosophy. But I will tell you what I have
here--two more warnings. One is from a man who was at Pavelsburg with
me. This is what he says: ‘Dear Cill, _Que diable fait ton frère dans
cette galère_? If you will take a straight tip, get him out of it as
quickly as you can. I say this for auld lang syne.’ The other is from
Mrs Sadleir--not a letter, simply a sentence underlined in one of
these precious newspapers--‘If he is wise, the so-called King will do
his best to obtain recognition from Roum as soon as possible.’”

“Exactly,” said M. Drakovics, with a ghastly smile, “and my news this
morning is that there is a hitch in our negotiations with Roum. Our
agent at Czarigrad has been refused an audience, while a special
Scythian mission was received with peculiar warmth.”

“Ah!” said Cyril, “and if the recognition is refused, you are a rebel,
and Caerleon and I are filibusters. Decidedly, in such a case as this,
nothing succeeds _but_ success. _Allons_, monsieur! we are all in the
same boat, and we may as well stick to the ship. It is possible that
the Grand Signior was only trying to put Scythia off the scent. If it
is so, we shall see. If not----”

The sentence was left unfinished as M. Drakovics departed shaking his
head, and Cyril returned to his work of writing answers to his
brother’s correspondents. He had no further private conversation with
the Premier until one morning several days later, when M. Drakovics
entered the office in great excitement.

“Milord, we are lost! Our agent at Czarigrad telegraphs that the
recognition is definitely refused. There is a _rapprochement_ between
Scythia and Pannonia--the Emperors have met. Secret negotiations are
proceeding among the Powers, and the British Government is understood
to have decided to remain neutral. There is only one thing that can
save Thracia. His Majesty must marry the Princess Ottilie of Mœsia.”

“Indeed!” said Cyril. “What good will that do?”

“Everything. The King of Mœsia is the nephew of the Grand Duke of
Schwarzwald-Molzau, and that house is connected with every reigning
family in Europe. Moreover, the King, so I learn from my correspondent
at Eusebia, would like the match. The Queen wishes her daughter to
marry the Prince of Dardania, but he objects to him, and has more than
hinted that he would prefer a son-in-law from Thracia. Again, we can
offer an inducement. There is a strip of territory on our Mœsian
frontier which has been ours since the last war. The people are really
Mœsians by race, and give us more trouble than all our Thracians put
together; but we have held fast to the territory, knowing that it
would be useful as a _quid pro quo_ in case we were ever desirous of
obtaining a concession from Mœsia. The King would give anything to
have it back, and in exchange for it we shall gain the strongest
family alliance we could propose, and the help of Mœsia and the
Mœsian army in case of war.”

“There seems to be a good deal of the _quid pro quo_ in your
philosophy,” said Cyril. “The difficulty will be to make Caerleon come
into the scheme. How are you going to get him to propose?”

“There is no need for his Majesty to conduct the preliminary
negotiations in person,” said M. Drakovics, drily. “I have already
telegraphed to Eusebia instructing our agent to make formal proposals
to the King for the hand of the Princess.”

“And this without telling Caerleon?” cried Cyril in astonishment.
“Well, I don’t envy you when you try to break the news to him. If he
kicks you down-stairs, don’t say that I didn’t warn you.”

“But it is you that will be kicked, milord, not I,” said M. Drakovics,
calmly. “His Majesty is your charge, the kingdom is mine,--that is our
agreement, as you know. I have done my part in this affair by setting
on foot negotiations which will ensure the safety of the kingdom. It
falls to you to bring his Majesty to acquiesce in them.”

Caught in his own trap in this way, Cyril passed a very bad quarter of
an hour with M. Drakovics. The elder man was resolute, the younger
furious--the ground of his fury being not so much the nature of the
Premier’s action as the fact that he had taken it without consulting
him. That M. Drakovics had exceeded his powers and got into a scrape,
and was now looking to him to save him from the consequences, was
Cyril’s view of the case; but as often as he urged it M. Drakovics
replied with perfect calmness that it had been necessary to act
immediately, and that if he had consulted Cyril the latter would have
hesitated to agree without first sounding his brother, a course which
would have destroyed all hope of success. Finally, M. Drakovics, with
a cool obstinacy which showed Cyril another reason for his being
called the Bismarck instead of the Kossuth of the Balkans, reiterated
his demand that Cyril should undertake to acquaint Caerleon with the
part it was desired that he should play.

“You see, milord,” he observed, frankly, “if the King was angry with
me, and lost his temper so far as to address me rudely, or even,
perhaps, to attempt to strike me, I am bound to resent it, for I
represent Thracia. I should feel compelled to resign, and then Thracia
is lost. But you are different, and, moreover, you are better
acquainted than I am with his Majesty’s character, and the best way of
approaching him on such a delicate matter.”

“It strikes me that my valour is the better part of your discretion,”
said Cyril; “but there is something in what you say. Don’t imagine
that I shall spare you, though. I quite see that Caerleon ought to
marry this Mœsia girl--in fact, that it will probably make all the
difference between success and a big smash if he does--but I don’t
think you have acted on the square. You needn’t blame me if you are
out of office this evening. Well, now to beard the lion in his den. It
may as well be done at once, before an ecstatic telegram arrives from
King Johann Casimir, welcoming his proposed son-in-law to his kingdom
and his heart.”

M. Drakovics smiled to see Cyril pause in front of one of the mirrors
in the corridor as he spoke, and rearrange his tie, which had become
twisted in the heat of the argument; but when he saw him put his hands
in his pockets and lounge idly into Caerleon’s study he understood him
better. Cyril’s _rôle_ was to be that of absolute innocence.

Caerleon was sitting at his writing-table, busied with the reports and
telegrams from Thracian agents at the various European Courts which M.
Drakovics had brought for his consideration, taking care to abstract
the one from Eusebia. He looked up as Cyril came in.

“Have you heard of the different blows which are about to fall on us?”
he said. “Things look pretty black.”

“Oh yes, Drakovics has been telling me about them,” returned Cyril. “I
hear that you are to act Curtius, and throw yourself into the gulf.”

“By abdicating? Has Drakovics come to that already? I haven’t. I don’t
mean to give up Thracia without a little fighting, unless they can
find a better man whom the people will accept.”

“Something much more heroic than abdicating. There is a lady in the
case. Marriage is the gulf.”

“Then I fear the gulf will remain unfilled,” said Caerleon, turning
back to his papers.

“Oh, that’s all fudge. You know it’s the only thing to be done.”

“There’s no need to discuss the subject,” said Caerleon, coldly. “You
know what I feel about it.”

“But what is the good of wearing the willow all your life----?”

“I have already said that I decline to discuss the subject with you,”
said Caerleon, and Cyril saw that in speaking calmly he was putting a
very strong constraint upon himself. He changed his tone instantly.

“Oh, very well. Of course I have no right to complain if you tell
Drakovics things you won’t tell me. Still, it’s rather rough on a
man.”

“What do you mean? You know perfectly well that nothing is further
from my thoughts than to discuss my private affairs with Drakovics.”

“Oh, I suppose you call this a public affair,” returned Cyril, with
the air of a man who has neither time nor inclination for such nice
distinctions. “I don’t want to appear inquisitive, but perhaps you’ll
let me know the day when it’s fixed?”

“Cyril, are you mad? or is this a particularly feeble joke? Tell me
what you are driving at.”

“Of course it’s no business of mine,” Cyril went on, unheeding; “but
when you have gone so far as to authorise Drakovics to make proposals
in your name for the hand of a lady, I think I might have been told.”

“I send a proposal? and through Drakovics? You must be dreaming. Who
is the lady?”

“Princess Ottilie of Mœsia.”

“A girl I have never spoken to in my life!” Caerleon’s tone was one of
hopeless bewilderment.

“Oh yes, you have. You danced with her at the State ball two years
ago, when the Mœsias visited England, don’t you remember? The King
looked on and smiled approvingly, and the chaperons began to put their
heads together and discuss seriously the best way of preventing
foreign royalties from carrying off the biggest things in the marriage
market. I believe they came to the conclusion that no princess ought
ever to be allowed to marry a subject. With princes it was different,
of course. You can’t have forgotten?”

“I remember her--a black-eyed, rather bouncing girl. But you don’t
mean,” and Caerleon grew hot and cold as the recollection came back to
him of the chaff he had endured from his friends on account of the
unmistakable favour shown him by the royal guests,--“you don’t mean
that they are on the track of that foolery again? They must be made to
understand at once that it’s absolutely impossible. You never believed
it?”

“I was very glad to hear it.”

“What! when you know that it’s less than a month since I asked Nadia
O’Malachy to marry me, and that I would willingly chuck up the kingdom
to-day if she would only take me?”

“I hoped,” said Cyril, deliberately, “that you regarded that affair as
over and done with, and were intending to sacrifice your private
feelings and do the best thing for the country.”

“You thought I was intending to be a scoundrel?”

“I _wish_ you would not be melodramatic,” said Cyril, pathetically.
“Here we are, between the devil, which is Scythia, and the deep sea of
the neutrality of the other Powers, and you have the chance of
settling everything on a firm foundation by marrying a very handsome
girl belonging to one of the oldest houses in Europe. I am not given
to preaching, but I do say that it would be a sin not to sacrifice
your feelings in such a case, and marry her. The marriage would simply
be the making of you and Thracia both.”

“I--will--not--do--it,” said Caerleon, forcing out the words slowly.

“As for Miss O’Malachy,” went on Cyril, “I give her credit for
possessing much too good sense to wish to keep you a bachelor all your
life for her sake. If you were to consult her, I am sure she would
wish you to make a suitable marriage. In fact, I should think she has
probably advised you already to do so.” The blow told, for Caerleon
winced at the remembrance of the advice which it had been almost
harder for him to hear from her lips than for Nadia to give. “She knew
perfectly well what she was doing when she refused you. It meant that
you were each to go your own way in the future, with no thought of the
other. If you don’t marry, it will be thought you still have hopes of
her.”

“And what is it to you if I have?” demanded Caerleon, so fiercely that
Cyril jumped. He could not think of anything to say, and presently
Caerleon resumed in a quieter tone, “But I have none. She put me on my
honour to stick to the kingdom, and so long as I am king she will have
nothing to do with me.”

“I knew she was a sensible woman!” said Cyril, triumphantly. “Now,
Caerleon, let me advise you to take this thing quietly. See Princess
Ottilie. You haven’t an idea what she is really like, and you may find
her very like Miss O’Malachy----” (“I hope to goodness he won’t!” he
added to himself), “or she may catch your heart at the rebound, or you
may fall head over ears in love with her, and find that you really
mistook your feelings last time----”

“I am so sure of my feelings,” interrupted Caerleon, “that I won’t
pretend to run after another girl for anything you can offer me.”

“Then I should like to know what you mean to do,” said Cyril. “It’s
not a private and personal matter; it is to save your kingdom.”

“Hang the kingdom!” cried Caerleon. “I won’t sell myself for the sake
of Thracia. If I can’t be king and be a gentleman, let the kingdom
go.”

“If you would only listen for a moment!” sighed Cyril. “This is what I
was going to say. Take no further steps of any kind, and leave
everything to Drakovics. Things can be formally arranged without your
going near the girl, and the mere fact that the preliminaries are
settled will do all we want. Once we are past this crisis, and Scythia
and Pannonia have quarrelled again, you can pay a visit to Eusebia,
and make yourself so disgustingly disagreeable that the Princess will
be bound to throw you over.”

“Of all the shabby tricks!” cried Caerleon, pushing back his chair
violently. “I declare, Cyril, if I didn’t know you were joking, I’d
kick you out of the room. Entrap a girl into a bogus engagement for
the sake of gaining a political advantage, indeed!”

“I only wish you had displayed a little of this aggressive virtue
before,” said Cyril. “You quite gave Drakovics to understand, when he
first offered you the crown, that you were prepared to fall in with
his views on matrimony, and he has merely been acting upon that.”

“On the contrary, I disagreed with his ideas even then,” said
Caerleon; “and if I hadn’t, what has happened since would have put my
adopting them out of the question. You ought to know that. But perhaps
it was you that put Drakovics up to this business about Princess
Ottilie?” turning upon him sharply.

“No, on my honour,” said Cyril, eagerly, relieved at being able to
deny with perfect truth this direct accusation. “Drakovics is a
Spartan sort of fellow, and I suppose he thinks that as soon as you
are off with the old love you may as well be on with a new. It’s his
own idea altogether.”

“I beg your pardon, old man,” said Caerleon. “Everything is so crooked
in this wretched place that I was even beginning to suspect you. But I
am glad you had nothing to do with it. Just telephone to Drakovics to
come up at once, will you?”

“Why?” asked Cyril, standing before the tube, lest his brother should
resent his hesitation and insist on using it himself.

“That he may explain to the King of Mœsia that he has made a mistake,
of course.”

“But, Caerleon, you can’t do things in that way!” cried Cyril. “Think
of the girl! Why, the news is public property by this time, all over
Europe, and there isn’t a soul that won’t believe but that you have
found out something against her that has made you change your mind.”

“Then I will disown Drakovics’s action, and say that he acted without
my authority.”

“Then he will resign, and you will lose the only man who possesses the
confidence of the people, and can support you to any purpose at this
juncture. You can’t do it, Caerleon. Besides, that again is a nasty
one for the girl. Won’t you see her? No one can tell what might happen
then.”

“If I see her, I shall simply tell her the whole story,” said
Caerleon, grimly. “She will have no wish to marry me after that.”

“Let me tell her about the matter for you,” suggested Cyril.

“No, thank you,” returned his brother. “I have a pretty fair idea of
the way you would speak of it--as a youthful indiscretion, of which I
was ashamed. And I am not ashamed. I should be the proudest man on
earth if Nadia were to be crowned with me this day two months.”

“Very well,” sighed Cyril. “I suppose if you will make an ass of
yourself, you must. We are to arrange, then, for a personal interview,
in the course of which you will, in so many words, refuse to marry
Princess Ottilie?”

“There’s no occasion to do anything so rude. I shall simply tell her
the truth, and leave it to her to refuse me. Or I’ll write to her.
Yes, that’s much the best plan. It will save time and a lot of
difficulty.”

“But you can’t!” cried Cyril, with his hand on the door. “Do you mean
to write to a girl who hasn’t even accepted you, and tell her you
won’t marry her? No, you must see her, as you say, and explain things.
I’ll manage to get you an interview somehow, though it’s against my
better judgment.”

“Be quick, then,” cried Caerleon after him, as he went out, “for if
there’s any delay, I shall write to her myself.”



 CHAPTER XI.
 A DELICATE NEGOTIATION.

“Well?” asked M. Drakovics, anxiously, when Cyril appeared in his
office. “How did his Majesty receive the news?”

“As badly as you could wish. He won’t hear of marrying Princess
Ottilie, and wanted to telegraph his views at once to Eusebia.
However, I have got him to consent to see the lady, so that the honour
of refusing him may rest with her, and if we play our cards well, that
ought to give us all we want.”

“How?” asked M. Drakovics, quickly.

“It will gain us time and a favourable impression, and if we can once
succeed in separating Scythia and Pannonia, we ought certainly to be
able to prevent their coming together again.”

“Undoubtedly we ought to be able to manage that. But how do you
propose to bring about a coolness between them?”

“The coolness will come of its own accord fast enough when it is
understood that Caerleon is going to marry Princess Ottilie, for the
Empress of Pannonia was one of the Schwarzwald-Molzaus, and they
always stick together. Our business, therefore, is to produce the
impression, even if it is only a temporary one, that he is going to
marry her.”

“Right!” said M. Drakovics, emphatically. “And your method?”

“We are to consider it settled, I suppose, that the King of Mœsia
will take kindly to the idea? Very well; then as soon as his answer is
received, you must telegraph to inquire whether he will give a private
audience to a confidential envoy of the highest rank, in order to
discuss matters connected with the proposed marriage. He is pretty
safe to consent, and then either you or I must go to Eusebia.”

“But why?”

“In reality to arrange for this interview which is to end everything.
But if the European public chooses to regard the mission in a
different light, we cannot help it.”

“Ah!” said M. Drakovics. “But you must go. I dare not leave Bellaviste
at this juncture. I cannot trust the townspeople.”

“Never mind,” said Cyril, “I will go. It will look even better, as it
is a family matter. There is no need to wait for King Johann’s answer
before making our preparations. If you will set about having relays of
horses got ready for me at all the posting-stations, I shall be able
to start as soon as things are settled.”

“And you will not have to go as far as Eusebia,” said M. Drakovics.
“The King and Queen and Court are at Herzensruh, a country-seat which
is only a few miles from our own frontier. Your idea is excellent, and
yet--! Without a doubt, it would be still more effective if only we
could produce the impression that the King himself was coming
_incognito_ to plead his own cause. I suppose it would be impossible
for you to personate him?”

“Considering that there is just eight inches’ difference between our
heights, and that the King and Queen and Princess all know him by
sight, it is probable that it would,” said Cyril. “But, believe me,
monsieur, my visit will serve our views better than any romantic
journey Caerleon himself could make.”

“What do you intend to say to King Johann?” asked M. Drakovics.

“My cue will be this. Caerleon is a very modest and retiring fellow,
with an exaggerated idea of his own defects. He has been horrified to
discover that proposals have been made for his marriage without his
having had any opportunity of consulting privately the wishes of the
Princess----”

“I see,” said M. Drakovics. “You may lay as much blame on me as you
like,” he added, magnanimously. “I am a statesman, a plain man of
business, knowing nothing of the subtleties of love-making, you
perceive?”

“Precisely. Well, Caerleon cannot bring himself to believe that the
Princess would be willing to accept him if she knew what he was really
like. A ballroom acquaintance does not seem to him to form a
sufficient foundation for a happy marriage, and he is afraid that his
character and tastes might not attract the young lady’s fancy. This
distressing diffidence is making his life such a burden to him, that I
am sent to see whether a meeting between the young people cannot be
arranged before anything irrevocable is settled. Of course, when the
interview has once taken place, all will come right. It would be
treason to the Princess to think otherwise. You see, if it is properly
put, it is rather complimentary to her than not.”

“Yes; but then the meeting will destroy everything.”

“But we shall have done what we wanted, and you may be sure I will
mention as late a date for it as possible. And I don’t despair of
squaring Princess Ottilie. Caerleon has agreed to abide by her
decision, and if she won’t consent to refuse him, he must marry her.
There’s no doubt that if he told his story to King Johann, he would
simply laugh at it, and the Princess might possibly do the same. But
that must depend on any chance I may get of speaking to her alone.
Where is the meeting to be?”

“There need be no difficulty about that. We have several matters in
dispute with Dardania, and it has long been agreed that King Carlino
and the Prince of Dardania should meet and talk them over under the
excuse of a hunting-party. Now, our frontiers meet those of Mœsia and
Dardania at a spot only three or four miles from Herzensruh, and it
will be the easiest possible thing for the Mœsian royal family to
arrange for an interview at the same time. The date and the exact
details you will of course decide.”

“All right,” said Cyril; “but isn’t it rather a pity to have the
Prince of Dardania knocking about on such a delicate occasion? He
might be inclined to spoil sport.”

“Pooh!” cried M. Drakovics; “he may try, but he will not succeed. What
chance has a prince when a king is in the way? All women are dazzled
by a crown, and the Queen and her daughter will be the very first to
scorn him.”

“Very conveniently for us,” said Cyril. “Well, we will consider that
settled. Now for another highly important matter. The whole thing must
be carried through with exaggerated secrecy, and yet the secret must
leak out, do you see? or we shall have all our trouble for nothing.”

“Certainly,” said M. Drakovics. “A whisper to my agents on the various
Bourses of Europe will ensure its dissemination.”

“Whispers are apt to be overheard,” said Cyril, “and I have a better
plan. You remember Hicks, the American who gave us so much trouble
over the O’Malachy business? Well, it so happens that he is spending
two or three days here now after going to Bashi Konak and back. I met
him last night, and he tried to pump me and find out how his Majesty
was getting over his disappointment. Of course I told him nothing,
only shook my head and looked knowing, and intimated that I could make
startling revelations an if I would; but that is a good foundation for
our business now.”

“And you knew nothing at that time of all this!” said M. Drakovics,
with reluctant admiration.

“Of course not; but I was not going to give myself away by saying so.
What would become of diplomacy if a man said plainly when he knew
nothing about a thing? Hicks is going to be as good as a news-agency
to us, but he will have to find out everything for himself. You
understand?”

“I am deeply interested, milord. Pray proceed.”

“Well, in the evening you will bring out a special Gazette with an
official announcement that the rumours which have been lately in
circulation as to a _rapprochement_ between us and Mœsia are wholly
premature and unauthorised. Of course there are no rumours whatever,
but that is a detail. There will be some soon enough after this
_communiqué_, and it will stir Hicks up. Then, when it is dark, I
will send down our English groom to the Hôtel Occidental, to inquire
whether they can let us have two horses that are good for a hard
long-distance ride next morning. We could use our own horses,
naturally, but there would be no publicity in that. He will not say
where they are to go, but he will hint mysteriously at a country not
far to the west of us, and he will obstinately refuse to state who is
going to travel. After that, I think it will be surprising if Mr Hicks
doesn’t hire a window overlooking the west gate, and sit up all night
to see the start.”

“And then?”

“I shall take only Wright with me, but you will accompany me to the
gate, mentioning loud enough to be heard that the relays of horses are
ready all the way. I shall be muffled up, as though to escape
recognition; but when I am abreast of Hicks the muffler will slip for
a moment--quite accidentally, of course--and he will just catch a
glimpse of my face. That will be enough for him, and the news will be
all over Europe by the evening. I only rely on you to take no further
steps without consulting me, and to keep any papers which speak of the
marriage as a certainty out of Caerleon’s way until I return.”

“But are you able to undertake so long a ride, milord?”

“Oh, I shall do it somehow. The more dead tired I am the better the
impression will be--haste and eagerness so intense, you know, and all
that sort of thing. Besides, I shall take it out of Caerleon a little.
He will be horribly cut up when he finds that I have undergone so much
fatigue just out of tenderness for his scruples, and it ought to make
him easier to manage in future. Riding hard all the way, I should be
back in three days. That is quite long enough to give him a fright.”

“Milord,” said M. Drakovics, with deep conviction, “I am more and more
thankful that it is your brother, and not you, who is King of Thracia.
Hitherto I have bemoaned my hard fate in having to manage a man with a
conscience; but I perceive now that compared with a man without one he
is simplicity itself to deal with.”

“Isn’t that pretty good, from you to me?” asked Cyril with slow scorn,
and the Premier shrugged his shoulders and spread forth his hands
deprecatingly as he bowed himself out.

If the interests of strict morality are to be considered, it would
have been well that the several portions of Cyril’s scheme should not
have met with the complete success which actually attended them. The
appearance of the special Gazette with its enigmatical announcement
created a great sensation in the city, which was heightened by the
fact that the alarming foreign news of the morning had been eagerly
noised abroad by Scythian sympathisers among the townspeople. Wright
performed his business at the Hôtel Occidental with the most
appropriate woodenness of manner, stoutly refusing to be drawn into
any clear statement as to the intended destination of the travellers,
but giving the necessary hints with an extensive facial contortion
which he denominated a wink. Things had fallen out so well that Cyril
felt a good deal of pleasurable excitement as he walked through the
silent streets in the autumn twilight of the next morning but one,
wondering whether Mr Hicks would be equal to the occasion. The King of
Mœsia had replied with effusion, both to the first overtures made by
M. Drakovics, and to the later telegram respecting the envoy, and the
energetic sending of messages backwards and forwards, the news of
which had in some way penetrated to the town, had heightened the
popular excitement. The horses were waiting at the west gate, under
charge of a mounted police official who was to escort the travellers
during the first stage of their journey, and there was a little crowd
of inquisitive citizens gathered at no great distance. A thrill of
triumph ran through Cyril as he recognised among them the sallow face
and scanty beard of the American, and he rejoiced that virtue should
not be its own sole reward in the case of Mr Hicks’s early rising. He
had muffled his throat and the lower part of his face in a silk scarf,
and turned up his collar, and as he mounted his horse it was easy to
let the scarf slip for a moment, which was all that the journalist
required. He went back to the hotel with a sensation in his note-book,
and Cyril rode away on his quest cheered by a pleasing consciousness
of success.

Prior to this day’s experiences, Wright had always entertained a
deep-rooted conviction that Lord Cyril’s horsemanship was far inferior
to that of his brother, both as regarded skill and endurance; but now
he was compelled to admit that he rode “like a Trojan,” whatever that
vague but evidently expressive comparison might mean. With short halts
for food and change of horses, they rode on hour after hour, being
handed over by their first guide to a second, and so on at every
stage, and arriving at Schloss Herzensruh late at night. Cyril found
himself intrusted to the care of the master of the household, who
treated him with breathless consideration, and intimated that he would
be admitted in the morning to an intensely private and confidential
interview with King Johann, and be allowed to depart early, so as to
avoid comment. The King of Mœsia had not Cyril’s reasons for desiring
an unauthorised publicity for the object of his errand, and the envoy
congratulated himself that he had not trusted to the enterprise of
Mœsian journalists.

Morning came, and Cyril was conducted with extreme precaution to the
King’s private room, where there was a secretary on guard at the door,
and a stalwart gamekeeper outside the window. Secrecy having been
ensured by this means, King Johann greeted his guest with delight, and
proceeded to lay bare to him his mind and the state of feeling in his
kingdom far more thoroughly than he had any idea of doing. The
impression that he produced on Cyril was that of a fussy, nervous man,
half elated by the fact of his having emancipated himself from his
wife’s control, and half afraid of the consequences. Throughout their
married life it had always been his custom to follow her advice, and
his kingdom had flourished exceedingly, until a few months before,
when the little rift within the lute had originated in the double
question of the marriage of Princess Ottilie, the only child of the
royal couple, and the succession to the crown. The constitution of
Mœsia did not allow a female to occupy the throne, and there was
therefore no question of the Princess’s bringing that perilous dowry
to her future husband; but while her mother wished her to marry the
Prince of Dardania, a distant connection of her own, the King was
prepared to allow her to marry any one else, but not the Prince. The
reason for this difference of opinion was to be found in the fact that
there was a strong party, both in the Mœsian Legislature and in the
country, who desired the selection of Prince Alexis as their future
ruler, anticipating that, when united with Dardania, the kingdom of
Mœsia would be strong enough to strike awe even into her triumphant
rival Thracia. The members of this party were most anxious for the
marriage, and the Queen supported them with the calm determination
which had always hitherto had its due weight with her more hasty
husband; but some time after the affair had been considered as
settled, its course was interrupted by an alien influence, wielded by
the King’s uncle, the reigning Grand-Duke of Schwarzwald-Molzau. He
had always regarded the kingdom of Mœsia as a snug preserve for one
of the many cadets of his house, and it did not suit him at all that
his plans should be crossed. Emissaries from Molzau were despatched to
Mœsia, the King was invited to revisit the cradle of his race, and
both there and in his own court he was cajoled, threatened, flattered,
and bribed until he refused his consent to the projected marriage. The
Queen was at first incredulous,--it seemed impossible that her power
could have vanished with such suddenness; but the Schwarzwald-Molzaus
had parted husband and wife only too effectually, and an armed
neutrality now existed between them.

This was the state of affairs in Mœsia, when M. Drakovics replied to
King Johann’s half-veiled hints as to the desirability of a closer
alliance between the two kingdoms by the formal demand of Princess
Ottilie’s hand for Caerleon--a demand which the monarch had hastened
with somewhat unkingly eagerness to grant. With the Princess safely
married to some one else, the Prince of Dardania would be deprived of
one of the chief influences on which he relied for support in his
candidature for the throne, while there was no fear that the Mœsians
would ever elect Caerleon as their sovereign. The mutual hatred
between Mœsia and Thracia was far too great for the two nations to
consent to be united under any circumstances, and this left the way
clear for the formal adoption by the reigning sovereign, and
subsequent accession to the Mœsian throne, of one of the younger
princes of the house of Schwarzwald-Molzau.

The first question of importance to be discussed between King Johann
and his guest was that of the treaty, as to the provisions of which
the King was nervously anxious. In fact, he was depending upon the
acquisition of the disputed strip of country as a means of reconciling
his subjects to the Thracian alliance, and preventing their mourning
over the discomfiture of their favourite, Prince Alexis. Hence,
although he heard it with wonder, he accepted with avidity the
suggestion which Cyril had arranged with M. Drakovics should be made.
In order to avoid the unpleasant savour of a bargain, in which the
Princess would be handed over in return for the tract of land, the
treaty respecting the disputed territory was to be drawn up and signed
before any public announcement was made as to the marriage. The King
did not appear to consider that it was less objectionable for his
daughter to act as a seal upon the treaty than as an equivalent in it;
but he grasped eagerly at the offer, and Cyril, who had been
representing in the highest possible light the delicacy of his
brother’s feelings, and the absolute certainty of his refusing to
countenance anything in the nature of a bargain, heaved a sigh of
unfeigned relief.

“This gives us a hold on the old fellow if the wedding doesn’t come
off after all,” he thought, while the King was hugging himself in the
idea that he had just achieved one of the most astute strokes of
policy of modern times. It was agreed that the treaty should be signed
as soon as it could be formally drawn up, and when King Johann
suggested that this ratification might well take place at a personal
meeting of the two sovereigns on the disputed territory, Cyril found
the necessary opening for imparting the real object of his journey.
The King listened in astonishment as he unfolded his story of
Caerleon’s excessive humility, and his determination to consult the
wishes of the Princess before he would consider himself engaged to
her.

“But this is abs--romantic!” cried the King. “It is a piece of the
Middle Ages. Naturally the girl will accept him when she has been
instructed to do so. Why should she not? His fears are preposterous.”

“That is exactly my own view, sir,” said Cyril, in the tone of one
whose endurance had been taxed to the utmost; “but I regret to say
that I cannot enforce it upon my brother. However, after what your
Majesty has just said of the docile disposition of her Royal Highness,
I hope the matter will prove to be merely a form.”

“There is no doubt of that,” said the king, hastily. “If the King of
Thracia is bent upon taking this course I must allow it, although he
will find it a very bad precedent,--undermining his authority,
admitting doubts as to his power, and so on. But I will give my
daughter her orders, and the Queen and she both know by this time that
it will be the worse for her if she does not obey.”

The irrepressible triumph which animated these words betrayed the
exultation of the weak-minded man who had gained a victory over a
strong-minded woman; but Cyril discreetly took no notice of the tone,
wondering only whether the King had intended to conduct his daughter
by main force to the altar, and whether he imagined his auditor to be
labouring under the delusion that the marriage would be a voluntary
one on the part of Princess Ottilie. It was agreed that the important
interview should take place the day after the signing of the treaty,
at a hunting-party to be given by the King at Schloss Herzensruh, the
previous day’s business having been conducted on the strip of
territory which belonged at present to Thracia, but which would pass
to Mœsia by the treaty. This settled, the King rose, and signed to
Cyril to accompany him.

“Now that is all arranged, I will present you to the Queen and the
Princess,” he said; and Cyril, divining that the presentation was
intended as a token of defiance to the Queen, followed him from the
room with lively interest as he marched across the corridor and
entered by the door which a servant threw open.

“This is the Lord Cyril Mortimer, brother and envoy extraordinary of
the King of Thracia,” announced King Johann, in a voice which was in
itself a declaration of war; but Cyril saw at a glance that the Queen
and her daughter had no intention of taking up the gauntlet. Both were
perfectly calm and very friendly, and inquired graciously after people
they had met in England. Princess Ottilie was taller and thinner than
when he had last seen her, and it struck him that she had lost the
loud manner which had aroused Caerleon’s dislike. She was growing more
like her mother; but Cyril felt that it would be long before the
impulsive dark-eyed girl would attain to the stately calmness of the
unintellectual, placid-looking lady who was said to possess one of the
wisest heads in Europe. She had foiled M. Drakovics once, at a period
of acute crisis, and the Thracian Premier had never forgiven her for
her victory, although he was wont to consider it a feather in his cap,
as in that of the statesman whom he most wished to resemble, that he
had all the ladies against him. A few minutes’ confidential
communication with the Queen would throw light on many things, Cyril
thought; but this was impossible so long as the King remained in the
room, moving about uneasily. Her parting words, however, surprised him
not a little.

“Tell his Majesty that I am looking forward to renewing my
acquaintance with him,” she said. “Among our many English friends,
there is none that I remember with so much admiration. I feel that one
can have the most perfect confidence in him.”

“Your Majesty is too good,” said Cyril, astonished. “I am sure my
brother has never ventured to hope that he held such a place in your
recollection.”

“He is the most perfect gentleman I ever knew,” she said emphatically,
and Cyril pondered over her words as he rode away from the castle. The
last sentence he felt at liberty to disregard. It was a taunt flung at
her husband by the Queen as a reply to his challenge; but he scented
danger in the expressions she had used at first.

“She’s up to something,” he said to himself, “but I can’t for the life
of me see what it is. It’s all very well for Drakovics to say that
women will do such and such things; but that’s where he and fellows of
his stamp always go wrong--in imagining that they can generalise about
women. It’s scarcely ever possible to judge of a woman’s probable
conduct from precedents. She is quite capable of striking out a new
line each time. I wonder now whether the Queen thinks she will be able
to get round the old man, and make him break off the match? Well, so
long as we get the treaty signed, and they don’t set to work too soon,
it doesn’t much matter. If only the King had not hung about as he did,
I could have found out a good many interesting things. But he was
afraid they would let on about Prince Alexis, and so he has
effectually stopped my giving the Princess a warning as to Caerleon’s
little game. It’s his own fault if the scheme goes wrong. I wonder
whether he will be able to carry through the business with Pannonia
properly.”

This unpleasant doubt exercised Cyril’s mind frequently during his
long ride. He had devoted the concluding portion of his interview with
the King to coaching him delicately for the part he was to play,
without actually making any suggestions as to the means to be used.
King Johann flattered himself that he was an accomplished diplomatist,
but his young visitor could scarcely have ventured to leave him to act
alone if he had not felt the issue to be so clear that the worst
bungling could hardly succeed in obscuring it. The King’s duty was
merely to intimate to his uncle, the Grand-Duke of Schwarzwald-Molzau,
that if Caerleon’s position in Europe were secured, and he were
allowed to marry Princess Ottilie, the succession to the Mœsian
throne would be left open for one of the younger princes of the parent
house. There could be little doubt that he would welcome the
suggestion, and contrive to bring about the desired change in the
policy of the Powers by influencing Pannonian diplomacy through his
daughter the Empress. Thus Cyril’s mind was tolerably at ease when,
after nearly a day and a half of riding--for he had started too late
to complete the return journey in one day--he reached the
neighbourhood of Bellaviste. They were passing through a small village
when the first distant glimpse of the city was obtained, and Wright
urged his horse up to Cyril’s.

“Beg your pardon, my lord, but p’raps you’d like to rest ’ere for a
hour or so, and give these ’ere ’orses a feed and a bit of a rub-down.
It looks as though we didn’t know ’ow to treat a ’orse to bring ’im in
like this, and me always a-jawin’ the stable-boys about it.”

“I am sorry that the stable-boys will have to lose their object-lesson
to-day, Wright,” said Cyril, with a smile of the utmost gentleness,
“for it is important for us to hurry. But you need not think I am
ashamed of the state the horses are in. If you like to ride yours
through the next puddle, and get him well splashed, I have no
objection.”

Wright touched his hat, and fell back with an inarticulate grunt,
making no attempt to profit by the permission accorded him. At Schloss
Herzensruh he had fallen in with a fellow-exile in the person of King
Johann’s coachman, who was also an Englishman, and he had informed
him, in the course of a long and generally lugubrious exchange of
confidences, that “a straighter rider than ’is Majesty, nor a
pleasanter master, I don’t wish to see--and it do take something like
a ’orse to carry ’is Majesty,” he added with professional pride; “but
Lord Cyril--there! ’e’s beyond me.” Cyril smiled to himself over the
groom’s look of bewilderment as he rode on, and reflected that it
would have been a thousand pities to spoil the effect of their return
by care for the appearance of the horses. As it was, when the dusty
and travel-stained riders and their weary beasts entered the gates of
Bellaviste, they created a sensation. A keen curiosity had been rife
ever since Cyril’s departure, to account for which the wildest
theories had been started, and his return promised fresh interest to
the townsfolk. They gathered about him in crowds, and inquired
anxiously the object of his journey, and whether all was well. To the
first question he professed himself unable to give an answer; but on
the subject of the second he was able to reassure his questioners,
although the most audacious hints as to the King’s possible marriage
could gain no confirmation from his lips until he met Mr Hicks.

“Well, Lord Cyril, guess his Majesty’s about got over his
disappointment, anyway?” remarked the journalist confidentially.

Cyril responded in two words of the American’s own language, “You
bet!” and rode on to the palace. Dismounting hastily, he forbade the
servants to announce him, and hurrying up the steps, staggered into
Caerleon’s study, and collapsed upon the sofa.

“What! back already?” said Caerleon, looking up from his papers.

Cyril sat up. “_Already_!” he remarked, tragically; “I have ridden
night and day for the sake of a fad of yours, and this is all I get
for it!”

“My dear fellow, what made you do such a thing?” cried Caerleon,
rising and coming towards him. “I never thought of your rushing to
Mœsia and back like this. We shall have you ill again. Let me get you
some brandy.”

“You had better call one of the servants, and let me give the order,”
said Cyril, with crushing irony. “_You_ are a temperance man. Well, at
any rate I hope you will be pleased to know that I have made
arrangements for you to meet the Princess.”

“Is it really necessary for me to meet her?” asked Caerleon,
anxiously. “I have been hoping you would manage to nip the scheme in
the bud without that.”

“When you forbade me to mention the matter!” cried Cyril, with natural
indignation. “I had plenty of opportunities for telling the King your
story, but you had hinted that I should misrepresent it, so I said
nothing. Of course I did the wrong thing. Well, I have done all I can,
and I am dead beat. Just let me alone, that’s all I want.”

He turned over on the sofa and went to sleep, for it was perfectly
true that he was very tired after the three days’ ride, while Caerleon
stood looking at him in much apprehension and self-reproach. To cover
his brother with a rug and send for the Court physician to see him
were obviously the only things for the King to do; but when the doctor
averred that there was nothing amiss with the patient but fatigue, and
prescribed merely rest and mental relaxation, he could not accept the
comfort thus conveyed. When Cyril had been roused with much difficulty
from the sofa, and persuaded to go to bed, Caerleon went round to the
stables to speak to Wright, whom he found engaged in superintending
the grooming of one of the horses, which he conceived had been
neglected during his absence.

“Glad to see you looking so fit, Wright,” said his master, as Wright
straightened himself against the wall, and touched his cap. “I was
afraid I should find you dead beat. Lord Cyril seems to be tired out.”

“Do ’e, your Majesty?” responded Wright. “I ’adn’t noticed it. If
you’ll believe me, I think as ’is lordship’s ’avin’ a little joke with
you. ’E’s always tryin’ on them sort of games, beggin’ your Majesty’s
pardon.”

This was added as an afterthought, in response to Caerleon’s look of
astonishment, as the King turned on his heel, and walked away in
displeasure. Wright was getting disgustingly impudent, he reflected.
No doubt too much had been made of him, and he felt that he had a
right to put on side, as the only Englishman among the servants, but
he must be taught his place. Caerleon was painfully conscious that
there was not always a complete unity of aims and agreement as to
means between Cyril and himself, but that Wright should venture to
notice the fact was insufferable. He should learn that being the
King’s fellow-countryman did not necessarily make him his confidant,
and a studied repressiveness of manner in addressing him for some days
would go far to make him forget that he had been chosen as Cyril’s
sole companion on his important mission--an honour which seemed to
have encouraged him to presume. And upon this decision Caerleon
proceeded to act, to the signal discomfiture of Wright, whose natural
enemies the stable-boys asserted themselves unmercifully when they saw
that the royal favour had forsaken him.

Cyril, in the meantime, was enjoying himself. In obedience to the
orders of the physician, he spent several days on a sofa in his room,
and had all the papers brought him for his amusement. In this way he
was enabled to exercise a very effectual press censorship, weeding the
journals carefully, and sending down for Caerleon’s perusal only such
old-fashioned and painfully respectable prints as never hint at an
approaching royal marriage until the betrothal is actually announced.
Thanks to Mr Hicks, all the more modern and go-ahead papers were
teeming with reports and rumours on the subject of an anticipated
Mœsio-Thracian alliance, and two days after his return Cyril noted
with satisfaction a paragraph in a semi-official German paper to the
effect that the Emperor of Pannonia appeared inclined to recede from
the policy he had adopted of giving Scythia a free hand with regard to
Thracia, and to maintain an attitude of reserve. This in itself was
cheering, but for several days the situation continued to be extremely
unsettled, constant rumours of _rapprochements_ and coolnesses coming
to make matters doubtful. At last it was accepted as fairly certain
that Scythia and Pannonia were unable to agree on the Thracian
question, and that neither would trust the other to interfere; but
before things had reached this dead-lock, which left matters as they
had been before the two countries had arrived at their temporary
agreement, Cyril had received a cipher message from King Johann
Casimir to say that all was well.

This prepared the way for the signing of the treaty, which M.
Drakovics had been drafting in accordance with Cyril’s notes of his
conversation with the Mœsian sovereign; and when everything was
ready, Caerleon and Cyril left Bellaviste for the frontier, in order
to entertain the Prince of Dardania for a week’s hunting. The visit
was a purely informal one, M. Drakovics only coming down twice to
discuss various questions of policy, and the little party in the
hunting-lodge found their stay very pleasant. The Prince of Dardania
was young and athletic, and a mighty hunter, and displayed as much
delight over his escape from the cares of State and the supervision of
his Prime Minister as did Caerleon. The two became great friends, and
their intimacy caused Cyril much apprehension, owing to his constant
fear that they might discuss together the situation with respect to
Mœsia. He gave himself endless trouble, and caught several colds, in
accompanying them on all their expeditions, when he would much rather
have remained sitting over the fire at the hunting-lodge or lounging
about the little village; but he felt the absolute necessity of
preventing their coming to an understanding. He knew that he was a
hindrance to their enjoyment, for long walks were obliged to be
curtailed, and bridges sought instead of fords, in consideration of
his physical weakness; but Caerleon could not bring himself to suggest
that he should remain at home, and Prince Alexis smiled and said
nothing.

At times it struck Cyril that all his trouble was unnecessary, for
that the Prince could not be aware that Caerleon was his rival; but it
seemed impossible that the European gossip as to the approaching
disposal of Princess Ottilie’s hand should not have reached his ears.
More than once, also, Cyril caught him looking Caerleon over, in a
musing, business-like fashion, as though he were taking stock of him,
and after moments such as this he always redoubled his efforts to keep
the two from being alone together. He felt sure that Prince Alexis
knew what was going on when, in response to a question from Caerleon
as to whether he intended to join the hunting-party at Schloss
Herzensruh the day after the signing of the treaty, he replied that he
could not well intrude on the King of Mœsia at such a purely family
gathering, but that he would no doubt be able to pay his respects
later. And yet it seemed strange that he made no attempt to win
Caerleon over to his side, a fact which left Cyril still troubled by
uncertainty, even after the treaty was signed. The points of
difficulty between Thracia and Dardania had been satisfactorily
arranged by the two sovereigns and their Ministers, and they were
incorporated into an addition to the Mœsian treaty, although Cyril
almost feared that the negotiations would fall through when he saw the
meeting between King Johann Casimir and Prince Alexis. The King’s
manner was nervously triumphant, and inclined to be unfriendly, and
most men would have taken offence at it, especially after the rupture
which had already occurred between them; but the Prince passed it by
without notice, and all went off peaceably.



 CHAPTER XII.
 TO OBLIGE A LADY.

The next day was that appointed for the fateful hunting-party, and
when Caerleon and Cyril bade farewell to Prince Alexis, who was
returning for a few days to his capital of Bashi Konak, they were both
conscious of concealing a good deal of excitement under a veil of
calmness. Cyril fancied that there was a twinkle in the Prince’s eye
as he wished them good sport, and he was roused again to wonder
whether their guest knew anything of the affair in hand. However this
might be, he departed without making any allusion to it, and Cyril
awoke to the fact that Caerleon, who now realised for the first time
the full falseness of his position, was in a state of misery and
nervousness only to be described as pitiable. When Cyril recognised
this fact he was appalled, for it seemed to him that the mere sight of
his brother’s face was enough to betray to King Johann the artifice
which had been employed against him; but presently he reflected that
Caerleon’s disquietude and evident unhappiness fitted in exactly with
the story he had told the King, and his mind was at ease as they rode
through the forest together. At Schloss Herzensruh every one was
waiting to start for the forest, and the lawn in front of the windows
was occupied by a confused group of jägers, dogs, and beaters. The
Queen did not appear on this occasion, but the King hurried to greet
the brothers, and presented Caerleon at once to Princess Ottilie, who
was looking sportsmanlike and ready for business in a French _costume
de chasse_, with leather-faced skirt and many-pocketed jacket all
complete, while a jäger behind her was holding her neat little rifle.

“I know how fond of sport you English are, and therefore I gave my
daughter directions to wear this dress to-day in compliment to your
brother,” said the King, complacently, to Cyril, when they had
withdrawn a step or two from the pair, leaving Caerleon to devise and
utter incoherent remarks on the weather, which were received by the
Princess with demure politeness.

“And Caerleon bars a shooting woman above all things!” was Cyril’s
agonised mental comment, even while he was assuring the King that
although the Princess would look charming in anything, she was
absolutely irresistible in hunting costume. But as he spoke, his
thoughts were wandering, for it struck him that Princess Ottilie
appeared to be very favourably inclined towards Caerleon. There was a
hint of pleased excitement in her manner, which even the delight of
wearing the most _chic_ and becoming of new dresses seemed inadequate
to produce; and when, in response to one of her companion’s laboured
remarks, she raised her eyes smilingly and scanned his face, it
appeared to Cyril that the expression in them was more than friendly.
The thought almost made him giddy. What if the whim of a
strong-willed, fickle girl should succeed in doing what he and M.
Drakovics, with all their statesmanship, had failed to achieve, and
bring about Caerleon’s marriage with her? Although he had suggested
the possibility of such a thing in order to comfort the Premier, he
had never regarded it seriously himself; but now it struck him as by
no means unlikely that Princess Ottilie might refuse to grant her
unwilling suitor the dismissal he craved, in which case, Cyril
decided, his brother would feel himself compelled to marry her. At
this point the voice of King Johann broke in on his meditations.

“I am about to desire my daughter to show his Majesty the path through
the forest which leads to the withered pine, a familiar landmark
here,” said the King. “You and I will then lead the hunt in the
opposite direction.”

“Excuse me,” said Cyril, hastily, “but I am afraid that such evident
assistance would simply render my brother incapable of addressing
himself to her Royal Highness at all. If we keep to our present order,
your Majesty and I and the servants can easily turn into a fresh path
when we are once in the wood.”

The King agreed to this plan, although not without some hesitation,
and Cyril manœuvred the army of beaters so adroitly that before they
had been ten minutes in the forest Caerleon and the Princess found
themselves alone. The result of the discovery was absolutely to
deprive Caerleon of the power of speech, and he walked on in silence
beside his companion, who was firing off nervous little sentences at
intervals. We are told, by those who should be well qualified to speak
on the subject, that words are apt to fail him who desires to offer
his hand and heart to the girl of his choice; but what is his
difficulty compared with that of the man who finds it his duty to
explain to an expectant lady why he does _not_ propose? The cold sweat
stood on Caerleon’s brow as the Princess ceased her spasmodic remarks
abruptly, and appeared from her silence to be expecting him to speak;
but after an awful five minutes, in the course of which he twice
cleared his throat and made a vain attempt to say something--it did
not matter what--she herself, to his astonishment, broke the ice.

“I--I have something to say to your Majesty,” she began. “You have
come here with the intention of--of marrying me----”

This was more and more terrible. It rushed into Caerleon’s tortured
mind that Princess Ottilie must belong to a German variety of the New
Woman, and that she was going to propose to him. How was he to manage
to refuse her? She must be stopped at any cost.

“On the contrary,” he interrupted, floundering desperately into what
he had to say--“your Highness is mistaken. I have no desire--no
intention--no--no hope of marrying you.”

“Indeed!” cried Princess Ottilie, facing him with crimson cheeks and
flashing eyes. “Then pray understand that your feelings are entirely
reciprocated. I have no desire--no intention of marrying your
Majesty,” and she made him an elaborate curtsey, which was rather
incongruous when taken in conjunction with her gaiters and short
skirts. But Caerleon was far too deeply impressed with the conviction
that he had blundered horribly in beginning his delicate task to
notice anything of the kind.

“I assure you,” he said, earnestly, “that nothing could be further
from my mind than to wish to insult your Royal Highness. I can only
ask you to pardon my bungling way of expressing myself. I came here
intending to throw myself upon your mercy, and beg you to release me
from an engagement which was entered into without my consent.”

Princess Ottilie still stood angry and irresolute, darting distrustful
glances at him, but it seemed to Caerleon that she was more disposed
to listen than at first. He hurried on--

“I will speak to you freely, Princess--not that I am ashamed of what I
have to say; quite the contrary. There is a lady whom I love, and whom
I would give anything to marry. But she has refused me--she is not of
royal blood, and she considers that it would be prejudicial to the
interests of Thracia were she to marry me. I have no hope of getting
her to change her mind so long as I remain on the throne, but I will
never marry any one else. It would be perjury. When I heard that
Drakovics had set on foot negotiations for my marriage with you I was
horror-struck, and tried to break them off at once. But it was pointed
out to me that this might seem to cast a slur on you, and so--I didn’t
do it. I think you will see that if I acted wrongly it was because I
was desirous of doing nothing to hurt your feelings. I am truly sorry
if what I said at first sounded rude, but I was anxious to get you to
refuse me. You see that I could not possibly marry you, since I love
Nadia.”

“Nadia--is that her name?” asked the Princess, sharply. She had been
standing motionless, biting her glove, during Caerleon’s laboured and
stammering harangue, her brows contracted into an anxious frown, but
now her face relaxed. “I like to hear you say it. Your voice sounds as
if you loved her. If I wished to tease you, I might insist on holding
you to your engagement, but I don’t, for”--and she mimicked the words
he had uttered some minutes before--“I also came here intending to
throw myself on your mercy, and beg you to release me from an
engagement which was entered into without my consent. Only,” and her
voice took a tone of entreaty, “I have more to ask than you.”

“If I can help you in any way, pray command me,” said Caerleon,
inexpressibly relieved to find himself transformed from a suppliant
into a possible benefactor.

Princess Ottilie smiled anxiously. “You don’t know what you are
promising, but I shall hold you to your offer. I am going to confide
to you something that no one knows except my mother. It is she who has
advised me to consult you, for she has the greatest confidence in your
honour and discretion.”

This was spoken very quickly, as if it was a lesson, and Caerleon
could only say that, in so far as it rested with him, the Queen and
Princess should have no cause to repent of the honour they were doing
him.

Almost before the words were out of his mouth, the girl went on
speaking hurriedly, walking fast with her face turned away from him,
and her hands twisting themselves nervously together: “I also have a
romance, your Majesty--a love-story, you call it. After I had visited
England with my parents two years ago, we spent some weeks at
Pavelsburg, and there I met some one--a distant relation of my
mother’s. All these political troubles had not happened then”--she
looked up at him piteously--“and I might follow the dictates of my own
heart. My father and mother were delighted; the Emperor was pleased.
We could not help loving one another; but what happened afterwards
would not have seemed so hard if all had not been so bright at first.
He had spoken to my mother; she had told my father; but our engagement
was not to be announced until we returned home, and the betrothal
could take place publicly. But when we reached Eusebia, everything was
changed. Your revolution--the Thracian revolution--had taken place;
Scythia and Pannonia had quarrelled; the statesmen were playing chess
on the map of Europe, and he and I were two of the pawns. He is
related to the imperial family of Scythia, and Pannonia could not
allow Scythian influence in the Balkans to be strengthened by his
marriage with me. They did not tell us plainly that our duty compelled
us to part,--they worked underground, through the Grand Duke, my
father’s uncle; they sowed dissension between my father and mother;
they made our home miserable; they have parted my Prince and me. That
is my story, and no one has any pity for us.”

She paused and wrung her hands, her dark eyes searching Caerleon’s
face, her lips quivering painfully.

“Don’t cry,” he said in alarm. “If I can help you I will. What is it
that you want me to do?”

“There is no one I can trust, no one who will help me. My father
orders me to marry you, and Pannonia and the whole of our own family
are behind him. I could not escape; they would track me all over the
world. My only hope is to divert their attention altogether for a
time--for a few days, and so to obtain the chance of marrying my
Prince.”

“But who is he--this happy man?” asked Caerleon.

“Alexis Alexievitch,” she replied, with a vivid blush.

“The Prince of Dardania!” cried Caerleon. “Why, we have been hunting
together for a week, and he has never said a word about this.”

“He was to leave it all to me, unless he found some unexpected
opportunity,” said the Princess. “He is making all the preparations.
It is a difficult matter, because we must be married both by Greek and
Lutheran rites, and he has found it best to bring a pastor from
Weldart, from my mother’s people. The pastor cannot arrive for a week,
and we must bridge over that time until I can escape into Dardanian
territory, and be married. Now, do you see what I want you to do?”

“I really don’t,” said Caerleon, the wildest ideas of personation,
elopement, and abduction chasing one another through his brain.

“I should have thought it was simple enough,” said the Princess, with
a certain amount of contempt. “That week must be filled up, and
therefore I want you to engage yourself to me for that time.”

“Oh!” said Caerleon, stupidly. “But I thought you made a very solemn
ceremony of your betrothals here?”

“And you think your Mdlle. Nadia might object? Well, I will promise
you by anything you like that I will not hold you to the engagement.”

“It’s not that,” he said, gruffly. “I am not going to tell a pack of
lies.”

“Oh!” exclaimed the Princess in her turn. “But I’m afraid I can’t tell
them for you. Do you really mind going through the form of betrothal,
knowing that neither of us means it? You can say the words without
intention, or with a mental reservation, you know. No? Well, I see
what we must do. The betrothal must be put off for a week. I have sent
for a new dress from Paris, and I will not appear at the ceremony
until I have it to wear. My father will allow that plea. Have you not
noticed that men who will calmly break a woman’s heart in a great
matter, will let her have her way without difficulty in a little one,
especially if it has anything to do with dress? It will be generally
understood that we are engaged, and that will put the
Schwarzwald-Molzaus off the scent.”

“But I can’t say that I want to marry you when I don’t,” objected
Caerleon.

“Did they teach your Majesty that story about George Washington very
carefully when you were a little boy? I have toiled through his
history often, but it never left such a deep impression on me. Very
well, you must say that you will marry me if I am willing, and I will
say the same about you. That will make us both safe.”

“But, excuse me,” said Caerleon, “is all this really necessary? Don’t
you think that if I spoke to your father, and told him what your
feelings were, and interceded with him on behalf of Prince Alexis, he
might relent?”

Princess Ottilie’s eyes flashed. “Your Majesty,” she said, “my mother
went down on her knees to my father to entreat his pity for me, his
only child, and without avail. Do you think that a stranger’s
intercessions would have more effect on him?”

“But have you tried telling him that your happiness depends on this
marriage, and refusing to have anything to say to any one but the
Prince?”

“No; I have not done so lately,” said the Princess, in a peculiar
tone. “I did at first; but do you know what the consequence would have
been if I had persisted? They would have banished my mother from the
kingdom, or imprisoned her in a fortress, and what could I have done
then? Therefore I said no more. Of late we have endeavoured to appear
resigned to our fate, confiding in your honour and generosity.”

“But would it not put things right if I were to withdraw from my
proposal at once?”

“So far right that my father would oblige me to marry one of my
cousins, the Schwarzwald-Molzaus, instead of you, and I could look for
no mercy from him. You must help me. You cannot leave me to my misery,
when I have trusted you in this way. Help me for the sake of your own
Nadia, as you would wish another man to help her if she were in my
place. Oh, your Majesty, you cannot refuse me!”

“Very well. I’ll do what I can,” said Caerleon, rather grudgingly, as
it seemed even to himself, but the idea of the suggested deception was
hateful to him.

“And you will tell no one what has passed between us?”

“Of course I won’t repeat your confidences without your permission.”

“Not even to your brother?”

“Not even to him, if you would rather not, though I don’t think I have
ever kept anything secret from him before.”

“Your brother above all,” repeated the Princess, emphatically. “On
your honour?”

“You don’t seem to trust him,” said Caerleon, feeling hurt.

“Not at all. It is simply that I owe him a little grudge. You know
that he visited my father here nearly three weeks ago? I want to play
him a trick in return for some things he did then. You understand, it
is a whim of mine?”

“Yes,” returned Caerleon, only half satisfied.

“Ah! well, your Majesty, we are engaged--for a week. It will be
necessary for us to appear in public together, but I will do my best
not to be a very exacting companion. I know that you English do not
make as much of betrothal as we Molzäuers do. Still, one must keep up
appearances. I look to you to play your part.”

“In this way?” asked Caerleon, provoked by her mischievous tone, as he
raised her hand to his lips.

“Ah, that is your custom? We in Germany should think it a little cold.
If anything more is requisite, pray do the proper thing, without
considering my feelings.”

“If my brother was here he would make a pretty speech about the
honour’s being too great for safety,” said Caerleon. “I am not a good
hand at compliments, and so, Princess, I must simply ask you not to
tempt me.”

“Which is a polite way of saying that you decline the honour,” said
the Princess, pouting slightly, and trying to withdraw her hand. At
this interesting moment King Johann and Cyril, followed by the
jägers, appeared at the end of the path. Cyril and the servants drew
back hastily, but the King advanced with much dignity, and approached
the pair.

“Is it possible that the dearest wish of my heart is granted me?” he
asked in a voice broken by emotion. “You have arrived at an
understanding?”

“If the Princess will take me, I hope--er--er--I am ready--er--I will
marry her,” stammered Caerleon.

“And if his Majesty will have me, I shall welcome the honour of
marrying him,” said Princess Ottilie boldly, a mischievous light in
her black eyes.



“Then you really are engaged to her?” asked Cyril, incredulously, when
the brothers next found themselves alone together.

“I suppose so,” returned Caerleon, gruffly enough.

“Well I am most extraordinarily delighted to hear it, of course.
Congrats, and all that sort of thing, old man. I suppose she wouldn’t
let you off?”

“That’s about it.”

“You ought to feel flattered by that, at any rate. She’s an awfully
good-looking girl,--any amount of go in her. I shouldn’t wonder if you
find her rather overpowering though, just at first. I’ll take her off
your hands now and then if you do. She’ll think a heap more of you if
you are busy sometimes.”

“I should have thought you would have recommended me to try and get
used to her if I have got to marry her,” growled Caerleon.

Cyril laughed.

“What, in these progressive days?” he asked. “You are behind the age,
old man. You will contrive to exist very happily together by making
sure of never finding yourselves in the same place at the same time.”
And he went away to draw up an official announcement to be sent to M.
Drakovics for insertion in a special Gazette, stigmatising the
circumstantial reports which had appeared of late on the subject of
the King’s approaching marriage as absurdly premature, since the date
even of the betrothal was not yet fixed. As for Caerleon, he prepared
with a failing heart for his interview with the Queen, who had
expressed a desire to see her daughter’s _fiancé_. The King himself
led him into the boudoir where the Queen sat knitting, and was much
relieved to see her kiss him on the forehead when he stooped to kiss
her hand. He had feared that although Princess Ottilie had proved
unexpectedly pliable, her mother would be more difficult to persuade;
and he ascribed the gratifying reality partly to the Queen’s sense of
his own masterful personality, and partly to the liking she had
already expressed for her future son-in-law. Pitying the young man’s
evident shyness and misery, King Johann volunteered to leave him alone
with the Queen for a time lest his presence should prove a restraint
on their mutual confidences, and the moment that he had left the room
the Queen dropped her knitting and sat upright.

“I can never thank you sufficiently for what you have done to-day,”
she said, in a quick sharp whisper. “You have helped me to save my
child.”

“I am very glad if I have been so fortunate as to please you,” said
Caerleon, lamely.

“My daughter has told me your story,” the Queen went on. “Your
confidence in her has touched us both extremely. If ever I can in any
way serve or befriend the young lady whom you love, I rely upon you to
turn to me without hesitation.”

“Your Majesty is too good,” stammered Caerleon.

“There is one thing I wish to say while we are alone,” continued the
Queen, rapidly. “It is uncertain when Prince Alexis will be able to
complete the arrangements for the wedding, and even when I know the
day I will not tell you. You are to be completely ignorant. The news
must surprise you as much as any one. I am afraid that your engagement
must last at least eight days; but you know that it is not now
proposed to celebrate the betrothal until ten days hence. I hope you
will not find the time very irksome, but my child is a little wayward
occasionally. Here comes the King.”

When Caerleon went out from the Queen’s boudoir, with the King’s arm
in his, it was to begin the most horrible fortnight of his life. If he
had done wrong in yielding to Princess Ottilie’s entreaties, he was
amply punished for it as the days went on. He loathed the idea of
deceiving the King, tyrannical and weak-minded though he was; he
loathed the delighted congratulations which came pouring in through M.
Drakovics from all Thracia as soon as it became known that the date of
the betrothal was actually fixed. He was deceiving the man whose bread
he was eating, for on the return from the hunt the King had insisted
that the brothers should take up their quarters at Schloss Herzensruh;
he was deceiving Cyril, who had never, so he fondly believed,
concealed a thought from him; he was deceiving his simple-minded
subjects, and he was laying up a store of self-loathing which became
in course of time almost unbearable. And, worst of all, he was turning
his back on Nadia, forsaking her, and, so far as the world could see,
preparing to marry another girl, exactly as she had begged him to do,
and prophesied that he would do. This last aspect of the case would
have made the situation intolerable to a woman, but Caerleon was
possessed of a dogged patience which forced him to go on to the bitter
end, having once given his promise to Princess Ottilie. But he
discovered very soon that, although it had been easy enough to offer
her his help in the forest, with her tearful eyes fixed upon him and
her indignant voice ringing in his ears, it was much more difficult to
carry out his promise gracefully.

He did his best, although it must be confessed that that best was but
poor. When Cyril suggested mildly that it was usual to send presents
to the lady in the course of an engagement, he followed his advice,
and telegraphed to Paris and Vienna orders for jewellery and objects
of art; but he did so with the bitter recollection that he had never
given Nadia so much as a keepsake, while here he was showering costly
gifts upon a girl for whom he did not care a straw. It was the same
with the rides, on which it was the Princess’s will and pleasure that
he should accompany her at least once a-day. He had never had the
chance of riding with Nadia; but he had little opportunity of
forgetting that Princess Ottilie had a splendid seat, and rode like an
Englishwoman, as Cyril told her once, assuring her at the same time
that it was the highest compliment he could pay her. At first, indeed,
Caerleon welcomed the prospect of the rides, as likely to restrict his
intercourse with his _fiancée_ to the polite and friendly terms on
which he felt it was both right and reasonable they should meet. But
he had reckoned without Princess Ottilie, even as he had left out of
his calculations the enterprising photographers who travelled from
Bellaviste and Eusebia, and arranged cameras in ambush by the side of
the road along which the riders were to pass, and the enthusiastic
amateurs who took snap-shots at them with kodaks. The Princess had
eyes like a hawk, and could detect the most artfully concealed camera
some minutes before she came abreast of it, and distinguish a
photographic maniac at any distance, and at the crucial moment she
would begin a confidential low-toned conversation, which obliged
Caerleon to lean politely towards her in order to hear what she said;
or she would drop her riding-whip. It was against his principles, she
had discovered, to allow the groom to pick it up, and thus she had the
pleasure of seeing him dismount and rescue it himself, while the
lurking enemy gloated over the negative he had secured, which was
destined to appear after the lapse of a week or two, in a more or less
appalling guise, in one of the Continental illustrated journals.

“It isn’t the riding I mind, but I do bar her tricks,” Caerleon
bemoaned himself one day to Cyril, who had witnessed an incident of
this kind.

“Never mind,” said Cyril. “She only wants to show you off.”

“If she carries on much more, I shall cut,” said the victim, gloomily.

“Beastly mean, if you do,” said Cyril. “The girl’s awfully gone on
you. When I get her alone sometimes, and sing your praises to her, you
should see how pleased she is. Don’t be a fool, old man. Any other
chap would think himself in clover to have a smart, good-looking girl,
and a princess too, in love with him to such an extent.”

“Well, I shall get thrown, then. That will stop the rides, at any
rate.”

“Don’t, if you take my advice. She will insist on nursing you--rather
like it than otherwise. As to your finding it a bore to go out with
her----”

“I shouldn’t, if I wasn’t engaged to her,” groaned Caerleon.

“Oh, Lothario!” laughed Cyril, but he forbore to pursue the subject
further. He was so highly delighted by the unexpected success of his
diplomacy that he could afford to be generous. How the Princess had
managed to draw Caerleon into the engagement he could not guess, but
he was the last man in the world to quarrel with the accomplished
fact. He could stand a good deal from Caerleon in these days, he told
himself, taking credit for extraordinary forbearance towards a fellow
who was as bad as a bear with a sore head. Why couldn’t he put a good
face on it, as the Princess did? She had been obliged to discard her
old love, but she didn’t let the fact spoil all her enjoyment of
life--not she.

As will have been observed, Caerleon’s task was not made easier by his
_fiancée_. Princess Ottilie saw the full comedy of the situation,
where he perceived only its tragic irony, and she took a lively
pleasure in emphasising the details of the plot. A born actress, no
mere tame acceptance of facts would content her, and she played
shamelessly to the gallery. Ordinary love-making was poor,--everything
for her must be intense, and surcharged with meaning. She never left
Caerleon alone. Loving epithets flowed from her lips in a way that
made him feel that he must be blushing scarlet a dozen times a-day.
She claimed his time and attention as a right, obliged him to assist
her in the most incongruous tasks, made him turn over the pages of her
music for her during what seemed interminable hours (she was a most
accomplished musician), and appealed in an injured tone to Cyril, or
the Queen, or the ladies-in-waiting, if he showed signs of fatigue or
preoccupation. The general effect produced was that of a modern and
substantial Titania wooing a singularly unresponsive clown, to the
great edification of the beholders.



 CHAPTER XIII.
 PUNIC FAITH.

Matters came to a crisis on a certain dreadful evening when the
Prince of Dardania, who was staying at one of his palaces a short
distance on the other side of the frontier, dined at the castle. An
invitation had been sent him, with what the King congratulated himself
was a refinement of cruelty, that he might see with his own eyes how
complete was the ruin of his hopes, and the scheme met with a success
of which its originator had not dreamed. Whether through malice or
through nervousness, Princess Ottilie overacted her part enormously
that night, insomuch that she awakened doubts even in the mind of
Prince Alexis, and thrilled Caerleon with a new horror. Perhaps she
had changed her mind, and would after all refuse to release him,--and
what would be his position in such a case? It comforted him to see
that the Queen managed to exchange a few whispered words with the
Prince, as he took his leave after an evening of chilling neglect, but
he himself had an account to settle with Princess Ottilie. The next
morning the pair had “words” in the conservatory, and Caerleon
informed his _fiancée_ succinctly that he had no intention of being
used as an instrument of torture with which to harass Prince Alexis.

“If you try it on again, I shall simply make the whole thing known,”
he said.

“You threaten me?” wept the Princess.

“Not if you behave decently,” he answered, with a roughness which only
his desperate situation could excuse; “but if a man is supposed to be
engaged, he has a right to have a voice in the proceedings of his--of
the lady. The fact is, you think you can go as far as you like with
me, and I won’t have it. You wouldn’t dare to carry on in this way
with my brother Cyril, or any other man, because you know he might
respond, and then you would get into trouble. But as I consider myself
virtually engaged to some one else, and was soft-hearted enough to
believe what you told me in the forest, you think you can make as big
a fool of me as you like; but I’m not going to stand it.”

“You are brutal,” sobbed Princess Ottilie. “As you say, any other man
would feel honoured to be treated in the way I treat you.”

“Let him,” said Caerleon. “I don’t; and I tell you plainly, it’s not
to go on.”

“You are a monster to talk to me like this, at any rate,” she said,
drying her eyes. “Now that you have delivered your lecture, and I have
listened, I will only say one thing, that I would never allow my
prince to speak to me as you have done.”

She vouchsafed no other expression of penitence, and even this remark
Caerleon understood to be intended more as a hit; nor did his lecture
seem to have had much effect upon her conduct, for when later in the
day Cyril, on finding Princess Ottilie alone, noticed the heaviness of
her eyes, and ventured to hope that she was not suffering from
headache, she told him frankly that she had been crying, and gave him
to understand that her tears were due to a doubt as to Caerleon’s real
feelings towards her. A good deal of diplomacy was needed to soothe
her apprehensions, and when Cyril left her, with his mind made up to
seek Caerleon and warn him to be more careful, he found himself seized
upon by the King, who was strongly of the opinion that something was
wrong. Why did Caerleon look so gloomy? and why had he made the
Princess cry that morning? were his unanswerable questions; and
although Cyril, with what he told himself was perfect truth, urged
that he could not imagine any reason why his brother, who was
notoriously an advocate of love-matches, should engage himself to the
Princess against his will, he was obliged to fall back on Caerleon’s
imaginary unworthiness and low opinion of himself as an explanation.
He saw that the King was only half satisfied, and the next day he was
forced to feel that this tendency towards mistrust had made itself
evident at a very inopportune moment.

Hosts and guests alike at Schloss Herzensruh breakfasted in their own
rooms, and it was immediately after the early meal that Cyril received
an intimation that the King desired his attendance as soon as
possible. The wording of the message struck him as peculiar; but he
finished his dressing hurriedly, and presented himself in the study.
To his astonishment, he found King Johann surrounded by piles of
newspaper packets bearing English stamps, which had just arrived by
post. Several of them had been opened, and Cyril was surprised to see
that each contained a copy of that well-known weekly, ‘Mendacity,’
dated two or three days back. Furthermore, on looking at those still
unopened, he recognised in each case the cover of ‘Mendacity.’

“Lord Cyril,” said the King, and Cyril was surprised to see that the
fussy little man could look really kingly, “I have sent for you
because all the arrangements for my daughter’s engagement have been
conducted through you, and also because I was anxious not to trouble
your brother if this matter is susceptible of explanation. You see
these papers? I think every one of my English friends has sent me a
copy, and the same paragraph is marked in each. Perhaps you will
kindly read it.”

He put one of the papers into Cyril’s hand, and he read the marked
paragraph:--


 “‘I have no desire to be reckoned among the “unco guid,” and it has
 always been my belief that young men will be young men. Still, I am
 not sorry that my Temperance friends should have the chance of
 learning the true character of the gay Lothario whom the criminal
 inertness of a Tory Government has permitted to establish himself on
 the throne of Thracia. We have heard a good deal lately about the
 superior morality of this gentleman. His people have all been made
 suddenly sober--not by Act of Parliament, but by his “royal” decree;
 he has sacrificed a large part of his income for the purpose of buying
 up licences, and he is about to put the finishing touch to his
 catalogue of good deeds by making a love-match with the wealthy and
 beautiful daughter of a neighbouring sovereign. Perhaps it will be
 news for some of my readers to learn that this so-called “King” is
 bound by every tie of honour to marry a Scythian lady of noble family,
 whose acquaintance he made before seizing upon the throne, and whom he
 subsequently abandoned in the most heartless manner, and under
 circumstances of peculiar cruelty. What does the Nonconformist
 conscience think of this? Scythia has a long account already
 outstanding against this choice specimen of the British aristocracy,
 and when the day of reckoning comes, the swords of her soldiers will
 not leap from their scabbards with the less alacrity for the
 remembrance of his behaviour towards their countrywoman.’”


The time occupied in reading the paragraph through afforded Cyril the
opportunity of collecting his thoughts, for he had guessed its drift
from the very first sentences. Now he threw down the paper and cried
hotly--

“I hope to goodness Caerleon has not seen this! If he has, he will
simply go off to Scythia at once, and marry the girl whether she
wishes it or not.”

“Then the story is true?” shouted the King, half rising from his
chair, the veins in his forehead swelling.

“Like most lies, it rejoices in a substratum of truth,” answered
Cyril, coolly.

“Be good enough to explain to me exactly what you mean,” said the
King, his fury in a measure disarmed by the young man’s serenity.

“The facts are very simple,” returned Cyril. “During our tour in
Hungary, we made the acquaintance of a Scythian officer and his
family. The only daughter was a most estimable young lady, and my
brother fell deeply in love with her. We may presume that his
affection was not returned--at any rate, when he proposed to her, she
refused him. That’s all, unless she has changed her mind by this
time.”

“And you can assure me, on your honour as a nobleman, that there is no
other foundation for this--this tale?”

Cyril drew himself up. “I have not the honour to understand your
Majesty. Is it possible that you can for a moment have believed the
story to be true?”

“There was some justification for such a belief, in this printed paper
and in the anxiety of my English friends,” said the King, drily.

“If that is the case, I think your Majesty has shown pretty plainly
that the prospect of a marriage between my brother and the Princess
does not meet with your approval,” said Cyril, with awful coldness.
“If your Majesty will permit me, I will communicate the fact to him,
and we will leave the castle at once.”

“No, no! you are too hasty,” said King Johann, quickly. “It is surely
only natural that I should resent such an aspersion on the character
of my future son-in-law. Surely, too, I may complain of a want of
openness on your part. Why have I heard nothing of this prior
attachment?”

“One is not particularly anxious to publish it abroad that one’s
brother has made a fool of himself,” said Cyril, frankly. “I don’t
mind acknowledging that I was glad to hush the matter up. But Caerleon
insisted on telling the Princess all about it, and I know that he did
so before their engagement took place. No doubt that is one reason for
his looking so seedy lately. Of course he felt that it wasn’t quite
fair for a man with an experience of that kind fresh in his memory to
seek the love of a whole-hearted, unworldly young girl like her Royal
Highness.”

This was carrying the war into the enemy’s camp with a vengeance, and
the King climbed down from his high horse somewhat hastily.

“I do not complain so much of the concealment of the matter from
myself, as of the fact that other persons have been allowed to obtain
a knowledge of it,” he said, wisely waiving the question of Princess
Ottilie’s inexperience in affairs of the heart. Cyril made no remark,
but accepted the words as confirmation of a suspicion which had
occurred to him once or twice, that King Johann’s ignorance was merely
official, and that he had all along been aware of the existence of
Nadia, although he had acquiesced discreetly in the silence hitherto
maintained with regard to her. “How do you suppose that the news
reached England?” the King went on.

“From a Scythian source, no doubt,” answered Cyril, promptly.
“Dickinson, the editor of ‘Mendacity,’ hunts up the scandals of all
nations for his wretched rag. I suppose you have no Scythian newspaper
of last week?”

“I remember now that one was sent me. It is evident that I have not so
many kind friends in Scythia as in England. I put it on one side, for
I do not myself read Scythian easily; and I thought--the Queen--about
this marriage--things might be said----”

“As matters stand, it is a very good thing you did not,” said Cyril,
answering the thought rather than the words. “Her Majesty might have
misunderstood the whole affair. We all know that ladies are often apt
to take strong prejudices, unfortunately.”

“Will you read it, and see what it says?” suggested the King.

“I don’t know much Scythian, but I might manage to puzzle it out,”
said Cyril; and the King brought out a crumpled paper, which the two
studied painfully for some minutes.

“Ah, here it is!” cried Cyril, and he began to translate rapidly and
freely: “‘The Carlino-O’Malachy affair, of which so much has lately
been heard in society, appears likely to have far-reaching
consequences.’ Then there comes pretty much what we have just read in
‘Mendacity.’ Then it goes on: ‘With a view to obtaining authoritative
information on the subject, a representative of this journal called
yesterday upon Colonel O’Malachy, who was paying a flying visit to the
city, and left this morning. Colonel O’Malachy is a veteran soldier,
wearing a medal for distinguished services, and the order of the
Byzantine Empire. He has served in----’ oh, that doesn’t signify. ‘The
gallant officer maintained an attitude of strict reserve, but admitted
that the published accounts of the Thracian usurper’s conduct are
substantially true. The publicity which had been given to the matter
was, however, quite contrary to his wishes and those of his family,
for it was not, he said, the custom of a house which numbered kings
among its ancestors to submit its wrongs to the arbitrament of a court
either of law or of public opinion. Let but an appeal be made to arms,
and he would trust to meet the English filibuster face to face on the
soil he has seized, and to sheathe the sword, which had drunk Moslem
blood in ’77, in his treacherous heart.’”

“That conclusion is rather fine,” observed Cyril. “I always knew that
the O’Malachy was about as picturesque an old villain as remains
unhung in these degenerate days; but I did not know he was quite
capable of these heroics.”

“Perhaps a telegram which I received before you came in may throw some
light upon the matter,” said the King. “It is from our Minister at
Pavelsburg, telling me that this very paper had been warned by the
censor, at his request, for publishing unauthorised news. He added
that the news related to the King of Thracia.”

“Only warned? not suspended?” said Cyril. “That shows they were not
sorry to have it believed, then. Well, I fear we can do nothing to
bring Scythia to a sense of the error of her ways; but I think I can
put a spoke in Dickinson’s wheel.”

“I am about to indite a formal complaint to the British Government,”
said the King. “It is intolerable that a newspaper should be allowed
to libel the sovereign of a neighbouring country in this way,
especially when it is remembered that he is on the point of connecting
himself with my family.”

“I’m afraid that will scarcely do,” said Cyril. “You see, for one
thing, Caerleon isn’t exactly the sovereign of a neighbouring
country--at least, no one seems quite to know whether he is a
sovereign at all, or not.”

“But that will be satisfactorily settled before long,” said the King.

“If Pannonia supports us at Czarigrad in pressing anew for our
recognition from Roum it will be, but not otherwise,” said Cyril,
shortly. “But this uncertainty disposes of any idea of appealing to
the British Government. What we have to do is to work upon Dickinson
in a way he can understand.”

“And what is that?” asked King Johann.

“I know a man on the staff of the ‘Universe,’” answered Cyril, “and it
will give him and his chief the purest pleasure to make Dickinson take
a back seat over this business. I shall simply send him one little
fact, and he will work it up with a few flourishes about Dickinson’s
abnormal faculty for discovering mares’ nests, and a passing remark or
two on the subject of his descent from the man who hated Aristides.”

“But what is the fact?” asked the King, eagerly.

“Merely this, that the brother of the much-injured lady is still an
officer in my brother’s guard, and dined at our table, quite in a
friendly spirit, the night before we left Bellaviste. If the O’Malachy
had any sense of dramatic consistency, he would have ordered him to
resign his commission; but as the idea hasn’t struck him, we are all
right.”

“But the mere demonstration that the charge he has brought against
your brother is an absurdity will not affect this Dickinson,” said the
King.

“Oh yes, it will. The very suggestion that he has been taken in by
such a ridiculous story will be a sufficient punishment for him.”

“But if the aim of his journal is to circulate lies, he cannot have
any regard for the truth,” objected the King.

“He cares very much about his reputation as a shrewd man of the
world,” said Cyril. “And you musn’t judge his paper from its title.
That is Dickinson’s little joke. He calls it ‘Mendacity’ on the _lucus
a non lucendo_ principle, from a theory of his that the name is
intended to indicate what the paper is not. The ‘Times,’ he says, is
behind the times; the ‘Standard’ lags in the rear, instead of leading;
and it is just the same with his paper--in each case the contents
contradict the name. But some people think that there is more truth in
the title than anywhere inside the cover.”

“So it would appear,” said the King.

“We are rather proud of Dickinson at home,” Cyril went on. “He is a
purely English product, and _fin de siècle_ at that. No other nation
can rival his peculiar humour.” The King looked as though he, at any
rate, found it difficult also to appreciate the bent of Mr Dickinson’s
genius. “But the ‘Universe’ will have him on toast this time with a
vengeance,” continued Cyril, cheerfully. “I suppose we may consider
the little affair agreeably settled, sir? Perhaps I may remark that
the sooner our application at Czarigrad is granted the easier we shall
find it to deal with cases of this kind.”

“Naturally,” said the King, “before I took any steps whatever to
promote a marriage between my daughter and your brother, it was
understood that Pannonia would at once do her best to secure the
recognition of your rights from Roum.”

This was a most satisfactory assurance, and Cyril went away well
pleased. The morrow was the day fixed for the betrothal--a ceremony
which, according to German ideas, would be wellnigh as indissoluble as
marriage itself--and it struck him that the Emperor of Pannonia would
probably consider it a pleasing and friendly act to begin to press the
claims of Thracia on the Roumi Government immediately, in order to
obtain Caerleon’s recognition by the suzerain Power as a graceful
wedding-gift to the betrothed pair. All seemed to be prospering with
Cyril’s schemes, and he prepared with a light heart for his departure
from Schloss Herzensruh. It was considered more correct that the King
of Thracia should arrive on Mœsian soil from his own territory on the
morning of the betrothal, and the brothers were therefore to return to
their shooting-box for the night. Caerleon’s state of mind was a
pitiable one. The time fixed for his penance had all but dragged out
its weary course, and yet he saw no hope of obtaining his release.
What was he to do if no means of escape offered itself during the one
day that was left? He was firmly resolved under no circumstances to
take upon him the solemn vows of betrothal; but how was he to refuse
to do so without either casting a slur on Princess Ottilie or
betraying her secret? It is absurd, even humiliating, to be obliged to
confess it, but the idea of flight presented itself to him more than
once in tempting colours.

The first break in the clouds became visible at the mid-day meal,
which might be considered either as a late breakfast or as an early
lunch, and at which Princess Ottilie did not appear. She was not very
well, her mother said, and had decided to remain in her room for the
day; and she herself sent a special message to Caerleon to the effect
that her indisposition was caused by grief regarding the anxiously
expected Paris dress, which had indeed arrived, but was horribly cut,
and made her look hideous. King Johann received the excuse with
considerable seriousness, and remarked that his daughter had an
undisciplined mind, and he hoped that Caerleon would teach her to be
less frivolous when they were married; but it was evident that he
regarded the cause of the illness as amply sufficient under the
circumstances, and Caerleon recalled with some amusement the
Princess’s words in the forest. He could afford to be amused now, for
he guessed that Princess Ottilie intended on the morrow to urge her
indisposition as a reason for postponing the betrothal; and, although
the means were not such as he would have chosen, he was so nearly
desperate by this time as to be ready to snatch at any prospect of
escape. Hence he also was able to leave the castle cheerfully, and
even to endure with patience the chaff in which Cyril indulged as they
rode through the forest, although it dealt chiefly with
engagement-rings and loss of bachelor freedom, and similar well-worn
and appropriate themes.

The afternoon passed quickly, in its unwonted freedom from the
Princess’s rather exacting society, and with the dusk arrived M.
Drakovics, who had journeyed from Bellaviste expressly for the purpose
of being present at the betrothal ceremony. Much to Caerleon’s relief,
he made no pretence of congratulation, and displayed no special
interest in the event of the morrow; but immediately after dinner
produced a vast pile of reports and returns on the subject of the new
liquor laws, and invited the King to go through them with him.
Caerleon was only too glad to welcome any work that promised to
distract his mind from the gnawing anxiety which assailed him whenever
he reflected that it was possible that Princess Ottilie might not be
able to carry out her plan after all, and he threw himself into the
task with avidity. With Cyril it was otherwise. He was consumed by an
intense restlessness, a haunting fear lest some unforeseen catastrophe
should interfere with his schemes just as they were on the point of
realisation; and he wandered from room to room, pausing now and then
to turn over with unquiet fingers the documents which the other two
were perusing so strenuously.

“What’s up, Cyril? Anything wrong?” asked Caerleon at last.

“Only the fidgets, as old nurse used to say when I was a kid. I’m as
much excited as if it was I who was going to be betrothed to-morrow
instead of you. I can’t keep quiet. I think I shall go for a walk.”

“Now? at this time of night?”

“Rather. I feel as if I had an inexhaustible fund of energy to work
off. By the by, have those rubies arrived yet?”

“Yes. Wright went to fetch them from the town this afternoon. He was
just in time to meet the Vienna express.”

“Did you send him on to Schloss Herzensruh with them?”

“No; of course not. I’m going to take them with me in the morning.”

“What an outer barbarian you are!” cried Cyril. “Do you expect
Princess Ottilie to put them on in public? She must have them in time
to study the effect properly in the glass, and admire herself in them.
Give them to me, and I’ll take them to her at once.”

“You don’t mean that you would carry that case of jewels through the
forest alone at night?”

“Who is to know that I am carrying it? It will go into my pocket.
Besides, there are no robbers here; it’s a regular Forest of Arden, a
most suitable place for a betrothal. So trot out the box.”

“A little later in the year the forest will be dangerous on account of
the wolves; but they have not come down from the mountains yet, and
Milord Cyril will be in no danger,” said M. Drakovics, who found
Cyril’s restless peregrinations very trying.

“That reminds me,” said Caerleon gloomily, as he unlocked one of the
table-drawers and took out the jewel-case; “there came a message this
morning from one of the mountain villages, saying that several people
have been killed by a large solitary wolf, which can neither be
trapped nor shot. They think it’s a were-wolf, and they sent to beg me
to come up and try to shoot it. It seems that my Express rifle has
made a name for itself, and there’s some superstition about the King’s
bullet, besides. It’s a horrid bother that I can’t go. I suppose I
shall have to let Prince Alexis know. One can’t leave the people to be
decimated on the chance of my having a day off some time next week.
There you are, Cyril, if you are bent on going. Don’t lose those
rubies, or I’ll tell the man to send in the bill to you.”

Cyril was already in the hall donning his fur-lined coat and cap; and
putting the case in his pocket, he started on his lonely walk. Autumn
was passing into winter, but there was no snow on the ground as yet,
and the dry leaves crackled pleasantly under his feet as he struck
into the moonlit path between the tall black tree-stems. For a short
time he walked fast and steadily, in order to exorcise the feeling of
excitement which possessed him; then he slackened his pace a little,
and as the stillness of the forest made itself felt, began to whistle.
He was tramping vigorously along, with his hands thrust deep in his
pockets, when it seemed to him that he saw the figure of a man on the
path some distance in front of him. The shadows cast by the moonlight
from the tree-trunks were so perplexing that he could not be sure that
his eyes had not deceived him; but his blood kindled with an
excitement which was by no means disagreeable, as he assured himself
that his revolver was in its usual pocket. If there was a man in front
of him he had passed completely out of sight, and Cyril scanned
narrowly the straight stems on either side of the path as he walked
on, assuring himself that he was looking for some distorted tree which
must have taken the shape of a human figure in the moonlight. No such
trunk appeared, however; but at the next turn of the path he caught
sight of a tall man leaning against a tree. His hand went to his
revolver instantly; but he recognised the Prince of Dardania, and
stepped back with a laugh.

“What! you here?” both exclaimed simultaneously. Cyril recovered
himself first. “I didn’t know you were in the habit of taking midnight
rambles on Thracian territory,” he said. “Are you meditating a woful
sonnet?” He stopped hurriedly, remembering that the quotation was
rather an unhappy one under the circumstances, and reflecting that
there could be little doubt that Prince Alexis had been taking a last
look at the abode of the lady of his love before she was lost to him
for ever.

“Not exactly,” returned the Prince, with some hesitation. “In fact, I
was wondering whether I might ask you to do me a good turn. But
perhaps your own business is urgent?”

“Oh, I am not love, only love’s messenger,” said Cyril, carelessly. “I
am taking a small parcel to Schloss Herzensruh from my brother.”

“Then, if you will, you can give me the very help I need,” said the
Prince, turning and walking by Cyril’s side. “You see me, as you say
in England, in a hole. The fact is, my dear Mortimer, I am in love.”

Cyril’s first remark was fortunately only uttered mentally, for it was
not of a sympathetic character. “I hardly see how I am to help you,”
he added aloud.

“No?” said the Prince; “but I do. Perhaps you may be surprised to hear
that I love a lady of the Queen of Mœsia’s household?”

“A lady of the household!” cried Cyril. “But I thought----”

“That I was in love with the Princess? But, my dear friend, a screen
is sometimes necessary. At any rate, both the Queen and the Princess
know the truth now.”

“Then I suppose that’s the secret of the snubbing you got the other
night? It certainly was tremendous. I was really sorry for you.”

“Well,” pursued the Prince, “the Queen has treated me better than I
could have dared to hope. She is so good as to give her sanction to my
plans for a private marriage to-night.”

“But why private?” asked Cyril.

“My friend, I have Ministers, who interest themselves unduly in my
affairs at times. I wish to present my marriage to them as an
accomplished fact.”

“I see; and no doubt the Queen thinks that a public wedding might
encourage the rest of her ladies to go and do likewise, a consummation
which would scarcely meet her views. Well, if the ruling power is so
propitious, why don’t you go in and win?”

“That is all that I desire. I have everything prepared at my
summer-palace five miles away, the chapel ready, witnesses, Greek and
Lutheran clergy to perform the ceremony. But how shall I reach my
bride? King Johann has peopled the forest in the neighbourhood of the
castle with gamekeepers and frontier-guards, and if I am seen, all is
lost. The news would be carried to him immediately, and he bears such
a grudge against me that he would spare no pains to discover my object
and to thwart it.”

“But still, I don’t see what you want me to do,” said Cyril.

“Merely this, to bring my bride from the castle, and escort her to me
here. I have two good horses waiting, one with a lady’s saddle, and it
will not take you long.”

“But do you think I am going to compromise myself in this way out of
pure philanthropy?” said Cyril. “I insist on being asked to the
wedding.”

“Then I fear that you will be obliged to escort the bride all the way
to my house, while I start off on foot,” said the Prince, “for I have
not brought another horse.”

“The honour is only too great,” returned Cyril. “I am determined that
nothing shall do me out of my share of the fun. Why, I daresay you
have never even thought of getting hold of any one to propose the
health of the bridal pair, and I’ve been told I’m rather good at that
sort of thing.”

“No; I have not, indeed,” said the Prince. “You are in earnest? Then I
will give you your directions, and part from you here. When you have
delivered your message, and left the castle, knock three times at the
postern-door close to the angle of the wall on this side. If the
mistress of the household opens it, say that you are come on my behalf
to fetch Fräulein von Staubach.”

“What? the lectrice?” asked Cyril.

“Yes; Fräulein von Staubach is the Queen’s lectrice and secretary.
You know her?” the Prince asked, rather anxiously.

“I have caught a glimpse of her once or twice--just enough to see that
she was a fair-haired girl in spectacles. She doesn’t show up as much
as some of the other ladies.”

“No; she is generally busy writing the Queen’s letters. But you will
know her when you see her? The Princess might play you a trick. She
has a mole on the back of her left wrist.”

“Oh, I shall know her all right. Then, when I have got her safe, we
have only to mount and ride away, I suppose?”

“Yes; the horses are here, you see, tied to this tree.”

“But suppose we meet any of the gamekeepers? They will think it queer,
to say the least, to see me riding about late at night with one of the
Queen’s ladies.”

“Unless you say that Fräulein von Staubach has been summoned back to
Germany by a sudden message, and that you are escorting her to the
station, I don’t see what you can do; and that would leave a good deal
unexplained,” said the Prince, laughing. “They are scarcely likely to
stop you, and no blame can attach to you afterwards, when everything
comes out. You are merely doing a friend a good turn.”

“All right, then,” said Cyril. “We shall meet again,” and he waved his
hand as Prince Alexis started on his lengthy walk, while he went on to
the castle.



 CHAPTER XIV.
 OVER THE BORDER AND AWAY.

Cyril’s appearance at so late an hour caused some surprise at
Schloss Herzensruh, but his ostensible errand did not take long to
perform. After receiving a promise from the high functionary to whom
he delivered the jewels that they should be placed in the Princess’s
hands immediately, and declining alike the King’s invitation to come
in and rest and his offer of an escort through the forest, he was very
soon outside the grounds again. When he had gone far enough to be out
of sight of any one who might be looking after him from the porter’s
lodge, he turned aside from the path, and made his way to the little
door in the wall which Prince Alexis had described to him. It opened
immediately at his third knock, and in the shadow behind it he saw two
ladies standing, the taller of whom was unmistakably the Queen.

“I was not expecting you, Lord Cyril,” she said, but without any show
of surprise.

“The Prince of Dardania has intrusted me with the honour of escorting
Fräulein von Staubach over the frontier into his territory, your
Majesty,” said Cyril, while the other lady giggled hysterically.

“My Sophie, control yourself,” said the Queen, with an authoritative
touch on her shoulder. “You have met Lord Cyril Mortimer before, I
think? I will not keep you here, in case my absence should be
remarked. Lord Cyril, I may trust you?”

“I will do my best to justify the confidence which your Majesty and
the Prince are reposing in me,” said Cyril. “But if you will pardon my
hurrying you, I think that Fräulein von Staubach and I ought to start
at once. We have a fairly long ride before us.”

“Farewell, my child!” said the Queen, pressing what struck Cyril as a
very affectionate kiss on the girl’s forehead. “I shall expect to hear
from you to-morrow.”

Fräulein von Staubach’s reply was inaudible; but she threw her arms
round the Queen’s neck and kissed her vehemently, then, without
looking back, she took Cyril’s offered arm and walked quickly away
with him, the Queen locking the door after them. As they picked their
way among the tree-trunks--for Cyril thought it better not to keep to
the path--he stole a look once and again at his companion when they
came to a patch of moonlight. She was of middle height, and apparently
rather stout, although this might be the fault of her wraps, and her
fair hair was elaborately frizzed in front, and gathered into the
fashionable lump behind. Her eyes were concealed by her spectacles;
but Cyril could just distinguish that her eyebrows were so fair as to
be almost colourless under the long gauze veil which covered her face,
and was tied in a bow under her chin. So far as he could tell, she was
wearing a white evening dress, with the train carefully looped up, and
a heavy fur cloak over it. A less suitable costume for a midnight ride
in winter could scarcely be imagined, and he remarked that it might
have been wise to come in a riding-habit.

“Oh, but I could not be married in a habit. What a hideous idea!” she
exclaimed, in a high-pitched voice with a marked Low German accent,
such as after that night Cyril could never hear without a shudder.

“I fear you will find it difficult to ride in that dress,” he
persisted.

“It will be difficult for me to ride at all,” she said, with a giggle;
and Cyril restrained with difficulty an exclamation of disgust. It
began to be clear to him now why the Prince had so readily resigned to
him the honour of escorting his bride from her old to her new home.
They had reached the horses by this time, and Cyril prepared to assist
his charge to mount.

“Put your left hand on my shoulder, and hold the pommel with your
right,” he said; “and give me your left foot. Now, spring!”

He gave a mighty heave, and the lady sprang; but with such ill success
that she came down again in the same place. A second and a third
attempt failed in like manner, and Cyril lost patience.

“If I can’t mount you this time, Fräulein, I shall be obliged to take
you back to the castle. It won’t do to keep you poised in mid-air all
night.”

On this occasion, however, they were successful, thanks to a frantic
effort on the part of Fräulein von Staubach, and Cyril mounted his
own horse (the animals were fortunately quiet ones) and guided both
into the path.

“Try to sit a little straighter in your saddle,” he said to his
companion. “If the beast begins to trot, you will go off.”

“Oh no!” she giggled shrilly. “I shall hold round his neck.”

Cyril was silent in deep disgust, and resolved mentally that he would
not speak to her again; but when a disposition on the part of the
horses to break into a trot had been checked two or three times by
little screams from her, he remarked drily--

“We shall never reach the palace to-night at this rate.”

“Never mind me, then, _Mein Herr_, I will hold to the pommel,” she
responded valiantly, and Cyril set his teeth hard and urged the horses
on. In some wonderful way his companion managed to keep her seat, and,
with the help of a few directions from him, got on better than he had
expected, although he still muttered wrathfully to himself that he was
thankful there was no one about to see him giving riding-lessons to a
_sack_! Slowly the long miles were covered, and midnight had passed
when the riders entered the courtyard of the Prince of Dardania’s
palace, which Cyril had already visited with Caerleon. Here all was
bustle, servants bearing torches were ranged on either side of the
door, and Prince Alexis himself hastened anxiously forward to receive
his bride, who slipped from her horse into his arms with a hysterical
laugh.

“It has been almost too much!” Cyril heard her say, as the Prince led
her up the steps, and it struck him that she had visibly increased in
height since his first glimpse of her in the castle garden.

“I’ve heard of people who got two inches taller owing to the
consciousness of success, but I never saw it happen before,” he said
to himself, as he gave the horses into the charge of a servant, and
allowed himself to be conducted into the palace by a bowing official.
The door opened into a great hall, through which Prince Alexis had
just led his bride into a side room, where Cyril had a momentary view
of a number of Dardanian ladies, evidently of high rank, gathering
around their future Princess; but his guide conducted him through a
long passage into a chapel, where everything was in readiness for the
celebration of the Greek marriage-rite. The space on one side of the
aisle was filled with Dardanian chiefs and nobles, splendid-looking
men in gorgeous national costumes; and as Cyril was ushered to his
place among them, he wondered how long it would be before a similar
throng was gathered together for Caerleon’s wedding, and how many
different religious ceremonies it would take to marry him. He had
abundant opportunity for meditation, for the Lutheran rite was
proceeding in another room; but after a while the vacant seats on the
other side of the chapel were filled by the ladies of whom he had
caught a glimpse, and the bride and bridegroom entered, and advanced
up the aisle. The lady’s face was hidden by an elaborate lace veil,
and Cyril felt a momentary curiosity as to the means by which she had
managed to bring it with her; but his attention was soon distracted to
more important details. The half-married bride was undoubtedly taller
than she had appeared in the garden, and carried herself regally; and
as Cyril gazed at her by the flickering light of the lamps burning
before the sacred pictures and on the dais, it struck him that she was
otherwise altered. Fräulein von Staubach was fair, but he was almost
certain that this girl’s knot of hair was dark; and when she turned
her head for a moment, it seemed to him that her eyebrows also were
dark and strongly marked.

What had happened? What was the meaning of this enigma? Had he been
fooled? He listened eagerly to the words of the priest, trying to
discover some clue to the mystery; but he was unacquainted with the
service and with the language in which it was conducted, and he had no
prayer-book. He gathered that some question was being asked of the
bridegroom; but strain his ears as he would, he could not distinguish
in it the name of Sophie von Staubach, while for one awful instant he
was haunted by the dread that he had heard the words Ottilie Ivanovna.
A moment or two more, and his fear was confirmed, for the question
addressed to the bride was answered, not in the shrill Low German
accents of Fräulein von Staubach, but in the clear decided tones of
Princess Ottilie. Cyril was standing quietly by, while his brother’s
bride was married to another man before his eyes! He sprang forward,
but a hand laid upon his shoulder on either side held him back. He was
gripped by the two stalwart Dardanians between whom he was standing.

“Monsieur must not disturb the ceremony,” said one of them in bad
French; and Cyril, seeing that he was overmatched, resisted the
temptation to disturb the ceremony to some purpose by a shout
proclaiming the falseness of the bride, and remained mute and
motionless throughout the protracted rite, with its prayers and
incense, its presentation of the Common Cup, and its crowning and
marching round the dais, although during the whole time the thought
was forcing itself into his mind that Caerleon must have known of all
this. The fact that he had been looking forward to such a
_dénoûment_ explained both his willingness to enter into the
engagement at all, and his callousness with regard to his _fiancée_,
while his anxiety and misery throughout the past week were accounted
for by the uncertainty of his position. And Princess Ottilie! Cyril
ground his teeth as he remembered her tormenting doubts as to
Caerleon’s affection, and how he had comforted her, while all the time
she had been carrying on this complicated train of deception. But,
after all, her moral turpitude was nothing to that of Caerleon. Cyril,
the shrewd, the far-sighted, the diplomatist, had been duped, and by
the brother whom he had always regarded as an honest simpleton, whose
every thought he believed that he knew. It may seem a paradox to say
that when Cyril’s first rage had cooled, the effect of his discovery
was to heighten very considerably his respect for Caerleon, but so it
was. The man by whom he had been deceived in this way must be
possessed of a certain amount of brains.

Cyril had arrived at this point in his meditations when the ceremony
concluded, and the bridal company left the chapel to sign the
register. He was among the foremost who followed them into the room in
which the book was placed in readiness, and when she had written her
name, Princess Ottilie offered the pen to him with a mischievous
smile--

“Come, Lord Cyril; you will add your name as a witness?”

“I am much honoured, but your Royal Highness will not catch me twice,”
he replied; and she turned away with a laugh. He felt tempted to make
his escape at once; but pride forbade him to slink away and show
himself defeated, and he determined to face her again, and tell her
one or two home-truths. His opportunity came later, when the bridal
pair had proceeded to the throne-room to receive the congratulations
of those present, and his name was duly announced by the grand
chamberlain.

“Now, Lord Cyril,” said the Princess, when he had uttered the
requisite formula with just the shade of exaggeration which showed
that his good wishes were not wholly sincere, “confess that you were
completely deceived. Of course it would have been much more sensible
to wear a riding-habit; but I knew that the real Sophie von Staubach
would never consent to be married in one, and I felt that I must dress
the character consistently.”

“The illusion was perfect,” returned Cyril. “I can only congratulate
your Royal Highness on the skill with which you have rendered the
first act of your--tragedy.”

“Tragedy?” asked Prince Alexis, sharply. “Why tragedy?”

“If I wished to be unpleasant,” said Cyril, “I might quote
Shakespeare, and say, ‘She has deceived her father, and may thee.’ But
that would be impolite, and besides, the tragedy to which I refer is
not a domestic but a public one. It doesn’t require much foresight to
prophesy that the results of this night’s work will be


                   ‘Sword and fire,
  Red ruin, and the breaking up of laws,
  The craft of kindred and the ruthless hosts
  Of Scythia swarming o’er the Euxine sea.’


But you really must excuse me,” he broke off apologetically; “I seem
to be dealing in English literature specimens, adapted to suit present
circumstances, to-night. The fact is, that my mind is still so
completely under the spell of the superb acting of her Royal Highness,
that poetry comes to my tongue more readily than prose.”

The Prince frowned. “I fail to see why a European war should be the
consequence of our marriage, as you seem to imply.”

“Simply because Thracia has been induced to part with territory under
a misapprehension.”

“Ah, my price!” cried Princess Ottilie. “You see I am acquainted with
your little plans, Lord Cyril, and I have out-plotted you. You are
angry to-night, but to-morrow you will see that you have deserved it.
You have done all you could to make me believe that your brother was
deeply in love with me, when the whole time I knew from his own lips
that it was all he could do to endure the sight of me. It was I who
arranged with the Prince that you were to be brought here to-night. I
was determined to have my revenge on you, to show you that there were
others who could lay plots as well as yourself. Don’t talk about
misapprehensions. Your brother the King will be the first to tell you
that he has aided me throughout in this conspiracy of mine until
to-day.”

“That my brother was foolish enough to allow himself to be persuaded
to join you in playing a practical joke, in very doubtful taste, on
your father, will make no difference to the Thracians,” retorted
Cyril. “They will demand back the territory out of which they have
been cozened, and the great Powers will be drawn into the war.”

“I hope the consequences will not be so serious as you seem to
expect,” said Prince Alexis, breaking into the war of words. “I enjoy
some little influence at the Scythian Court, and I can promise you
that it shall be exerted on behalf of the independence of Thracia, and
in favour of your brother, to whom I shall always be grateful for the
part he has played during the last few days. And now, Lord Cyril, we
must not detain you longer, or King Carlino will be anxious about you.
Stefan here will take you to a room where there is refreshment
prepared, and after that you will find a fresh horse and an escort of
six of my guard to conduct you back to Thracia. I owe you many thanks
for the assistance you have given me to-night.”

“And remember,” added Princess Ottilie, as Cyril bowed, “that though I
can’t quite forgive King Carlino for the way in which he has treated
me, I am sorry I teased him so much. But I am not sorry that I hoaxed
you to-night.”

Thus dismissed, Cyril had no option but to take his leave of the royal
couple, and commit himself to the charge of Stefan, who brought him to
a buffet, where he made a hasty meal. He was conscious that it would
have been more in keeping with his tragic utterances to quit the
palace at once, refusing either to eat or drink within its walls, and
denouncing vengeance against its perjured mistress; but the night was
very cold, he was tired, and there was a long ride before him. And
after all, it could not be denied that the Princess had played her
part wonderfully well; there was no disgrace in having been deceived
by her. But it was inexcusable to have been taken in by Caerleon,
clumsy and unwilling actor as he was; and the only point Cyril could
allege in his own favour was that he might be pardoned for not
suspecting such an unprecedented event as his brother’s lending
himself to support a course of deception. The thought comforted him to
some extent, however, and as he mounted the horse prepared for him he
felt more at peace with himself. The ride home occupied a much shorter
space of time than the former one had done, and Cyril laughed angrily
to himself as he remembered the amount of trouble he had wasted in
giving a riding-lesson to the best rider in Mœsia. The thought
recalled to him his grudge against Caerleon, and when he had dismissed
his Dardanian escort a little way from the hunting-lodge, he made up
his mind to punish his brother by giving him one more night’s
suspense. He was bound to hear in the morning of what had happened;
but it would only be a richly deserved punishment for him not to be
relieved from his anxiety sooner. Accordingly, Cyril went straight to
bed as soon as he entered the house, although he heard the voices of
Caerleon and M. Drakovics still engaged in earnest discourse in the
dining-room.

Half an hour later footsteps paused outside his door, and Caerleon’s
voice said, “Asleep, old man?” to which he replied only by a sleepy
grunt.

“I’m glad I didn’t let the fellow come in and bemoan himself to me,”
he reflected, as the footsteps passed on. “I should have had to tell
him the whole thing in self-defence.”

Cyril slept late the next morning, and when he awoke he heard Caerleon
tramping moodily up and down outside his window, speaking a cheerless
word now and again to the dogs. He rose and dressed slowly, turning
over in his mind the various methods which occurred to him of
utilising this defeat of his as a stepping-stone to further victories.
Presently the sound of another voice in the garden arrested his
attention, and looking out, he saw one of the King of Mœsia’s
gorgeously attired jägers giving Caerleon a parcel, which he said he
had been commanded by the Queen to place in his own hands. As soon as
the man was gone, Caerleon, in some surprise, opened the packet, and
Cyril saw that it contained the case of rubies which he himself had
carried to Schloss Herzensruh the night before. Lying above the jewels
was a paper, which Caerleon unfolded, and read the contents.

“Oh, joy! she’s off!” he cried, infinite relief in his tones. “I’m rid
of her at last.”

“Chuck it in,” said Cyril, and his brother handed it to him, turning
to rearrange the glowing gems on their velvet bed, with fingers that
were not quite steady. The paper was in the Princess’s writing:--


 “At last I am able to release your Majesty from a position which I
 grieve to see you have found intolerably irksome. They say that we
 women are willing to sell our very souls for jewels; but you will
 believe me when I tell you that I had far rather see your rubies in
 the possession of the person to whom they rightly belong, and to whom
 you would prefer to give them. When this time of storm and stress is
 over, and you meet Mdlle. Nadia again, present them to her with my
 love. Tell her this also in all friendliness, that if she desires a
 testimony to your character, she need only refer to me. You were right
 in saying, when you scolded me so rudely two days ago, that I should
 never have dared to go so far with any one else; but I felt that I
 could trust you, and my trust was justified by the event. At any rate,
 I will bear witness that you were softened by none of my overtures,
 that you kept me at a distance--not gently, no, I cannot say
 gently--but firmly, certainly, always firmly. Forgive me; this is the
 last time I shall tease you. My husband and I pray for your happiness
 and that of your bride.--From your friend,

                                 “Ottilie, Princess of Dardania.

 “I entreat you to give my remembrances to your brother, who will tell
 you any particulars about my wedding that you may care to hear.”


“Then you are glad to be out of it?” said Cyril.

“Glad? Rather! If I wasn’t a middle-aged monarch, I should throw up my
cap and jump for joy. Give me the letter and I’ll tear it up. I
shouldn’t like Nadia ever to come upon the detestable thing. Fancy a
woman’s writing like that!”

“Then you intend to try your luck again with Miss O’Malachy?”

“How can I, so long as I am king? But to have got rid of this wretched
entanglement seems to bring me nearer to her at once.”

“What a selfish beast you are!” was Cyril’s remark. “Thinking only of
yourself, and nothing about Thracia, and what the breaking off of this
affair will involve.”

“I’m very sorry if it leads to trouble,” said Caerleon, trying to look
suitably serious, “and I’ll do all I can to set it right, short of
running into another engagement; but you can’t expect me to be sorry
that this one is over.”

“The wedding will lead to war, undoubtedly.”

“Why should it? If I don’t feel myself insulted by the Princess’s way
of leading up to it, I don’t see why any one else should.”

“Thracia won’t see things in the same light, though. The whole nation
has been insulted in your person, and, furthermore, cheated into
giving up territory without a return. Nothing but blood will wash out
the remembrance.”

“But I will explain the whole thing to everybody.”

“Do. Who do you think will believe you? No one will imagine that a
sane man could make such an utter and irretrievable idiot of himself.
It will simply be thought that you are trying to shield the girl. No;
all you can do is to keep your mouth shut. Look here,” Cyril was
struck by a sudden inspiration, “Will you leave Drakovics and me to
put things straight?”

“If you think you can do it better without me,” replied Caerleon
pacifically, overlooking his brother’s uncomplimentary language in
consideration of the provocation he had received. “But mind, on your
honour, there must be no more meddling with marriages and engagements.
If I hear so much as a whisper of such a thing, I will repudiate all
your negotiations, and take the management of affairs into my own
hands.”

“No fear. After this job has turned out so badly, I shall not take up
the matrimonial agency business again in a hurry. I only want to have
you out of the way, because I am afraid that King Johann will get
round you. Go and kill your were-wolf, can’t you? and be a benefit to
society.”

“I’d go like a shot, all the more that I shan’t have to bring _her_
the skin; but don’t you think it would look rather bad--rather
unfeeling, you know?”

“I think you are the most exasperating idiot I ever had to do with,”
returned Cyril, hopelessly. “Don’t you see that it will look worse for
you to be hanging about here with that face on? Go and be alone with
nature and your grief--or, in plain English, go and grin where no one
can see you.”

“All right,” said Caerleon, with a laugh. “May I have breakfast
first?”

“Yes, so long as you are well out of the way before they can send here
from the castle. Give your orders now, so that you can start as soon
as you have finished.”

“By the by,” said Caerleon, “what did the Princess mean by saying that
you could give me particulars of the wedding?”

“Well, if you particularly want to know, I was present at the
ceremony--not intentionally, as you can guess.”

“Last night? Queer that you should just have happened to drop in upon
them.”

This was all that passed between them on the subject, for Cyril was
resolved never to reveal the crowning deception of which he had been
the victim. He could only hope that Princess Ottilie would be equally
reticent.

The brothers breakfasted alone; and after the meal Cyril hurried
Caerleon off to the mountains, in dire fear lest an emissary from
Schloss Herzensruh should appear before he had arranged his plan of
action with M. Drakovics. As soon as his brother had left the house he
obtained admission to the Premier’s room, where M. Drakovics was
devouring a blue-book full of statistics simultaneously with his
breakfast. He looked up in some surprise as Cyril entered.

“You are early, milord.”

“Are you prepared to meet a great emergency, monsieur?”

M. Drakovics collected his thoughts, and was prepared immediately.

“You need not tell me what the emergency is, milord. The King refuses
to fulfil his engagement.”

“Not at all. The Princess has bolted.”

“Bolted?” inquired M. Drakovics, mildly.

“Yes, bolted--cut and run, eloped, with the Prince of Dardania.”

“But is it too late to stop them?”

“Quite. They were married last night.”

“But this is appalling, milord!”

“It is bad enough; but there is worse behind. My brother was in the
plot.”

“Impossible, milord! You cannot tell me that his Majesty would enter
into an agreement to make himself the laughing-stock of the world?”

“It is unfortunately too true that my brother only engaged himself to
the Princess that he might help her to carry out this design of hers.
Of course the Queen was in it as well. Between them they have made a
good deal of use of him. I am as much astonished as you can possibly
be that he should have listened to them for an instant.”

“Ah! that admission scarcely accords with the claim which you advanced
some time ago to a complete knowledge of his Majesty’s character,”
said M. Drakovics, looking up with a smile which was more like a
snarl.

“You have a right to make any remarks you please on the subject,” said
Cyril, quietly. “They cannot be more bitter than those I have been
making to myself. In fact, I have no doubt that we could pass an hour
or two very pleasantly in exchanging a series of mutual
recriminations. But if you are the man I think you, you will not waste
time in squabbling, but will join with me in using the few minutes we
have before us in taking measures which may yet turn this crushing
defeat into a triumph.”

“Milord, you are superb!” said M. Drakovics, looking at him with
heartfelt if somewhat reluctant admiration. “You have the true
diplomatic spirit. I accept your rebuke willingly, and rejoice that I
have such a colleague at my side in this crisis. What are the measures
you would propose?”

“There is one fatal flaw in our case,” said Cyril,--“Caerleon’s
connivance in the Princess’s plot. If that once comes out, nothing can
save us. But the happy couple are both animated by sentiments of such
deep gratitude towards him, that I don’t think they are likely to
split. If the Queen was on the opposite side, she would be dangerous;
but King Johann is not likely to ask her advice, and she will not feel
inclined to interfere uninvited. Therefore I think we may count upon
the facts not transpiring, unless Caerleon publishes it in one of
these unaccountable chivalrous fits of his. He is out of the way for
to-day, and we ought to be able to get things settled by the time he
comes back in such a way that it will not dawn upon him how we managed
it. Bounce is our only chance. Our business just now is to keep
Caerleon on the throne, not to give Europe lessons in morality gratis
at his expense. How soon can the First Army Corps be ready to
mobilise?”

“In twenty-four hours. We tried the experiment only a fortnight ago.”

“Good. Then telegraph to Sertchaieff to mass it on the Mœsian
frontier as soon as it can be got there. You see our game?”

“I do, milord. It is a bold, but not an impossible one to play. But
why not occupy the ceded territory at once?”

“Because we don’t wish to start the war if we can help it. We must
carry this business through without giving the Powers cause to
interfere, if possible. Pannonia will do our work if we make proper
use of the Schwarzwald-Molzau family influence; but for us to cross
the Mœsian frontier would be to defy her to do her worst. Still, you
might also telegraph to the commandant at Feodoratz, ordering him to
be ready to move out with his troops at a moment’s notice. They are
only ten miles away from the disputed strip, and could take possession
and hold it easily until they were relieved the day after to-morrow by
the First Army Corps. There is a horn! You had better be in the
drawing-room with me to receive the messenger.”

“One moment, milord. Where is the King?”

“I have sent him out shooting. He is better out of the way this
morning.”

“But if the King of Mœsia were to send after him and capture him, we
should be lost.”

“King Johann Casimir will not know where he is, if I can help it,”
said Cyril, “and the idea would scarcely occur to his mind, in any
case. If he were on good terms with the Queen, it is the kind of bold
measure that would suggest itself to her; but he isn’t, and therefore
he won’t have the benefit of her advice.”

They went into the drawing-room, the only part of the little house
that boasted of foreign furniture and decorations, and presently a
very high official of the Mœsian Court was ushered in. M. Drakovics
and Cyril received him with grave faces and in dead silence.

“My orders are to open my business to no one but the King himself,”
said the messenger.

“His Majesty cannot grant an audience to any one this morning,”
returned Cyril, coldly. “About an hour ago he received a letter from
her Royal Highness, the perusal of which has deeply affected him. I
will take charge of any message of which you may be the bearer.”

But this was not within the scope of the ambassador’s instructions,
and after a little more parleying, he took his departure, after which
M. Drakovics seized the opportunity of sending off his telegrams. It
was some time before another horn was heard; but now it was King
Johann Casimir himself who rode up to the shooting-box, and asked to
see King Carlino, only to receive the same answer as his
representative.

“It is absolutely impossible for me even to inform my brother of your
Majesty’s arrival,” said Cyril; “but if you can suggest any means by
which the gravity of the present crisis may be lessened, M. Drakovics
and I are empowered to consider the proposal, and to take any
preliminary measures that may be necessary.”

The King sat down, and Cyril saw that the battle was half won,
although his first words were full of dignity.

“I do not understand you, Lord Cyril. This is a most unfortunate and
disagreeable affair; but it does not seem to me to bring about a
crisis.”

“No?” said Cyril. “Will your Majesty consider for a moment how the
facts will strike the ears of Europe? A trustful young King, whose
advisers are above all things anxious to live in peace with their
nearest neighbours, is inveigled (I beg your Majesty’s pardon, but
that is the word that will be used) into ceding a portion of territory
in return for the promise of the hand of a certain lady. The
unimportant detail that the lady is determined to marry another person
is not communicated to him, although he himself insists, so delicate
is his sense of honour, on acquainting her with the facts of a past
and gone love-affair of his own before he will ask her to engage
herself to him. Then, when the territory has been ceded, she suddenly
elopes with the other man, and he is left in the lurch. I ask you
whether the position is likely to be accepted meekly, either by a man
of my brother’s character or by a high-spirited nation like Thracia?”

“But you cannot imagine that I had anything to do with my daughter’s
marriage?” cried the King.

“I bring no accusations, your Majesty. I have merely stated the case
as it will appear to Thracia and to Europe, although I grant there is
at present no proof that you were acquainted with the Princess’s
intention of eloping last night. Thracia gave up a portion of
territory in order to gain a certain alliance, which is now refused
her. It is impossible that you can have been ignorant of the mutual
affection that existed between her Royal Highness and the Prince of
Dardania; but you gave no hint of it either to my brother or to me,
and this serves to complicate the situation. M. Drakovics will tell
your Majesty what steps we have felt it necessary to take in order to
vindicate the dignity of the country.”

King Johann Casimir turned helplessly to the Premier.

“I fear that when the news once becomes known in Thracia, the popular
indignation there will be overwhelming,” said the latter, “and I have
therefore been the more anxious to conduct everything in the most
regular way possible. Unless your Majesty can suggest any means of
relieving the tension of the situation, I may remark that we shall be
forced to declare war this evening, and to proceed to occupy the
disputed territory immediately.”

“But there will be a revolution in Mœsia if that strip of land is
lost through the action of any member of my family,” cried the King.

A look of satisfaction flashed from M. Drakovics to Cyril over King
Johann’s head. “The possibility of such an occurrence can hardly be
expected to influence the action of Thracia, although it is doubtless
fraught with much interest to your Majesty’s advisers,” said the
Premier.

“Nothing could be further from our thoughts than to regard such a
disastrous event with indifference,” cried Cyril, warmly. “My brother
would be horrified by the very idea. Is there nothing that your
Majesty can suggest that would avert such a calamity, while at the
same time salving the wounded honour of Thracia?”

“We have no power of raising an indemnity,” said the King.

“The very suggestion is an insult, your Majesty!” cried M. Drakovics.
“We Thracians are striving for our national life, not for money. What
we desire is a place among the nations. Any assistance towards the
attainment of our ideal----” he broke off, watching the King narrowly.

“In what direction?”

“Our chief reason for congratulating ourselves on the alliance
proposed between King Carlino and your Majesty’s family was the
conviction that Thracia would thereby range herself on the side of
Pannonia and European peace. That hope is now lost, for what claim
have we upon the friendship of Pannonia? But if there were any means
by which she might be induced to support us still in obtaining our
recognition from the Grand Signior of Roum----”

“I see. You desire our understanding to remain in force, with the one
unfortunate exception?” said the King, obviously much relieved.

“Exactly. We desire that our alliance with your Majesty’s kingdom may
continue,” said M. Drakovics. “This object may appear a small
advantage in return for which to waive our claim to the ceded
territory; but it is of such importance to us that if it is assured,
I can answer for the tranquillity of Thracia.”

“My brother is also extremely anxious not to press hardly upon your
Majesty,” said Cyril. “It would not be like him not to feel keenly
such a slight as he has received; but out of consideration for you,
and for the sake of his kingdom, he will lay aside his own feeling in
the matter. Your Majesty will wish, no doubt, to consult your
Ministers--who were to arrive at the castle last night, I remember, in
order to be present at the ceremony so unhappily interrupted--before
signifying your adherence to the plan we suggest; and you will
probably also consider it advisable to communicate with the Emperor of
Pannonia. M. Drakovics will undertake that no active steps shall be
taken until this evening in the matter of the frontier; and I do not
doubt that your Majesty will think, on considering the circumstances,
that to give us the assurance we ask is merely a piece of
international courtesy.”



“It’s done!” said Cyril, meeting Caerleon that night on his return in
triumph with the were-wolf’s skin, “though I thought my hair would
have turned grey with anxiety while we waited. The treaty with Mœsia
is to stand, and Pannonia will continue to support us at Czarigrad.
These seem only little things; but they mean a good deal to us, and
they stave off the Great War for a little while longer. Everything is
quiet now.”

“Wait a minute,” said Caerleon. “There’s something I want to say. It
seems to me that neither of you,” glancing from Cyril to M. Drakovics,
“has quite understood hitherto my intentions about marrying. That
there may be no doubt about them in the future, I intend to declare
you my heir, Cyril, when we return to Bellaviste, and this must be
confirmed by the Legislative Assembly if I am to stay in Thracia. Miss
O’Malachy won’t marry me, and I won’t marry any one else; but this
plan will secure the succession to the throne.”

“I don’t quite appreciate being set up side by side with you for
Scythia to plot against,” said Cyril; “but never mind, I daresay I
shall get used to it in time.”

“And I cannot doubt that your Majesty’s choice will be most popular in
Thracia,” said M. Drakovics.

“Ah, very good,--and when I have time, Cyril, I will set about looking
for a wife for you,” said Caerleon, lazily.



 CHAPTER XV.
 TERMS OF ACCOMMODATION.

The two months which had been fraught with events of so much moment
to Caerleon had not been devoid of incident for Nadia, although her
circumstances afforded at first sight far less promise of excitement
than did his. Since their hasty departure from Bellaviste, the
O’Malachy and his wife had been sojourning at the frontier village of
Witska, where they seemed inclined to remain as a thorn in the side of
M. Drakovics, and this the more that he could not discover any motive,
even that of devising plots, for their doing so. His agents visited
the village perpetually, both in disguise and in their proper persons,
and after dogging the footsteps of the Herr Oberst and his wife for a
longer or shorter time, and even making incursions into their rooms at
the inn when they were out, returned to their employer baffled. In
fact, there seemed nothing for them to observe. The “Kur” arrangements
at Witska were more primitive even than those at Janoszwar; but the
O’Malachy drank the regulation number of tumblers of medicated water
with unfaltering bravery, and took the prescribed stroll afterwards,
accompanied by his wife, on the only level piece of road in the
village, duly increasing the distance a little every day. The
afternoon was invariably spent in the open air, in a sheltered spot at
the foot of a blank wall belonging to the oldest part of the inn,
Madame O’Malachy reading aloud occasional extracts from one of the
French novels which were her constant companions, and her husband
responding lazily with good-humoured criticisms. No life could have
appeared more simple and innocent, none more entirely above-board. And
yet, as Nadia could have told, although she based her opinion rather
upon various small indications than upon actual evidence, the worthy
couple were the whole time carrying on an extensive and complicated
secret correspondence, and acting as intermediaries between the
Thracian patriots who disliked the present _régime_ and their
Scythian sympathisers. An unexpected meeting with her mother early one
morning showed Nadia that she was pale and heavy-eyed, as though she
had worked late the evening before; and the mystery was explained a
few nights after, when, hearing sounds in the house after midnight,
and fearing she knew not what, she equipped herself with great bravery
for a search, and discovered both her father and mother still in their
sitting-room, the one engaged in writing letters and the other in
destroying a number of papers which appeared to contain reports of
some kind.

After this revelation, Nadia kept her eyes open, and arrived before
long at the conclusion that very few people came to the village, with
the exception, of course, of the emissaries of M. Drakovics, who were
not charged with messages of one kind or another for her parents. It
seldom happened that a letter arrived by post, or was openly
delivered; but pedlars and travelling showmen, artisans wandering in
search of work, and roaming gipsies, each and all seemed to have a
secret understanding with the O’Malachy and his wife. Sometimes a
sign, scarcely perceptible save to the initiated, would convey the
needed information--sometimes, Nadia felt sure, letters were brought;
but she never saw one change hands, nor came upon any trace of it
afterwards. It was evident that any documents which might prove
compromising were immediately and punctiliously burnt, and this
precaution it was that baffled the men employed by M. Drakovics, who
had no means of distinguishing the remains of burnt paper among the
ashes raked out from the great stove.

Another curious fact which Nadia discovered about this time was the
secret of the means by which her parents held their necessary
consultations without attracting the attention of the spies by
prolonged conferences, or wasting a portion of their working hours at
night. Coming upon them one day in the sunny spot where they usually
sat, she found her mother, as she thought, reading aloud in French;
but the first words that reached her ear scarcely sounded as though
they were drawn from the novel on Madame O’Malachy’s knee.

“You see what Louis says: ‘Our friend X. has come over at last. His
Majesty’s promises were too attractive. He engages to bring all his
employés with him when the word is given.’ This despatch must be sent
on immediately. It will show that there are others upon whom we can
depend beside the city guard. ‘“_Adorable Erminie_!” _s’écria
Léonide, en se précipitant_----’ What do you want, my daughter?”

Nadia delivered the message with which she was charged from the
landlord, and retired, and it was some time before she lighted on the
meaning of this curiously disjointed sentence. It occurred to her at
last, in one of those flashes of insight which sometimes present to
the mind in a moment the solution of a mystery long pondered over in
vain, that the adventures of Léonide and Erminie were merely a blind,
and that when Madame O’Malachy was supposed by those who were set to
watch her to be reading to her husband in French, she was in reality
discussing with him the progress of their schemes. No thought of
profiting by this discovery to penetrate into her parents’ plans
occurred to Nadia, and in any case the idea of acting as a spy would
have been abhorrent to her; but even had she been anxious to probe
more deeply the mystery of M. X. and his employés, her father and
mother kept their secrets as carefully concealed from her as from the
Thracian police-agents themselves. If the subject of Thracia was
mentioned when she was in their company, it was merely as the text of
a bantering discourse, conducted with more or less of good-humour on
the O’Malachy’s part, but punctuated with bitter reproaches on that of
his wife. Neither of them could forgive Nadia for her folly in
refusing Caerleon, when the acceptance of his proposal would have
raised the whole family to affluence and distinction, although Madame
O’Malachy resented much more strongly than her husband the loss of the
material benefits promised by the match. His easy-going nature
accepted serenely enough the change in the position of affairs, and
the necessity of plotting against the man he had hoped to welcome as a
son-in-law; but both he and his wife were careful to guard against
giving Nadia any inkling of the consequences which might ensue to
Thracia and its king from her refusal. Although they never engaged in
their mysterious work until she was out of the way, they would not run
the risk of stimulating her curiosity by showing any eagerness to get
rid of her, and allowed her to join them or not just as she pleased.
But the certainty of finding herself either reproached or laughed at
for the foolish way in which she had mismanaged what Madame O’Malachy
called “_l’affaire Carlino_” made her only anxious to shun their
society; and during the first few days of their stay at Witska she
roamed about the garden alone, finding nothing to do but to recall the
past, and feeling that she had nothing in the whole world to which to
look forward. This being the case, it is not surprising that she
caught herself one day wishing that she had not forbidden Caerleon so
absolutely ever to renew his suit, but the discovery shocked and
horrified her extremely.

“All my life I have been preparing to make a stand at some great
crisis,” she said to herself; “and now that it has come, I am giving
way already. I must find something to do. Of what use is it to train
myself to be a martyr, if I cannot bear a week’s loneliness?”

She summoned all her resolution to enable her to meet this unexpected
demand, and reviewed the state of affairs. With mingled shame and
disgust she realised that she had been cherishing the vague thought
that it was scarcely worth while to take up any settled work at
present, and that this was owing to a half-hope that something might
still happen to set things right and render her sacrifice unnecessary.
It was a bitter disappointment to her to find that she could be so
false to her dearest principles, and her first impulse was to place
her determination beyond the possibility of change. As a step in the
desired direction, she tore up the letter she had been about to
despatch to her godmother, Princess Soudaroff, and wrote another. She
knew that of late her letters had been somewhat short and superficial,
telling all the trivial pieces of news she could find, but never
touching on the all-important subject which had engrossed the minds of
her parents, from the moment of their first sight of Caerleon, to that
of her parting from him at Bellaviste. It is true that both Caerleon
and Cyril had found a casual mention in the earlier letters written
from Janoszwar; but as time went on both names, and especially that of
the elder brother, had dropped out of sight in a way that would have
caused some idea of the truth to enter the mind of most women, but the
Princess was not inclined to be suspicious by nature. Nadia’s heart
smote her now for her reticence, and she told her story to the
Princess, suppressing only two material facts,--the name of her
lover--this was due to her anxiety to behave fairly towards
Caerleon,--and, as a natural corollary, her reason for refusing him.
It must be confessed that she was not altogether sorry to be unable to
lay the whole of the facts before her godmother; for although the
Princess was very sympathetic in cases of conscience, she had a habit
of looking at things differently from any one else, and Nadia had a
lurking suspicion that in this case she might tell her that she had
acted hastily, and ought to have asked advice. And this was merely
what her own conscience hinted to her many times a-day. Before giving
Caerleon her final answer she had been upheld by the expectation that
the consciousness of having done right would bring her peace, if not
happiness; but she now knew little indeed of either feeling. This made
her begin to doubt whether she might not have been led astray by her
own conviction of the goodness of the deed; and the doubt returned
again and again to make her wretched.

Her duty to her godmother performed, and her resolution placed beyond
recall, Nadia told herself that her lack of occupation had undoubtedly
made it easier for her to fail in steadfastness, and that she must
find something to do. She would no longer remain all day in the inn
garden, but would go out into the village and try to make friends with
the people, and this not only by way of a moral medicine for herself,
but as a duty which she had neglected hitherto. She could not at first
speak the language of the villagers nor they hers; but the interest
she showed in the children won her a way into the hearts of the women,
and she discovered, much to her surprise, that when a child was sick
or hurt she could do more for it than any one else in Witska. In times
of health the little ones found her somewhat solemn and
unapproachable, for although she longed to make friends with them, she
was not one of those who can throw themselves heart and soul into the
small interests which seem so momentous to children; but when they
were ill the experience she had gained in Princess Soudaroff’s
cottage-hospital stood her in good stead. The nurses there had been
wont to laugh at her as slow and clumsy; but at Witska, where there
was no one to watch her with critical eyes, she succeeded in putting
into practice the lessons she had learned. One or two cases of
recovery from severe illness, which seemed miraculous to the
villagers, but which were really due to patient nursing and modern
methods of treatment, gained her a wide reputation, and appeals began
to reach her from outlying hamlets and solitary huts, entreating her
to pay a visit to some sick child. When these requests were translated
to her by the cosmopolitan waiter, she welcomed them eagerly, for they
promised fresh work, and work was what she wanted. A wild desire would
seize her now and again to see Caerleon’s face once more, to hear his
pleasant voice, to meet the glance, half puzzled, half amused, which
he would cast at her when she had said anything that startled him. The
vehemence of this longing for his presence alarmed her. She felt that
she could almost volunteer to go to Bellaviste as a spy, if such a
course would enable her to catch a glimpse of him; that she would be
willing to meet the doom which Thracia kept for Scythian spies, if
only she had seen him first. In this state of mind she welcomed the
calls which came to her to take long mountain-walks and seek out
distant families where a child lay ill, for the exertion of the day
brought her back at night so tired that she was glad to go to bed and
sleep the sleep of utter exhaustion. At first her long excursions drew
upon her some opposition from her father.

“Sure it’s not the thing,” he said, “for a young lady to be roaming
about alone like this. I won’t allow ut.”

“What would you have, O’Malachy?” asked his wife, scornfully. “Can we
afford to engage a retinue to attend upon a girl who might be Queen of
Thracia if she liked, and will not? Nothing will happen to her. She is
a failure.”

Left to her own devices in this unflattering way, Nadia gladly
accepted the implied permission to pursue her lonely walks, attended
only by one of the great dogs which were kept to protect the flocks
from the wolves, and which had attached himself to her. She saw no
trace of the smugglers and outlaws of whom vague tales were current in
the village; but one very real alarm beset her at times, of which she
said nothing at home. It became evident to her by degrees that her
proceedings were being watched. She would find herself tracked by
pursuers of whom she could only obtain a glimpse by stratagem; and
when she had learned to speak the language a little, she would hear at
the cottages to which she was bound that a stranger had been there
since her last visit, making inquiries as to the gracious lady and her
doings. At first she was at a loss to imagine who could think her of
sufficient importance to dog her steps in this way; but presently it
dawned upon her that M. Drakovics, who still declined to be persuaded
that she was not engaged in a conspiracy against Caerleon, had
instructed his emissaries to keep an eye on her. This solution of the
mystery satisfied herself; and as no one else appeared to notice
anything unusual, she was not obliged to parry the remarks of others.
The shepherds warned her to be careful, and not to stray from the
beaten track, lest she should run into danger; but she knew that the
wolves were not likely to venture from their fastnesses as yet, and,
moreover, her mother’s words echoed bitterly in her ears. Nothing
would happen to her, or, if it did, it would not signify. She was a
failure. And yet, while her heart sank lower, she refused to allow
herself to contemplate the possibility of reversing her decision. If
she could bring Caerleon back to her with a word, she would not utter
it, to ruin him and his kingdom. What he had called her mania for
martyrdom was still strong upon her, and the more fervently she longed
to reverse her decision the more sternly she crushed down the pain.

But there was a harder battle in store for her than the fight she
fought daily with herself, and she was obliged to face it when she was
weakest. The news had just reached her through a German newspaper of
Caerleon’s initiation of the temperance legislation which she had
pressed upon him, and it recalled to her mind his forecast of the
difficulties of the work, and the appeal he had made to her to help
him in it. Then she had received a letter from her godmother,
overflowing with kindness, but containing a little gentle chiding.


 “Why should you not be more frank with me, my child?” the Princess
 wrote. “Surely you know that if in any way I could help you, it would
 be my delight to do so, and yet you leave me to receive through a
 stranger an appeal on your behalf. I had a visitor this morning in the
 shape of Madame Bourenine, whom you know by name as the confidante of
 the Empress. She said that she had come to talk to me about the
 love-affair of Nadia Mikhailovna, but she mentioned no other names.
 Nor did I, for I knew none. After some conversation leading to nothing
 in particular, she inquired at last whether, if the obstacles to your
 marriage could be removed, I should be willing to give it my sanction.
 Knowing only that you had felt it your duty to refuse your lover for
 some reason with which I was not acquainted, what could I say but that
 if you thought it right to marry him I should be delighted to help you
 in any way I could? After receiving this answer, she left me,
 apparently satisfied. But, my child, have I deserved to be treated in
 such a way? Why should Madame Bourenine know more of your affairs than
 I? I do not ask for your confidence if you feel it right to withhold
 it, but I pray you to understand that no one on earth can desire your
 happiness and your best good more than I. I commit you to God’s
 keeping, dear child.”


After receiving this letter Nadia started on one of her mountain
expeditions with her mind in a whirl. Who could the persons be that
were interesting themselves in the state of affairs between her and
Caerleon, and what was their motive for doing so? She puzzled herself
with these questions in vain as she walked; but when she returned to
the inn at a somewhat earlier hour than usual, she found that they
were destined to a speedy solution. Entering the sitting-room, she was
surprised to see a stranger talking to her parents,--a smooth and
polished gentleman, with a highly waxed moustache. A conviction that
she had seen him somewhere before came over her as she paused just
inside the door; but she could not at the moment identify him with any
one she knew.

“And this is mademoiselle!” said the stranger, an almost imperceptible
smile curling the ends of his moustache as he saw her standing erect
and astonished in the doorway, with her plain tweed dress damp and
muddy, and her hair blown about by the wind.

“Yes, M. le Prince, it is my daughter,” said Madame O’Malachy, and
Nadia noticed a repressed excitement in her manner. “Nadia, Vladimir
Alexandrovitch has been so good as to pay us a visit here on his
return journey from Czarigrad to Pavelsburg, entirely on your
account.”

“Mademoiselle and I are not wholly unknown to each other,” said the
visitor. “At one time I had the felicity of meeting her tolerably
often at my sister-in-law’s house. If she does me the honour to
recollect me, she may remember that even in those days I ventured to
prophesy that she would be a beautiful woman; but I was not happy
enough to discern that her _beaux yeux_ would exercise an influence on
the history of Europe.”

Nadia’s brow grew stormy. She had now a very clear recollection of the
elegant young man who had been wont to torment with compliments and
caresses the shy, passionate little girl who followed his
sister-in-law wherever she went, and also of her relief when
circumstances had removed him from her neighbourhood. There was no
very close intercourse nowadays between Princess Soudaroff and her
brother-in-law, although the relations between them were perfectly
friendly. The present Prince was not a member of the Cercle
Evangélique.

“I fear I am an unfortunate messenger,” he went on, with a covert
smile as he noticed the change in Nadia’s expression. “I have
prejudiced mademoiselle against me already. But I would ask her to
believe that I am here purely in the hope of being able to render some
service to her and to the gentleman who is so happy as to possess her
heart.”

“How dare you say that?” cried Nadia, angrily.

“I beg your pardon, mademoiselle. I remember that in the old days you
used to prefer plain speaking to polite circumlocutions, and as only
your own family are present, I have ventured to come to the point at
once. It cannot, surely, be a secret to your respected parents that,
with a generosity which does you infinite credit, you have declined
the addresses of the person who is at present in possession of the
throne of Thracia, for fear lest a marriage with you should endanger
his future career?”

“I have never told you anything of the kind,” said Nadia, sharply,
“and I am sure the King of Thracia has not. I cannot tell how you have
found it out.”

“Ah, these wicked newspapers!” murmured the Prince, smiling gently at
Nadia’s unintentional admission, “they publish everything. But if you
assure me that they have been misinformed, mademoiselle, I can only
resign the hope of serving you which has brought me here, and depart,
entreating your forgiveness for having troubled you.”

“They were not misinformed. It is quite true that the King asked me to
marry him, and that I refused,” said Nadia, bluntly.

“So I imagined, mademoiselle. I felt convinced that such a magnificent
self-renunciation could not be merely a creation of fancy. But there
is no reason,” he went on quickly, as she rejected his praise with a
gesture of impatience, “why your delicacy should be alarmed by the
thought that your admirable conduct has become known. It has won you
friends all over Europe, and I may mention that in Scythia persons in
a very exalted position have been much pleased with the spirit which
you displayed under extremely trying circumstances, and have even been
led to wonder whether it might not be possible to avert the
difficulties which you feared might result from the marriage proposed
to you. Pray sit down, mademoiselle,”--he rose and handed her his
chair, and she accepted it mechanically, for her limbs were trembling
so violently that she could scarcely stand,--“and let us consider the
matter. The sympathies of my sister-in-law, Pauline Vassilievna, have
been engaged, and she testifies the greatest eagerness to assist in
bringing the affair to a happy conclusion. May I take it for granted
that the only obstacle to a marriage between Lord Caerleon and
yourself lay in these honourable scruples of yours?”

Nadia nodded silently, and he went on, watching her as a cat might
watch a mouse.

“The first difficulty was caused, no doubt, by the difference of
position? Well, I do not deny that between Nadia Mikhailovna and the
King of Thracia there is a serious gap; but it is not so wide that it
cannot be bridged. We can scarcely aspire to restore the ancient regal
glories of your father’s house,” he smiled indulgently, “but his
Majesty the Emperor has for some time entertained the desire of
conferring on my good friend Colonel O’Malachy a patent of nobility,
in recognition of his long and meritorious services; and between Lord
Caerleon and the Countess Nadia, daughter of Count O’Malachy de
Lisnacoola, there is no very great disparity of rank.”

“But Carlino is King of Thracia,” Nadia managed to say.

“Pardon me. I am aware that he calls himself king, but he has simply
usurped the throne. He cannot be king without the consent of the
Powers, and of Roum, the suzerain State. His so-called election is
merely the work of an ignorant peasantry, led on by irresponsible
agitators. The present condition of Thracia is a standing menace to
European peace, and it cannot be suffered to continue. If this errand
with which I am charged to you fails to bring about a settlement, Lord
Caerleon must fall. He is nothing but an adventurer, a land-pirate.”

“But,” urged Nadia, more for the sake of gaining time than for any
other reason, “if this patent of nobility is intended as a reward for
my father’s services, why should it not be granted to him in any
case?”

“Sure that’s the most sensuble thing I’ve ever heard you say, Nadia,”
exclaimed the O’Malachy, with hearty approval, while his wife frowned
angrily, and Prince Soudaroff looked a little nonplussed.

“You forget, mademoiselle, that the conferring of the patent would
involve in this instance a grant of estates sufficient for the
maintenance of the title, such as it would be invidious to bestow upon
an officer of Colonel O’Malachy’s standing in an isolated case, unless
for very special reasons of State. But not only are those whom I
represent willing to aid you in this way,--I am further authorised to
promise that the Scythian ambassador at Czarigrad shall be instructed,
if the marriage takes place, to support the Thracian claim for the
confirmation by the Grand Signior of Lord Caerleon’s election as king.
The bride will thus have the satisfaction of bringing not only
happiness to her husband, but peace and security to Thracia.”

“But only the confirmation of King Carlino’s election? Not the
recognition of the right of the Thracians to elect their own king?”

“Certainly not, mademoiselle. Roum would be unable to accord such a
recognition without the consent of the Powers, which would not be
given under any circumstances.”

“I can quite believe it. And now, M. le Prince, I know that in the
political world nothing goes for nothing. What is the price to be paid
for this kindness on the part of the Emperor?”

“Nadia!” cried her mother. “I am grieved--astonished----”

“Madame,” said the Prince, with a deprecating wave of his hand, “when
I undertook this errand I expected to be misunderstood. There are no
conditions attached to his Majesty’s favours, mademoiselle. He gives
without any desire of receiving in return. I do not say that he does
not look for gratitude. His heart is so tender that even years of
ruling and much bitter experience have not hardened it. He may well
anticipate that some little attention would be paid to his wishes,
some slight concessions made on the part of those who will owe so much
to him; but that is all.”

“Ah!” said Nadia, sharply. “And what are these concessions?”

“They are so slight, mademoiselle, that his Majesty is quite content
to leave them in the background until matters are as happily arranged
as you can desire--in other words, until your marriage with Lord
Caerleon has taken place. On so joyful an occasion the sole anxiety of
a man of generous impulses, such as I understand this unfortunately
misguided nobleman to be, would be to take counsel with his bride as
to the means by which he might testify some portion of his gratitude
to the potentate to whom he owed his happiness.”

“I see,” said Nadia, crimson but persistent. “And it would be my part
to suggest that these concessions should be made, as signs of our
joint gratitude to the Emperor. But I must know something more about
them. It would be impossible for me to recommend them to the King
unless I had been told what they were.”

“They are so slight, mademoiselle, as scarcely to be called
concessions,--they would merely take the form of a graceful
acknowledgment of the Emperor’s kindness. Until this unhappy
revolution occurred, the connection was so close between Scythia and
Thracia that there will appear nothing strange in returning to the
custom by which in all matters of foreign policy the advice tendered
by Scythia was followed by the Thracian Government. Again, Scythia has
borne such a prominent part in organising the Thracian kingdom and in
training the army that to appoint a Scythian officer as Minister of
War would cause no surprise, and seem only natural.”

“Ah!” said Nadia again, “and that is not all?”

“It is evident, mademoiselle, that while the present Ministry is in
power in Thracia, the Emperor cannot feel towards that country the
cordiality he would wish to entertain. It is to the interest of the
Cabinet at present in office to oppose any tendency towards a
reconciliation with Scythia, simply because their own position depends
upon their maintaining a hostile attitude. But the matter will right
itself. When the King shows his gratitude and friendliness towards
Scythia in the two ways I have indicated, the Drakovics Ministry
cannot remain in office. The Assembly will be dissolved, M. Drakovics
will disappear as suddenly as he rose to power, and the King,
assisted, if necessary, by Scythia, will obtain by means of a general
election a more serviceable Government.”

“By means of compulsion and forged voting-papers, I suppose,” said
Nadia. She had no reason to feel any special love for M. Drakovics;
but he was an honest man and a patriot, and really anxious to do what
seemed to him to be best both for Caerleon and Thracia. She rose from
her chair, and spoke wearily: “I am sorry that I shall not have the
opportunity of advising the King to accept your conditions, M. le
Prince.”

“There are no conditions, mademoiselle. What is desired is merely an
honourable understanding that you will employ your influence over Lord
Caerleon to induce him to comply with the Emperor’s wishes in this
direction.”

“And into that understanding I cannot enter. I will not help to thrust
the Thracians back into the bondage from which the revolution freed
them. I will never advise the King to take the steps you propose, and
I hope and believe that he would decline to listen to me if I did.”

“Nadia, you are mad!” cried Madame O’Malachy, shrilly. “If you have no
regard for your lover, will not the thought of your family move you?
The old age of your parents and your brother’s future would be secured
by your accepting the gracious kindness you scorn.”

“It is still possible that on mature consideration mademoiselle may
change her mind,” said Prince Soudaroff, looking calmly through a
handful of papers which he took from his pocket. “His Majesty’s offer
will remain open for a week. But I cannot honestly advise any delay.
We have merely to seek a _rapprochement_ with Pannonia, and secure her
opposition, instead of her neutrality, to the negotiations at
Czarigrad, and the fate of Lord Caerleon and his ‘kingdom’ is sealed.
Thracia is honeycombed with disaffection, and such a failure in
foreign policy will precipitate matters. One more thought,
mademoiselle. I told you just now that Lord Caerleon was a
land-pirate. Have you recollected what is the fate of a captured
pirate?”

“I had rather know that he was dead than saved by betraying the nation
that trusted him,” said Nadia, stoutly. No harassing doubts assailed
her now. Such an offer as this could not but be refused.

“And again,” the Prince went on, not heeding her words. “Lord Caerleon
is only a man; and we men are not angels in constancy. Your refusal
has made him miserable, it is true; but he will not remain long in
this state of mind. You have wounded his self-esteem; you have shown
him that there are certain things which you love better than you love
him. It does not signify that these things are the highest and most
creditable sentiments--he must be a very exceptional man who could
endure to see them preferred to himself. And Lord Caerleon is not an
exceptional man; he is simply a young Englishman, half child and half
barbarian, whose idea is that when he wants anything he must have it.
You have denied him that on which he had set his heart, and very soon
his one anxiety will be to punish you. I happen to know that M.
Drakovics, his Minister, is doing his utmost to obtain for him the
hand of some princess of a royal house. There is still time to win him
back, for he loves you at present, in spite of the way in which you
have treated him. But if you delay only a very few days you may be too
late. Owing to your own cruelty, you may see your lover urged into a
marriage with another woman, whom he does not love, but whom he is
willing to accept in order to punish you. Or perhaps,” with a smile,
“you may see him marrying joyfully--who shall say?--some royal lady
who has succeeded in captivating his inconstant heart, which was at
your disposal if you would have received it, but cannot support your
coldness.”

“I can’t help it!” cried Nadia, trembling from head to foot. “If I
could withstand him, do you think I will listen to you? He is quite
right to marry some one else; I told him to do it. Ah! if you wanted
me to give way, you should have brought him here; but you would never
dare to utter to his face the horrible lies you tell of him behind his
back. I can only thank you for not putting me to the test.”

“Would ut be quite impossuble?” asked the O’Malachy, as she closed the
door sharply behind her.

“Quite,” returned his wife. “Drakovics and Milord Cyril watch over him
night and day. No one is allowed to hold communication with him except
through them.”

“Yes,” rejoined Prince Soudaroff, meditatively. “I fear King Carlino
has had his last chance.”

“I observe,” said Madame O’Malachy, “that in your conversation with my
daughter you made no allusion to the religious difficulty, M. le
Prince.”

“If so, madame, it is for the excellent reason that no religious
difficulty exists. On the contrary, the fact that mademoiselle is a
member of the Orthodox Church has contributed largely to induce the
Emperor to suggest the terms I was authorised to offer.”

“But sure the girl’s a schismatic--an Evangelical, or whatever the
fools call themselves?” cried the O’Malachy, while his wife nodded
quickly.

“Pardon me, my dear colonel, but Scythian law makes no provision for
schismatics. Mademoiselle was baptised in the Orthodox Church, and it
is impossible for her to quit it. Her marriage, to be valid, must be
celebrated according to the orthodox rite, and the Emperor and the
clergy may be trusted not to lose the hold they would thus gain upon
Thracia.”

“That such a scheme should be wrecked by a girl’s obstinacy!” cried
Madame O’Malachy. “It is maddening!”



 CHAPTER XVI.
 WORDS FROM DYING LIPS.

Prince Soudaroff left Witska that afternoon, and the week allowed to
Nadia for deliberation slipped away, but no message was sent to
request him to return or to accept the offer with which he was
charged. If he was mortified by this lack of success, he must have
felt himself avenged a little later, when both his auguries of evil in
turn proved true. The first hint of the fulfilment of his prophecy
reached Nadia one morning when her mother threw a newspaper to her as
she came into the sitting-room.

“Now I hope you are happy!” she said. “You have succeeded in bringing
about the ruin of Thracia and your Carlino.”

Nadia took up the paper, a German one, and read the piece of news
which figured most prominently in its columns. The _rapprochement_
which had taken place between the Emperors of Scythia and Pannonia was
announced, and also the subsequent refusal by the Roumi Government to
confirm Caerleon’s election as king--the two events which had plunged
Cyril and M. Drakovics into their complicated intrigues with Mœsia.
Mr Hicks had not yet given to the world the information which he was
to amass with so much astuteness, and therefore nothing was at present
known of these negotiations, so that the paper only reflected the
general opinion when it remarked that the cause of Thracia was already
lost. Cyril was still an unknown quantity in Balkan politics; and
although most people were acquainted to a certain extent with the
resourcefulness and strength of will of M. Drakovics, they could not
conceive it possible that even he could devise any means of tiding
over such a crisis as this. Nadia did not venture to dissent from the
universal opinion; but there was no sign of trembling in the hand
which held the paper as she read through the announcement and the
editorial comments upon it, and she looked round unfalteringly at her
mother.

“I had rather that he should fall honourably than reign as a pensioner
of Scythia,” she said.

“You are a fool!” was Madame O’Malachy’s angry answer. “Go and look
after your sick brats. It is all you are fit for.”

But three or four days later she came into Nadia’s room early in the
morning wearing an expression in which rage and triumph were mingled.

“You have indeed done well for yourself, mademoiselle!” she said,
putting her hand on her daughter’s shoulder as she slept and shaking
her. “Your Carlino is to marry the Princess Ottilie of Mœsia. The
betrothal is to take place next week.”

“It is not true!” cried Nadia, starting up in bed.

“It is most true. That touches you, does it not? This, then, is your
faithful, your constant lover! He assures you of his undying
affection, and six weeks after saying the words he betroths himself to
another.”

“He is quite right,” said Nadia, recollecting herself. “I told him to
do it.”

“I can quite believe it! But you never thought he would obey you,”
said Madame O’Malachy, putting down her candle and gazing with cruel
certainty into her daughter’s pale face. “Don’t tell me that you did,
mademoiselle. You might try to impose upon Prince Soudaroff with your
exalted generosity, but you felt confident that Carlino would remain
faithful to you. However, I may tell you this for your comfort. Your
father has always believed hitherto that Carlino would refuse to
accept his dismissal as final, and would try his fate again before
long. But now, if he meets him he will kill him.”

“Why?” asked Nadia, as calmly as she could. “He is only doing this in
obedience to me.”

“Why!” cried her mother. “Because he has insulted us, played with us,
made us the laughing-stock of Europe. Although you may be a fool, your
father knows how to avenge the honour of his house, and he will not
fail to do it. You refused to share the Thracian throne; but it is
Carlino who has put it out of his own power to offer you the crown a
second time, and for this he must be rewarded as he deserves. In every
way we are undone. Not only have we lost the position we might have
held in Thracia, but this marriage will endanger the result of all our
labours in Europe.”

“Ah!” cried Nadia, assuming a sudden interest in politics in the vain
hope of diverting from herself the gaze of her mother’s glittering
eyes, “it was this marriage that Vladimir Alexandrovitch was anxious
to prevent. He foresaw the possibility of its taking place, and he
knew that it would bring Pannonia to the help of King Carlino. Thracia
is saved, then!”

“Yes; and you----?” asked Madame O’Malachy, with her most merciless
smile, as she retired from the room, half baffled by her daughter’s
resolution, but certain that she left a sting behind her. And this was
indeed the case. Although Nadia had succeeded in making herself
believe that she wished Caerleon to follow the advice she had given
him, she discovered now that she had never expected him to do so. She
had found an unspeakable comfort in remembering the indignant rebuke
with which he had answered her when she told him that although he
loved her, it was his duty to marry some other woman; and even now she
sorrowed less for the fact that she was herself forsaken than that her
lover had proved unstable. He had failed in faith; he was fearless and
stainless no more. Well, no doubt it was better so. He was no longer
hers, he had not been hers since they parted at Bellaviste; and if he
was proved not to be the blameless knight she had imagined him, at
least he was a wise king, and was preparing to take the only step by
which it seemed possible to save his kingdom in the present crisis.
Undoubtedly it was better so. But Nadia’s heart and soul rose up in
rebellion against this view of the case, and all day, as she followed
the mountain-paths, or moved about inside the hut in which lay the
sick child she was visiting, she was mourning in silence a trust
betrayed, a high ideal shattered. It was her own fault, she knew; she
had told him to forget her, but she had illogically expected him to
disobey, and required him to be stronger morally than she was.

But after a day or two other things happened to trouble her. It was
generally known throughout Europe by this time that there was a
difference of opinion between Scythia and Pannonia on the subject of
Thracia, and that in all probability the interposition of Pannonia and
her allies at Czarigrad would obtain a settlement of affairs in
Caerleon’s favour. This prospect served to stimulate the activity of
the Thracian conspirators both at home and in exile, who had been
lying low for a week or two, and watching the course of events, but
now realised that they could not look to the Powers to do their
business for them. The O’Malachy and his wife became increasingly
busy, much to the alarm of Nadia, who felt certain that they
contemplated delivering some blow, the nature of which she could not
divine, against the Thracian kingdom. At last the O’Malachy left
Witska on urgent business, and she gathered that his destination was
Pavelsburg, although she could only guess at his probable errand
there. Nor were her anxieties allayed one day when she found her
mother reading with much irritation a newspaper which had just arrived
by the post.

“There seems to be no end to the annoyance you bring upon us, Nadia,”
said Madame O’Malachy. “As if your foolishness was not enough, your
father must needs improve upon it for the benefit of the newspapers.
It must have been after dinner, I suppose, as usual. No doubt they
gathered round him and drank wine with him, and flattered and
sympathised with him, until he was ready to tell them anything. I
cannot trust him alone for a day, and yet I cannot leave Witska. Pig!
ass! why does he not see that in recounting this pitiful story he
forgets that Louis is in Bellaviste, in the Palace itself, and must
stay there?”

“What has my father been saying?” asked Nadia, her colour changing.

“Merely parading you before the eyes of Europe as a forsaken heroine,”
replied Madame O’Malachy, tearing the offending newspaper briskly
across, and throwing the fragments into the stove; “but I will put a
stop to that. Give me those telegraph-forms.”

Surprised by her mother’s unaccustomed confidence in her, Nadia
obeyed, and was further astonished to find herself consulted as to the
wording of the telegram which was to warn the O’Malachy not to repeat
his indiscretion, but to maintain a strict silence on the subject of
his daughter in future. Several forms were wasted before the message
satisfied Madame O’Malachy, but she did not breathe freely until Nadia
had taken it to the post-office. As soon as she had time to think, she
made a mental resolution to seize any papers other than merely local
ones which might enter the house, and destroy them before Nadia could
see them. This measure was imperatively necessary, if there was to be
any peace in the family; for even her intrepid spirit quailed when she
pictured to herself the scene which would ensue if Nadia discovered
the construction which the O’Malachy, or the reporters of his words,
had placed upon Caerleon’s treatment of her. To Madame O’Malachy,
whose common-sense was one of her strongest points, the state of mind
in which her husband could choose to boast of the long-past glories of
his race, while he did his best at the same moment to proclaim that
his daughter had been most cruelly jilted, was incomparably absurd,
and the telegram she sent him was short and sharp. The injury
inflicted upon Nadia’s future by the publication of a report such as
he had set on foot touched her keenly, for all her hopes for old age
were based upon the possibility of her daughter’s making a brilliant
marriage; and to have her name bandied about in such a connection
could not but militate against her prospects. Trouble caused by an
incident of this kind she could understand and sympathise with, while
Nadia’s refusal of Caerleon and the reasons for it were a sealed book
to her, and she was unusually kind to the girl during that day and the
next. But on the second evening her sympathy seemed to have exhausted
itself, for her manner once more became brusque and her tone
sarcastic, and Nadia, whose spirits had risen under the influence of
the change in her mother, realised that her presence was no longer
desired in the sitting-room. As she opened the door a sudden impulse
made her return to the table at which Madame O’Malachy was busied with
her writing materials.

“If you are planning anything against _him_, spare him for my sake,”
she said in a low voice, and stopped suddenly, amazed at her own
temerity.

“Go to bed; you are a little fool,” returned her mother, scathingly.

Nadia’s sleep was much disturbed that night. Two or three times she
thought she heard stealthy steps in the passage, and once the
unmistakable sound of the shutting of a door. She could not rid
herself of the idea that some deadly blow was being prepared against
Caerleon; there were evil possibilities in the slightest noise that
reached her ears as she lay awake trembling and listening. She cried
herself to sleep at last, and was only awakened in the morning by a
voice at her door.

“Fräulein! Fräulein!”--the agitated accents were those of the
many-tongued waiter,--“pray come down at once. The gracious Frau
Oberstin has met with an accident. Boris the cowherd found her lying
on the hillside just now, and they are bringing her in.”

Startled and horrified, Nadia threw on a dressing-gown, and rushed
down-stairs. The passage was filled with the hangers-on of the inn,
who made way for her to pass into one of the smaller rooms on the
ground-floor, into which a figure wearing the dress of the
country-people had just been carried on a stretcher. Nadia looked
round in amazement. This was a peasant woman, not her mother. But from
the motionless form came a well-known voice.

“You need not look so terrified, my daughter. I am not injured, merely
too stiff to move. Absolutely I cannot stir a foot. It is evident that
I have been walking in my sleep again. You remember that it is an old
trick of mine? I suppose you must send for a doctor, for form’s sake,
but pray do not let any one be alarmed.”

It appeared that there was a doctor to be found at a little town some
miles distant, and a messenger was despatched at once to bring him to
Witska, while Nadia did her best to make her mother comfortable.
Assisted by an excited maid-servant, who insisted on relating in bad
German how it had happened to her, some weeks before, to meet the Frau
Oberstin coming along the balcony at night with a candle in her hand
and a fixed look in her eyes, she brought down a bedstead from one of
the upper rooms, and succeeded in lifting Madame O’Malachy and placing
her upon it, the sufferer still protesting that she felt no pain
whatever, merely an inability to move. Nadia’s mind was occupied with
the problem presented by the accident. If her mother had only been
walking in her sleep, how had it happened that she had laid aside her
own dress and put on the peasant costume? The place where she had been
found was at the foot of a precipitous incline on which there abutted
one of the walls of the garden belonging to the inn. Between the wall
and the margin of the steep was a narrow ledge, affording just room
for a sure-footed person to pass along it. It was unlikely that a
sleep-walker would light upon this track without having seen it
before; but any one who was bound on secret or important business
would find it an excellent means of reaching the road which led down
the mountain without being seen from the village. Was it possible that
Madame O’Malachy had been carrying treasonable letters in disguise
when a chance slip had made her lose her footing?

This was the question which, try as she would, Nadia could not succeed
in banishing from her mind during the earlier part of the day, but
when the doctor arrived he gave a new direction to her thoughts. He
was a taciturn man, and asked so few questions that Madame O’Malachy
set him down as a fool; but when his examination was over he made a
sign to Nadia to accompany him out of the room.

“Where is the Herr Oberst?” he asked. “I understand from the landlord
that he is away.”

“I think he must be in Scythia,” answered Nadia. “He went to
Pavelsburg on important business, but I do not know whether he is
there still.”

“He should be summoned at once,” said the doctor.

“But he will return in a few days,” said Nadia, astonished. “You don’t
wish me to telegraph to him? That would make him think that my mother
was dangerously ill----”

“Yes?” said the doctor, with an intonation that made her start and
shiver.

“But she is not even severely hurt! She has absolutely no pain!” she
cried, frantically.

“That is the worst symptom in the case,” he replied, in his most
repressive and business-like tone. “She is suffering from paralysis,
caused by----” And he entered into a learned disquisition on the exact
nature of the injury sustained, culminating in the fact that the
paralysis, which was now confined to the lower limbs, must necessarily
creep upwards by degrees until it reached a certain point, after
which---- He paused, and Nadia, who had been listening like one in a
dream, forced herself to ask the question--

“And how long--how long will it be before this point is reached?”

“It may be to-night, it may be to-morrow,” he answered. “Therefore, if
I may advise you, send your telegram immediately.”

In a stunned condition she returned into the room to ask her mother
the O’Malachy’s address, only to be met by the question why she wanted
it.

“The doctor thought he ought to know that you were ill,” she murmured.

“But why?” asked Madame O’Malachy. “He must not be sent for unless it
is absolutely necessary. Did the doctor say it was necessary?” she
added, quickly.

Nadia bowed her head, unable to speak. For a moment her mother’s eager
eyes searched her face keenly, then closed, as though in utter
weariness.

“You will find your father’s address on an envelope in my desk. Go and
send your telegram, then bring the desk here to me. I will rest a
little.”

But when Nadia returned to the room, her mother did not seem inclined
to rest. She made her tear up a number of papers and burn them, then
sent her up-stairs for others, which were treated in the same way.
Nadia had no opportunity of saying a word. At last, when the papers
were all disposed of, she screwed her courage to the point of asking
whether she should read aloud a little.

“If you like,” returned Madame O’Malachy, indifferently. “You will
find on my toilet-table the novel I was reading. I may as well finish
it.”

“Oh, not that, to-day!” entreated Nadia.

“And why not?” asked her mother. “If not that, nothing, thank you.”

No more could be said, and Nadia remained silent, feeling that she had
wasted an opportunity. All that could be done during the day for her
mother’s comfort she did, feeling all the time humbly and unhappily
conscious that she was not a good nurse. Her movements were too
deliberate, no one could call her deft, and she felt sure that
mistakes which passed unnoticed by her sick children and their parents
were setting her mother’s teeth on edge at this moment. There was no
one to give her any real help, although the people of the inn did what
they could. The doctor had departed immediately after giving his
verdict, and would not return until late at night, for he was an
over-worked general practitioner, and was gone to visit several cases
in a different direction, in which his ministrations might possibly
prove effective, while for this patient nothing could be done. Even if
the O’Malachy were still to be found at the address to which the
telegram had been sent, he could not be expected at Witska for three
days at least, and it was by no means certain that he had not left
before it could reach him. Nadia felt utterly lonely. Wearied and
inexpressibly miserable, she sat down by the stove in the dusk,
longing to say something, she knew not what, to her mother, to break
down, even at this eleventh hour, the barrier of silence which their
lives had raised between them. But she was tongue-tied, and it was
Madame O’Malachy who spoke first.

“Turn your face this way a little, my daughter, that I may see you.
No; I cannot understand it. Tell me, what was it about you that
attracted the notice of King Carlino?”

“I don’t know,” said Nadia, humbly. “I think it was only that he loved
me.”

“Yes; but why did he love you?” resumed Madame O’Malachy. “You do not
make the most of yourself, you have no conversation, you make no
effort to be agreeable. Is it that he admired your plainness of
speech, which I, for one, call brutal?”

“Perhaps, a little,” said Nadia. “Not altogether, certainly.”

“You seem very doubtful,” said her mother. “Have you never asked
yourself these interesting questions? How are you to retain your
influence over men if you have no idea of the means by which you first
attracted their attention--their admiration?”

“I don’t want to obtain influence over men,” said Nadia, in a choking
voice. “My own life has not been so successful that I need make any
more efforts to direct others.”

“That exactly proves the truth of what I was saying,” said Madame
O’Malachy. “Tell me,” she added suddenly--“do you still love this
young man?”

Nadia dropped on her knees by the bedside, and hid her face in the
coverlet. “It is cruel to ask me,” she sobbed, “when he is going to
marry the Princess of Mœsia; but I do.”

“I hear that he looks most unhappy, and appears to loathe the
engagement into which he has undoubtedly been forced,” said her
mother. Nadia raised her clasped hands in wild appeal.

“Oh, don’t tell me that!” she cried. “Let me feel at least that he is
happy, whatever becomes of me. I pray every day that they may love
each other, and that their marriage may be a blessing to Thracia and
to themselves.”

“You bear no malice against him, then?”

“How could I? He is doing what I felt must be right.”

“You would not wish him to be punished? If you knew of any danger----”

“Oh, mother!” she looked up with a cry. “I would walk barefoot to
Bellaviste to warn him, even if he was to be married to-morrow. You
have not joined in any plot to injure him?”

“Hush! I cannot tell you now. I must speak to your father, if he
returns in time. Leave me alone with him when he comes, and I will
tell you afterwards. If he does not return, I will tell you before the
end.”

Nadia returned to her place, and they talked no more until the sounds
of bustle outside announced an arrival.

“It is your father,” said Madame O’Malachy; “I hear his voice.
Besides,” as Nadia’s face showed signs of incredulity, “no one else
would arrive so late. His business must have taken a shorter time than
we anticipated, and no doubt he started on his return journey two days
ago, and so missed the telegram.”

Nadia went out, and found the O’Malachy in the passage, engaged in
hearing from the waiter what had occurred. He looked anxious and
worried.

“This is a bad businuss, Nadia,” he said. “Where is your mother?”

Nadia took him into the room, and, mindful of her mother’s injunction,
left them alone together. From her post in the passage she could hear
their voices, her mother’s anxious and pleading, the O’Malachy’s gruff
and obdurate. After a time he opened the door and called to her to
come in, telling her to get him something to eat, but refusing to
yield to her suggestion that he should take his meal in another room.
Presently he sent her away to unpack his portmanteau and get out what
he needed, and then he himself saw the doctor, and received his
assurance that there would be no marked change in the patient’s
condition before morning. Nadia had made preparations for sitting up
with her mother; but he ordered her peremptorily to bed, and declared
his intention of taking the night-watch himself. It was evident that
he did not mean to leave her alone with Madame O’Malachy for a moment,
and her anxiety became keen. A look from her mother warned her to
obey, and she left the room, but lingered in the passage. Presently
she heard Madame O’Malachy urging her husband to make himself
comfortable in the cushioned chair which had been brought down for
him, and rest a little after his journey, and before very long there
was perfect silence in the room. Nadia opened the door softly, and
peeped in. A low “Hush!” from her mother brought her noiselessly to
the side of the bed, where Madame O’Malachy lay wide awake, while the
O’Malachy was beginning to give audible evidence of having fallen
asleep in his chair.

“Kneel down here,” whispered Madame O’Malachy, “where your father
cannot see you if he wakes. Nadia, I have been trying to induce him to
abandon the plot we had arranged--so much of it, at least, as
threatens Carlino’s life--but he will not consent. He has got hold of
the idea that the King and Lord Cyril were playing with him all the
time we were at Bellaviste, and he says he will not allow himself to
be made a fool in the eyes of Europe. He will not consent to
relinquish his revenge.”

“And you have arranged to murder the King?” gasped Nadia. “Oh,
mother!”

“What did you say, Barbara?” asked the O’Malachy, sitting up and
looking round sharply. “If you want anything, don’t be afraid of
asking me for ut. Sure I wasn’t asleep, but I can’t get the noise of
the train out of me ears.”

“Thanks, O’Malachy, I want nothing,” returned his wife, and he settled
himself once more in his chair; but it was some time before the two
women ventured to begin their conversation afresh.

“If you wish to save the King,” Madame O’Malachy whispered, “listen to
me now. The betrothal is to take place the day after to-morrow, and
two days later Carlino will return to Bellaviste. On a certain day
soon after his return he is to inspect the garrison of Tatarjé--that
is, if he escapes your father. There are two routes to the town, and
it is at present doubtful which he will choose. Louis is to discover
this, and to let your father know. When a letter comes from him, and
your father leaves this place on any pretext, you will know what is
intended, and it is for you to warn the King, if you are still in the
same mind.”

“But why not write at once and caution Lord Cyril?” asked Nadia.

“Because we have confederates in the post-office, and your letter
would be stopped. We are not alone, Nadia. The conspiracy is an
extensive one, with ramifications throughout the whole of Thracia, and
supporters in Scythia. It will take its course, but I will help you to
save your Carlino’s life if I can.”

“But must I denounce my father to save him?” asked Nadia, horrified.

“Never! You will merely tell the King not to visit Tatarjé on that
day, or if he must go, to alter his route. The change of plan will at
once become known to Louis, and he will warn your father that the plot
has been discovered, and that he must escape. Or if, through any
mischance, he should be away, do you telegraph at once to Mr F. X.
O’Reilly, at Tatarjé, ‘Go to Pavelsburg immediately, and await
further orders there.’ Your father will understand. He is to pass at
Tatarjé as an English newspaper correspondent, come to see the
inspection, and he will leave at once.”

“But is the rest of the plot to take its course?”

“Certainly. I tell you nothing, and you know nothing. I am not
betraying anything that is indispensable to it. It was Louis who
suggested to your father that it would ensure the success of the
revolt if Carlino were got rid of first of all, and your father caught
at the idea at once. It is entirely the fulfilment of his private
revenge, and all the arrangements have been our work alone, though
there is no doubt that the removal would be welcomed by the other
parties to the conspiracy, however eagerly they might appear to
reprobate it in deference to public opinion. It is with reference to
this alone that I will aid you; but once the alarm is given, the
King’s friends will look after his life carefully enough. In the
revolution, when it arrives, he must take his chance; but if he falls,
it will be in fair fight, not by a shot fired from an ambush. Only be
sure that when you warn him, you give your message either to Lord
Cyril or to himself. They would believe you, but M. Drakovics would
put you in prison in the hope of obtaining further information. And
you must go to Bellaviste in disguise, for fear Louis should recognise
you. In any case, keep out of his way; he would not allow you to spoil
his plans.”

“But why do you all hate the King in this way?” asked Nadia,
tearfully.

“Your father hates him because he thinks he over-reached him in the
matter of his proposing to you. If it had not been for this engagement
to Princess Ottilie, he would have been most anxious that his life
should be spared, hoping that he might yet return and marry you. But
Louis does not hate him--it is merely a matter of business. He is at
Bellaviste to bring about a revolution, and he will do so more easily
if Carlino is out of the way. He finds your father incensed against
him, and immediately proposes to himself to take advantage of his
desire for revenge to kill Carlino. No; he is not sacrificing his
father----” as Nadia raised a horrified face. “Do you think that I
would have permitted such a thing? The arrangements for escaping from
the spot and leaving the country in safety are so complete that it
would be almost impossible for your father to be captured, or even for
his share in the--execution--to be known,--unless,” and Madame
O’Malachy smiled with a trace of her old sarcastic spirit, “he told
the story himself. But neither do I hate Carlino. I have almost a
liking for him; but he is weak--he lets slip his chances. If he had
married you, I would have done anything for him; but he allowed you,
with your absurd scruples, to send him away. If he had been a _man_,
he would have laughed at you. He should have made you marry him, and
then you would have liked him all the better for his roughness.”

“I should not!” cried Nadia, with flashing eyes. “I should have hated
him, despised him. How could I like him if he made me do what I felt
to be wrong?”

“Gently!” said her mother, as the O’Malachy stirred and muttered in
his sleep. “Now you are beyond me. I speak only from experience, you
from imagination, which is naturally far more trustworthy. But your
father is uneasy. If he finds you here he will be ready to kill us
both. Creep out quietly.”

“Let me stay with you here,” entreated Nadia. “I will be very
quiet,--I will not speak. I--I should like to know you better. You
have been so good to me to-day.”

“It is too late,” returned her mother. “I also--there are many things
which one could wish to change, looking at them to-night. But one
cannot do it now.”

“But--let me ask you just this--are you----”

“No; I know what you would say, but I cannot listen. You are
Protestant, I Catholic. But you may pray for me if you like. Now go.”

Nadia rose and kissed her silently, and went out. The longing which
both she and her mother had just put into words was strong upon her.
If only they could have changed so many things! But it was too late.
Old counsels of her godmother’s, Caerleon’s little-heeded
remonstrances, came thronging back into her mind as she gained her own
room and sank down upon a chair. She bowed her head upon the table,
and sobbed.

“It is all my fault!” she said. “I never know how much reason I have
to love any one before it is too late. Oh, if it may not be too late
for her!”



 CHAPTER XVII.
 MINE AND COUNTERMINE.

It was broad daylight when the tinkling of a little bell aroused
Nadia. Rising stiff and cramped from the uncomfortable position in
which she had fallen asleep, kneeling beside her bed, she went to the
window, which looked into the courtyard of the inn. A priest, followed
by a youthful acolyte, was picking his way across the square towards
the gate--not the Greek pope of the village, but a Roman Catholic
priest from Boloszjen, the town from which the doctor came--and it was
the boy who was ringing the bell she had heard. Divining at once that
the priest had been summoned to administer the last sacraments to her
mother, she hastened down-stairs, to find the O’Malachy and the
travelled waiter talking in low voices in the passage.

“And the gracious young lady was not even awakened?” she heard the
waiter ask.

“_À quoi cela servirait-il? Mademoiselle est Protestante_,” replied
the O’Malachy, and the words fell on Nadia’s ear without conveying any
impression to her mind. She advanced towards her mother’s door, and
the waiter made a hasty movement as though to prevent her from
entering the room, but she passed him and went in. Then she realised
what had happened.

Stepping noiselessly, she drew back the sheet from the quiet form upon
the bed, and wondered at the expression of the face. Was it the hand
of death alone that had stamped upon the beautiful features the
serenity which had never characterised them in the stormy days of
life? Or had God spoken to the soul in the silent hours of the night,
when no human watcher was at hand, and the friendly and engrossing
sounds of earth were hushed for the time, and was the priest’s
anointing only a feeble emblem of the peace of God which passeth all
understanding? Nadia felt no inclination to weep as she gazed upon the
dead face. “Two hands upon the breast, and labour is past”--the
Scythian proverb recurred to her mind, and she felt a sudden
lightening of the load that had weighed her down since the first
intimation of her mother’s danger had reached her. The issue was not
hers, it belonged to God--God, who knew all the circumstances of
Barbara O’Malachy’s life, the bad training, the evil influences, and
in later years, the dead weight of an ill-spent past, and the constant
companionship of one who owed it to her efforts that he had preferred
the rewards of dishonour to a hero’s death.

What must have been the full effect of such a companionship Nadia did
not wholly realise until the O’Malachy entered the room, and found her
still standing and gazing entranced. She dropped the sheet as he came
up to the bed.

“She looks so peaceful,” she said, with a break in her voice, “but I
wish I had been here. You might have sent for me when you saw that she
was worse.”

“Sure there was not time,” replied the O’Malachy, lamely enough. “It
was not until daylight that I saw how nearly she was gone, and then I
could think of nothing but sending for Father John immediately.”

Nadia looked at him in silence, reading in his stumbling excuses the
fear which had influenced him that even at the last her mother might
find means to warn her of the plot against Caerleon’s life, and
understanding that this had been his reason for keeping her away. She
wished now that she had braved his anger, and insisted on remaining in
the room all night, and yet a quarrel in the very presence of the
dying could have done no possible good to any one. She looked at him
again as he stood shifting his position uneasily at the foot of the
bed, and she read in his face not only the grief which she had
expected to find there, but also something else, something that was
more like annoyance.

“I want to speak to you, Nadia, if you’ll come into the parlour,” he
said. “There are some arrangements we ought to get settled.”

“Can’t we leave them for a little while--just to-day?” asked Nadia.

“Time is a luckshury that we don’t possess,” answered her father,
opening the door for her, and motioning her out. “I may likely be
called away any moment.”

“Not before the--the funeral?” asked Nadia, in horror.

“I hope not; but if a letter comes to summon me on important businuss,
it stands to reason that I must go. I have arranged for the funeral to
take place to-morrow afternoon.”

“To-morrow? so soon?” cried Nadia.

“Sure is it not better that I would be here for ut than not? Your
blessud mother knew all about the work I’m on, and she would not have
had me leave ut. I am thinking of sending you back to Princess
Soudaroff, Nadia. When you came to us she said she would be glad to
have you again any time.”

Nadia’s heart leapt, but she reproached herself immediately for her
gladness. “If you would only let me stay with you, I should like it
better.”

“Stay with me?” echoed the O’Malachy. “Is it taking on your mother’s
part of the work you mean? I’d not have thought you had the gifts for
ut.”

“Oh no, not that!” said Nadia, earnestly. “Father, won’t you give it
up? You have your pay, and you could go back to your regiment, and I
could keep house for you.”

“Is it settling down to parades and courts-martial she means?” asked
the O’Malachy in astonishment. “She might have been Queen of Thracia,
and she talks of beginning life again on a linesman’s pay for the two
of us, in some dirty hole of a Scythian garruson town! Sure it’s
little you know of ut, mademoiselle.”

“I don’t mind how dull it is, or how poor we are,” urged Nadia,
thrilled with the hope of detaching her father from his present mode
of life.

“But sure I do,” was his instant response. “How do you think I could
enjure ut at all after the life your blessud mother and I have led?
You are just five-and-thirty years too late in your praise of
poverty.”

“But my mother----” began Nadia. He cut her short.

“I’d have you remember, Nadia, that what I am your mother made me, and
if she did show the white feather just at the end, sure ’twas the
first time in her life--or maybe the second,” he added, meditatively;
“and ’tis not likely I will change me ways before I’m on me deathbed,
as she was. No, I have me work, and I’ll keep to ut. I will write to
the Princess about you, and you’ll be better to telegraph to let her
know you are coming.”

“Not just yet,” pleaded Nadia; “I am very anxious to stay here as long
as I can.”

The O’Malachy looked pleased. “Sure we’ll not be partud altogether at
all,” he said. “If all goes well in Thracia, I’ll come and see you,
and we’ll maybe find ut possuble to set up housekeeping together in
some place.”

Nadia shuddered. “If all went well in Thracia,” meant to her father
that when they next met, Caerleon’s blood would be between them. She
changed the subject hastily.

“Will you telegraph to Louis, father, or shall I?”

“Ah, it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have um here,” responded the
O’Malachy thoughtfully. “But no. Louie is a soldier, and he must not
leave his duty. I’ll not have ut said that Michael O’Malachy called
his son away from the work he had to do. I’ll write to um meself.”

The day dragged slowly by, and the next followed like it. The
O’Malachy was restless and uneasy, dividing his time between making up
arrears of correspondence and watching the road which led up the
mountain. To Nadia, who knew what he must be expecting, and what
arrangements his letters were intended to make, this period of
inaction was almost unbearable, but it was not until shortly before
the funeral that she found how deeply the suspense had tried her.
Feverishly anxious to go out, to do anything that might relieve the
tension of the long hours, it cost her a flood of tears and a sharp
wordy battle when she found that she was not intended to follow her
mother to the grave. The O’Malachy was inflexible. In Ireland, he
said, ladies never attended funerals, and he would not have things
done otherwise than decently here because they were out on a
God-forsaken hill in a desolate (he pronounced it daysolut) country.
Too much exhausted to contend longer, Nadia yielded at last to the
imperious dictates of propriety, and declining the landlady’s offer of
her company, betook herself to solitude and a quiet corner of the inn
garden.

She had been sitting there for some time, in a spot quite concealed
from any one in the house by bushes and an intervening angle of wall,
and the sad procession had wound its way out of sight and hearing,
when she was startled by a persistent rustling in the boughs of a
large tree which overhung the parapet near her. At this season of the
year it was bare of leaves, but its branches were still so thickly
covered with ivy that they concealed the cause of the disturbance as
completely as if they had been laden with their native foliage, and
the effect was sufficiently alarming. In the strained state of her
nerves, Nadia’s first impulse was to take to flight and seek refuge in
the house; but she summoned up all her courage, and walked boldly
towards the tree, asking, in the best Thracian she could muster--

“Is there any one here?”

There was no answer, but she heard a further rustling immediately over
her head, and looking up quickly, caught sight of a man peering at her
through the screen of ivy. For a moment they remained staring at one
another, and then the intruder, feeling apparently that there was no
possibility of concealing himself further, bent down towards her, and
asked in a low voice in German--

“The gracious lady is related to the Herr Oberst O’Malachy?”

“Yes,” said Nadia, astonished by the contrast between the speaker’s
dress and his words. His appearance was that of a wandering artisan
seeking for work, but his voice was gentlemanly and his accent
refined.

“Then may I trouble her to hand to the Herr Oberst in private a small
packet? I was charged to deliver it only to himself or to the gracious
lady, and I have waited here for hours, hoping to see one or other of
them in the garden, for there is one of Drakovics’s spies hanging
about in front of the inn. Happily I found my way up the mountain by a
shepherd’s path, and he did not see me, but I was beginning to wonder
whether I must stay here until it was dark, and then manage to climb
up to the balcony and tap at the Herr Oberst’s window. The attempt
would have been both unpleasant and dangerous, and I cannot be too
thankful that fate directed the gracious lady’s steps to this part of
the garden.”

A flood of thoughts rushed across Nadia’s mind as she stood on tiptoe
and held out her hand for the letter, listening to what the messenger
said without hearing it. This man was one of the Thracian
conspirators. Even now he was acting as an emissary of Louis’s, and
carrying despatches to the various persons who were engaged in the
plot. Despatches!--had not her mother warned her that the O’Malachy
was expecting a message from Louis, a message which was to inform him
of the route by which Caerleon would enter Tatarjé, a message which
would enable him to carry out the dreadful deed he was contemplating?
This man had brought it. It was for him that the O’Malachy had been
watching since his return from Pavelsburg, but he had counted upon
intercepting him either in going to or returning from the grave if he
arrived to-day, for it was evident that he had not discovered the
presence of the secret agent in the village street. And his refusal to
let Nadia attend the funeral--the prohibition which had cost her so
many tears--had been the means of placing in her power the precious
scrap of paper on which, humanly speaking, hung Caerleon’s life! It
did not at the moment occur to her, what was indeed the case, that the
messenger had mistaken her for her mother, and had thus given her the
note without any misgiving; but as soon as the envelope was in her
hand, a cold chill ran through her. How was she to find out what it
contained? To suppress the letter would mean the ruin of her only
chance of helping Caerleon if the action were discovered, while to
open it, read it, and close it again, would be dishonourable. And
yet--and yet--surely if such an action could ever be justifiable, it
was so in this case. Her fingers closed upon the flap of the envelope;
it would be easy, when once the messenger had departed, to soften the
gum with a little hot water and examine the letter, but the teaching
of a lifetime was too strong for her, and she repulsed the temptation
in horror. The next moment another thought occurred to her, which
differed from the first, although she did not see this at the time, in
degree rather than in kind.

“Was there any verbal message,” she asked, “to be delivered in case
you were taken prisoner, and obliged to destroy the letter?”

“It is scarcely necessary to give it now,” said the messenger with a
smile, looking down at Nadia as she stood with the letter in her hand,
and her face upturned to his, “but if the gracious lady wishes to
assure herself of my good faith, it was this: _Friday, in the Wolf’s
Glen_.”

Nadia breathed freely. The words told her what she wanted to know, the
date, now three days hence, on which Caerleon was to inspect the
garrison of Tatarjé, and the route by which he would travel. In the
Wolf’s Glen the O’Malachy would lie in wait, on murder bent, unless
she could succeed in thwarting his purpose.

“Thank you,” she said to the messenger. “I will give the letter to the
Herr Oberst,” and she watched him make his way along the branches of
the tree until he was safely beyond the wall, and could drop to the
ground. Then she went quietly indoors, intent on possessing herself,
before the O’Malachy’s return, of something she had noticed among her
mother’s belongings. It was a dagger about ten inches long, very
bright and sharp, concealed ingeniously in a case shaped like a furled
fan, and she had a vague idea that it might serve her as a means of
defence on her way to Bellaviste, and perhaps stand her in good stead
when there, if she found it necessary to frighten any one. It was
alarming enough to her, at any rate, and she hoped earnestly that she
might not be obliged to produce it at all, while the thought of using
it against a living creature made her shudder; but she hid it
carefully in her dress, and returned to the garden. Meeting her father
when he entered, she gave him the letter.

“How did you get this?” he asked, looking at her suspiciously.

“A stranger gave it to me in the garden. He looked like a Thracian,”
she answered.

“You don’t know um? Did he say anything?”

“He asked me to give it to you, and said that he was charged to
deliver it only to you or me.”

“Poor Louie!” said the O’Malachy, with apparent irrelevance. “Boys
will get into scrapes now and then, and if he tries to find some way
of writing to his old father without his colonel’s finding ut out, why
in the wide world wouldn’t he?”

Understanding that she was intended to accept this transparent fiction
as an explanation of the way in which the letter had been delivered,
Nadia was silent, and her father retired to read it. When he returned,
his manner was hurried and eager.

“This letter brings me marching orders,” he said, and she noticed that
he avoided meeting her eye. “Poor Louie’s greatly troubled. He has got
umself into a very bad scrape, and to settle his businuss I must start
for Tatarjé by the morning train to-morrow.”

“Oh, what has he been doing?” cried Nadia, in genuine terror. For the
moment she really thought that, besides the expected intimation as to
Caerleon’s movements, the letter must have contained bad news of the
kind indicated by her father.

The O’Malachy frowned. “It’s not the kind of businuss we generally
talk over with ladies,” he said severely; and if Nadia’s heart had not
been so heavy, she could have laughed at the dignity of his manner as
he administered this rebuke to her curiosity. All fear for Louis left
her mind instantly, and she was ready to listen to her father when he
resumed, after a moment’s interval to allow the reproof to take
effect, “I’ll likely have to leave here by six in the morning to get
to the station in time for me train. What to do about you I don’t
know. You must telegraph to Princess Soudaroff at once, but your train
will not start from Boloszjen until mid-day to-morrow, and ’t is not a
right thing to leave you alone here.”

“Oh, please don’t trouble about me,” said Nadia. “Why, there is not
even a connection between Boloszjen and the Thracian railway, is
there? No, if you will settle the hotel bill, and arrange for a
carriage to take me to Boloszjen, I can start by myself quite
comfortably.” It would not have been human nature not to add, “You
must think about Louis first, you know.”

The O’Malachy lent a ready ear to the suggestion, which fitted in with
his own wishes. It was evident that his preparations at Tatarjé were
by no means complete as yet, probably owing to the uncertainty which
had prevailed hitherto as to the exact date of the inspection, and his
anxiety to be gone was great. Nadia packed for him the portion of his
possessions which he would allow her to touch, and in the morning
watched him drive away from the inn, bound for the starting-point of
the Thracian railway, which had at last been completed as far as the
capital. Now that he could no longer interfere with her, she must
mature and carry out her own plans. In accordance with her father’s
injunction, she had telegraphed the evening before to Princess
Soudaroff, asking whether she might come to her at Pavelsburg, but
adding on her own account that she must pay a hurried visit to
Bellaviste before starting for Scythia. Shortly after the O’Malachy’s
departure the answer arrived, assuring her of a warm welcome, and
promising that the Princess would send a lady belonging to her
household to meet her on the Scythian frontier if she would let her
know when she expected to reach it. Nadia had been watching anxiously
for this telegram--not that she was doubtful as to the welcome she
would receive from the Princess, but because she could not well start
on her journey until the missive had arrived. As soon as she had read
it she sought for the travelled waiter.

“I am obliged to change the Herr Oberst’s plans for me,” she said when
she found him. “I shall not go to Boloszjen in the carriage, but I
want you to have the luggage taken there and booked for Pavelsburg in
my name. Then even if I am late for the train the boxes will not be
lost. I am going to see little Ilona, the shepherd’s daughter, and to
take her some clothes. I shall not come back to Witska, but I believe
it is possible to cross the mountains from the shepherd’s hut and walk
to the station beyond Boloszjen and catch the train there, is it not?
Ilona’s father will show me the way, so you need not be alarmed if you
do not see me at Boloszjen.”

The waiter and the landlord both showed great concern on hearing of
the gracious young lady’s determination to fatigue herself so much
before starting on her journey, but she refused to yield to any of
their suggestions, accepting only the offer of a boy to carry the
parcel of clothes. Even this she would have declined if she had not
feared that such persistent ungraciousness would excite suspicion, and
she paid and dismissed her attendant as soon as the cottage came in
sight. Her plans were already laid, and she walked on boldly, carrying
in her arms the bundle, which contained the Thracian peasant-dress
that Madame O’Malachy had worn on the fateful night of her accident.
On entering the hut she was welcomed with a cry of delight by the sick
child, whom she had nursed through a bad attack of bronchitis, and her
mother; the father was away with his sheep. Nadia had no time to lose.
She had picked up a sufficient knowledge of Thracian to make herself
understood, and she plunged into her subject at once.

“I want you to let me change my dress here, Yerma,” she said. “I have
a friend in great danger at Bellaviste, and I must go to warn him.”
Glancing at the sympathetic faces of the mother and child, she knew
that she was safe with them, and went on, “I thought I would wear
clothes like yours, because I should attract less attention on the
road. My own dress I will leave with you. You will be able to make a
winter frock out of it for Ilona.”

The delicacy of the shepherd’s wife and daughter touched and surprised
her, for they asked no questions and simply did their best to give her
what help they could. Under Yerma’s directions she put on the coarse
linen gown and heavy sheepskin-lined pelisse which, in conjunction
with high boots reaching to the knee, form the winter dress of the
Thracian women. Then she knelt down by Ilona’s bed, that the child
might arrange on her head the coloured handkerchief which serves as
bonnet and also as veil, and is pulled so far over the face that it is
sometimes difficult to see from under it. Ilona called out in delight
that no one would recognise the gracious lady now that she was dressed
like this, and Yerma, after conjuring her to hide her hands in the
long sleeves, agreed with the child. Gloves are never worn in Thracia
by the poorer classes, the wide cuffs of the sleeves serving as a
protection from the cold of winter. When her toilet was complete,
Nadia stooped and kissed the child, and left the cottage with Yerma,
who had volunteered to show her the path which led down to the
lowlands on this side of the mountain. They spoke little as they
ventured cautiously on the slippery descent; but when they had reached
the road which led to the distant station, Yerma fell on her knees and
kissed Nadia’s hand.

“God and the saints bless you for all your kindness to my little
Ilona!” she said. “We shall all pray for you, gracious lady, and for
the gracious gentleman at Bellaviste, that you may be in time to warn
him, and that you may both be happy.”

“And only yesterday Carlino betrothed himself to the Princess
Ottilie!” was the thought in Nadia’s mind, as she turned away with
tears in her eyes from the grateful woman, and set out on her long
lonely journey. It was fortunate for her that winter had as yet
scarcely set in, and that the weather was unusually dry, for in an
ordinary season it would have been impossible for a solitary woman to
make her way along the road she was following. The cavernous ruts,
into a few of which good-sized boulders had been pitched at haphazard,
apparently with a view of filling up the holes, showed what the depth
of the mud must be in wet weather; and Nadia fancied that perhaps the
boulders had not been allowed to take up their present positions
entirely by chance, as she had imagined at first, for pedestrians
might find them extremely useful, and even necessary, as
stepping-stones. She plodded on bravely over the uneven track, knowing
that it must eventually lead her to the station, if she only followed
it far enough; but it was so long that at times she was ready to sit
down in despair, imagining that she had lost her way, for the narrow
strip of rough stones and dry mud appeared unending. But she had not
cultivated fortitude and endurance all her life for nothing. The
temperament which had led her to practise martyrdom as a child was a
potent aid to her now, and she toiled on, the remembrance of the
mother and child in the shepherd’s hut praying for the success of her
mission giving her fresh courage. The few wayfarers she met looked at
her curiously as a stranger to the neighbourhood, but the fact that
she had no luggage with her, and that she was able to answer their
rough but kindly greetings in Thracian, seemed to forbid any shadow of
suspicion, and they passed her as a woman making her way from one
village to another. Still she pressed on, for the day was advancing,
and the train which would reach Bellaviste at noon on the morrow
started at four o’clock. An anxious fear seized upon her that after
all she might not be in time, and goaded her to fresh efforts. With
panting breath and stumbling feet she hurried along, and at last saw
far in front of her the collection of wooden sheds which marked the
starting-point of the Thracian railway system. Cheered by the sight,
she almost lost her feeling of weariness during the last half-mile of
the way, although, when the station was once reached and her ticket
taken, she was glad to sink upon a bench and do nothing, think of
nothing, but rest. When the train came in, she noticed its arrival
mechanically, but it did not occur to her to take any active steps
with regard to entering it, and had it not been for a warning from her
neighbour on the bench, a pleasant-looking elderly woman laden with
bundles, she would have been left behind.

Awakened by this friend in need to the fact that the train was just
about to start, Nadia insisted on helping her to carry her bundles,
and was glad to establish herself on the seat next to her in the
carriage, which was constructed on the American pattern. They were the
only women present, but the men gathered together at the other end and
talked among themselves, and Nadia’s friend arranged her parcels on
the bench in front of her, and producing a covered brazier filled with
hot charcoal, invited Nadia to put her feet upon it and make herself
comfortable. She was a cheerful, talkative person, and beguiled the
way with quaint legends relating to the hills and valleys they were
passing--legends which would have been full of interest for her hearer
if she had not been so tired. Her long walk, the close atmosphere of
the train, and the monotonous voice of her companion, all combined to
make Nadia overpoweringly sleepy, but she succeeded in dissembling the
fact until an irresistible nod brought her head into sudden and
violent contact with the good woman’s shoulder.

“Have you heard the story of the young prince and his witch-mother?”
the narrator was saying. “There was a learned gentleman from
Bellaviste travelling in our parts this summer, who heard me telling
it to the children, and he was so pleased with it that he wrote it all
down, every word. But you are tired, poor thing! Lie down here, and
take this bundle of mine for a pillow, and I will cover you with my
cloak. No, don’t thank me. I have a daughter just your age. She is
married, and lives at Bellaviste, and I am going to see her now for
the first time since the wedding.”

All the time she was talking she was busy arranging a comfortable
place on the bench for Nadia, and then tucked her up in the most
motherly way. The girl was deeply thankful to be allowed to rest, for
mind and body were alike worn out. But the strain upon her was too
great to permit of peaceful sleep, and she awoke at last with a start,
shivering and trembling, to find her face wet with tears, and her
friend laying a warning hand upon her shoulder. “I woke you because
you began to scream,” she said. “You have been crying all the time you
were asleep, and talking in a language I don’t understand, but I
thought some of the men there might hear you if you spoke loud, and
know what you were saying.”

“Thank you,” said Nadia, sitting up and pushing back the hair from her
face. “It was very kind of you to wake me, for I am in great trouble,
and it might have done terrible harm if any one had understood what I
said. I will tell you what I am doing here,” she went on, moved to
confidence as she looked into the motherly eyes opposite her. “There
is a friend of mine in great danger at Bellaviste, and I have
information which may save his life if I can only get there in time.”

“But you are not a Thracian?”

“No, I come from the frontier, but my friend is in the Carlino
regiment.”

“Ah, he has been getting into trouble with his sergeant, I suppose? I
know how it is: they always think the sergeant is hard upon them,
until they become sergeants themselves, and then they can see no good
in the men. My Elisaveta’s husband is a sergeant in the city guard
himself, and he has told me some fine tales! But your sweetheart--ah,
we all know what ‘friend’ means--must have done something very foolish
indeed to get himself into such trouble.”

“If they kill him, it will be a shameful, horrible murder!” cried
Nadia, hotly.

“Well, I suppose you have information to prove what you say. Are you
going to appeal to the Minister for War?”

“Oh no, no! To the King.”

“The King? Ah, that is wise, no doubt. He is young, and every one says
he is kind-hearted, and he is going to be married, so that your
sweetheart’s case ought to touch his feelings.”

“Yes,” murmured Nadia, seeing at a glance the full irony of the
situation.

“Yes, I think that on the whole you have come at a very favourable
time. Have you written out your petition?”

“No, I never thought of that,” said Nadia. “I meant to try and speak
to him.”

“But he might not catch sight of you, or he might have no time to
listen. If he had a paper which would remind him of you, he might tell
his brother, Prince Kyrillo,”--Nadia did not at first recognise Cyril
under this designation,--“to inquire into the case afterwards. We must
certainly get one drawn up. To-morrow morning the train stops for half
an hour at a place where a cousin of mine lives. She is the
station-master’s wife, and she will be able to write for us. Or
perhaps you can write? But it ought to be in French. Our King is
learning Thracian, they say, but he certainly cannot know it well yet,
and it would be a great advantage if he was able to read the petition
at once.”

“I can write French,” said Nadia.

“Really? Ah, I thought you were better off than you seemed to be. I
shouldn’t wonder if you were a lady’s-maid, now, in some noble
family?”

“I belong to the household of a lady of high rank,” said Nadia. Her
friend looked at her doubtfully.

“I hope your sweetheart is good enough for you. I should say you might
do better than a private soldier--even in the Carlinos. Don’t you let
yourself be led away by a handsome face and a fine uniform, my girl.
An honest farmer with plenty of sheep and pigs, and a little money
hidden behind a brick in the wall, would be likely to make you a far
better husband, and you wouldn’t have all the trouble of moving about
after the regiment, which is bad enough when you are a sergeant’s
wife, but is terrible when you have only a private’s pay to depend
upon. But there! young folks will choose as they like, and it’s no use
speaking to them.”

“He is good enough to marry a princess,” said Nadia, with tears in her
eyes. “Please tell me about the petition. What shall I say in it?”

“Well, you oughtn’t to tell everything, or he won’t need to see you,
and you want to be able to throw yourself at his feet, and melt his
heart by your pleading. We must make up something slow and sad--like
the stories.” And to Nadia’s astonishment, the practical business-like
woman threw back her head, half-closed her eyes, and recited her
improvised plaint in a kind of chant.


 “Most Illustrious Majesty,--Deign to permit a mourner to approach
 your royal throne.

 “She comes not to cast a shadow upon your marriage joy, but to plead
 with you for the one she loves more than life.

 “The beloved of her soul is doomed to death--death undeserved, death
 most cruel--and you alone can avert this fearful sorrow.

 “Great is the power of the law, but greater is the word of the King.

 “For you heaven has ordained happiness; do not, then, refuse to look
 upon those to whom bitterness and sorrow are appointed.

 “Give to the suppliant who now appeals to you the joy of beholding the
 light of your countenance, that you may be assured that not only your
 mercy, but your justice, will be satisfied if you grant her petition.

 “That God may grant you a long and happy life with the royal lady to
 whom your troth is plighted, is the wish of all your subjects.

 “But especially, whether you grant her entreaty or refuse it, will it
 be the prayer of her who is now kneeling before you.”


“It is splendid!” said Nadia. “I should never have thought of such a
way of putting it. It could not be better--except that I shall say
‘this shameful murder,’ instead of ‘this fearful sorrow.’ They say the
King loves justice, and that will show him that a crime will be
committed if he refuses to interfere.”

“You are bold,” said her friend. “But after all, no doubt the King
will stand more from a girl than he would from an old woman, and he is
an Englishman, and boldness may please him.”



 CHAPTER XVIII.
 SO NEAR, AND YET----

The long hours of evening and night wore away, so monotonously that
Nadia began to feel as if a slow and uneven progress on a badly laid
track, conducted to the accompaniment of the clanking of couplings and
the dull thud of the engine, and diversified by halts of varying
duration at unfinished and ill-lighted stations, was a normal
condition of her life, and might be expected to last for ever. The men
at the other end of the carriage made themselves comfortable upon the
benches, and the two women slumbered intermittently among the bundles.
Whenever she awoke Nadia busied herself in laying her plans for the
morrow, as she sat gazing into the flying darkness, with an occasional
glimpse of a distant star or a cloud of rushing steam. Her friend’s
insistence upon the necessity of a written petition had given her a
new idea, but she did not intend to make use of it unless she was
forced to do so by circumstances. It was still her intention to throw
herself suddenly at Caerleon’s feet and entreat him to listen to her
for a moment. If, not perceiving who she was, he should depute Cyril
to inquire into her case, all would be well; but if he should
recognise her, and she were compelled to deliver her warning to
himself, she still cherished the wild hope that she would be able to
retreat and lose herself in the crowd before he could recover from his
astonishment. The petition was only to be used in case she found it
difficult to obtain access to him. There was little likelihood of his
recognising her handwriting, which he had only seen once or twice, but
she hoped that the idea of a miscarriage of justice would rouse him at
once to make inquiries, when Cyril would naturally be the messenger
chosen.

In thus providing against various contingencies she passed the waking
hours of the night, and in the morning, when the train stopped at the
station where her friend’s cousin lived, she felt that she was
prepared for any event. The station-master’s residence was not
imposing in appearance, consisting as it did of four whitewashed walls
and a thatched roof, but the owner’s wife received her visitors with
much hospitality, insisted on their sharing her breakfast, and
supplied them with the means of making a hasty and somewhat primitive
toilet. During the meal Nadia’s first friend unfolded the girl’s
story, in so far as she had heard it, to her cousin, and engaged her
help in the matter of drawing up the petition. The hostess wasted no
time in assuring them of her sympathy, but produced at once a pen and
ink and some sheets of official paper from a hole under the thatch,
which served apparently as her husband’s bureau, and Nadia sat down to
write at the small low table, from which the breakfast things had been
hastily removed. It was no easy matter to translate into passable
French the sonorous Thracian which her travelling companion poured
forth, to the loudly expressed admiration of the station-master’s
wife, and the latter complicated the matter almost at the beginning by
exclaiming--

“Oh no, Maria! You must not mention the marriage, it would be most
unsuitable. Haven’t you heard the news?”

“News? What news?” cried Nadia and her friend together.

“Why, about the poor King. The engine-driver on the train from
Bellaviste which passed through the station this morning told my
husband what he had heard them saying last night. The wicked girl--for
wicked she is, princess or no princess--whom he was going to marry
went and ran off with some one else on the very day before the
betrothal!”

“I wish her husband joy of her!” said Nadia’s friend, grimly. “A jilt
like that will come to no good. After all, the poor young King is well
rid of such a minx. But I was afraid you were going to say that
something had happened to the King--and I see you were too,” she went
on, looking at Nadia, from whose hand the pen had fallen. “That would
have been bad for you; for Milos Drakovics, good patriot though he is,
is a man of iron, and would never listen to a girl’s entreaties,
especially on a matter that touched the discipline of the army. Well,
we must alter the words of the petition. Perhaps the poor King’s heart
will be softened by his trouble.”

Awkward as the transposition of sentiment might appear, the Thracian
poetess was equal to the occasion, and the petition was successfully
drawn out, with its wording altered to correspond with the change of
circumstances. After the first shock of surprise and ineffable relief,
Nadia wrote steadily on, without allowing herself time to think. Not
until she was again in the train, with the farewells and good wishes
of her kindly hostess ringing in her ears, did she permit herself to
remember that Caerleon was once more free, that now there was no one
who had the right to stand between him and herself. She knew that she
ought to feel sorry that a scheme of so much excellence had failed,
that such a cruel indignity had been put upon Caerleon in the face of
all Europe, but she was not. She was silently, unspeakably glad, and
all the morning as she sat listening patiently to her companion’s
legends, and putting in appropriate remarks at intervals, her thoughts
were of the spring of happiness which was rising again in her heart.

“You look better this morning,” the good woman observed complacently,
as they neared Bellaviste. “No doubt it makes you feel more
comfortable to have the written paper to depend upon in case you get
flustered when you see his Majesty and can’t say a word. That was how
my Elisaveta felt when the War Minister’s lady spoke to her one day at
a military _fête_. Now be sure and let me hear how you get on. I wish
you would come and eat some dinner with us, and let me take you
afterwards to some place where you will be able to get a sight of his
Majesty; but if you won’t, you won’t. Only, if you get into any
trouble, ask for the quarters of Serge Georgevics, and even if I am
gone home, you will find Elisaveta there, and she will help you in any
way she can, for I am going to tell her all about you.”

It was with difficulty that even on the platform at Bellaviste Nadia
released herself from her kind friend, but when she had delivered the
bundles she had been helping to carry into the charge of Sergeant
Georgevics, who was waiting to meet his mother-in-law, and had refused
a second invitation to dinner, she found herself free. The sergeant
told her that the King had already returned to the city, and was now
receiving the Ministers at the palace, but that he would drive through
the streets in the afternoon, that the townspeople might be gratified
by a sight of him before he left the capital again for Tatarjé. There
were, therefore, still two hours to spare before she could hope to see
him, and she walked restlessly about the less frequented streets until
she was tired, and then, fearing that she might be too exhausted to
perform her task, went into a quiet restaurant for a cup of coffee and
a roll. This frugal meal over, she made her way into the principal
street, where she waited with all the patience she could command until
the appearance of bodies of troops and police showed that the King
might be expected to pass by before long. In spite of the failure of
M. Drakovics to discover the nature of the plots hatched at Witska, he
had learnt enough to make him anxious for the King’s safety, and the
road was to be lined on either side with mounted soldiers and
gendarmes by way of precaution. Crowds of people gathered on the
pavement as time went on, and the windows and house-tops were as
closely packed with spectators as on the day when the King had first
entered his capital. The Thracians were resolved not only to
demonstrate their sympathy with their monarch under the somewhat
trying circumstances of his return from the Mœsian frontier, but also
to testify their appreciation of the diplomacy of his advisers. This
might well be said to have succeeded, in spite of the untoward event
which had occurred, in obtaining for Thracia peace with honour, and
hence no patriot stayed at home who could possibly get out into the
streets. Nadia succeeded in maintaining a position in the front rank
by dint of clinging to a lamp-post, and she peered anxiously between
the soldiers in front of her to catch the first glimpse of the
procession. At last the distant sound of mighty cheering arose, and as
it came closer she caught sight of the glittering helmets and
breastplates of the escort. Now she must act. Loosing her hold of the
lamp-post, she slipped in between the horses of the two mounted men
nearest her and tried to press to the front. But strict orders had
been given to allow no one to pass the guards, and the man on her
right caught her shoulder and turned her back.

“You can’t go any further, my girl. If you want to see the King, stand
still where you are, and you will get a splendid sight of him as he
passes. You don’t want to be introduced to him, do you?”

“I have a petition to present,” she said eagerly, disregarding the
man’s rough humour. “I must give it into his hand.”

“A petition? Let me see it.”

Nadia gave it to him, and he scrutinised it carefully, upside-down,
from the seal which the station-master’s wife had insisted on adding
at the foot, in the idea that it gave the document an official
appearance, to the loyal address at the head, turned it over, smelt
it, and handed it back to her. He could not even read sufficiently to
know that it was not in Thracian, but he was satisfied that it was not
calculated to convey any harm to the King.

“Yes, it’s all right,” he said. “You can throw it into the King’s
carriage as you stand there. Or, if you are afraid of missing, I will
throw it for you, if you will thrust it into my hand just at the
moment, so that the sergeant may not see.”

“Oh no, I must give it to him,” cried Nadia in a frenzy. The first
carriage was close at hand now, and she saw that Caerleon was in it,
sitting with his face to the horses, with Cyril and General
Sertchaieff opposite him.

“But you can’t,” said the trooper, with a grim smile. What possessed
her to do it Nadia could never afterwards determine, but she snatched
out her dagger and struck at him wildly. He parried the blow with the
greatest ease, knocked the dagger out of her hand, and seized both her
wrists in an iron grasp, crying--

“Help! Here’s a woman trying to murder the King!”

“Holy Peter!” cried another, as Nadia struggled in vain to free
herself. “Look at her white hands. She is a Scythian spy!”

“A Scythian spy!” said another voice. “Kill her, then!” An officer of
the escort had forced his horse into the group, about which the crowd
was surging and shouting. Nadia became vaguely aware that the
new-comer’s face was familiar to her, that his eyes were like her
mother’s,--that he was her brother Louis. Madame O’Malachy’s words
recurred to her mind, “Louis will not allow you to spoil his plans,”
and as they did so, she saw that he had something in his hand. He
raised it, and for one awful instant, which seemed an hour, she was
looking down the barrel of a revolver. Her eyes were fixed on the
little steel circle so close in front of them, but she saw Louis’s
finger moving to the trigger, and a shrill scream of terror broke from
her as she cowered back and raised her elbow to shield herself. The
crack she was expecting came, sounding to her like a thunder-clap, and
the crowd yelled excitedly, but the bullet sped harmlessly over her
head, as the weapon was knocked up by the senior officer of the
escort, who had caught her captor’s agonised cry of “Accomplices,
lieutenant! she may have accomplices!”

“You will return to the palace, Lieutenant O’Malachy, and consider
yourself under arrest,” said the captain, and Louis saluted, and
backing his horse out of the crowd, rode away, followed by the cheers
of the mob, which appeared to approve of his endeavour to execute
lynch law. But Nadia did not even look after him. She had seen, over
the heads of the pushing and struggling people, who had forced their
way past the guards and into the road, Caerleon spring up in the
carriage and call to the coachman to stop, had seen Cyril throw
himself out before his brother could get his foot on the step.

“Your Majesty wishes me to settle this matter for you?” he said
imperatively, refusing to allow Caerleon to descend.

“Good heavens, Cyril! don’t you see that it’s Nadia? I tell you I
heard her voice. Let me pass!” But Cyril held his ground.

“Go on and leave me to settle things, unless you want to involve her
and yourself in the biggest scandal that ever spread through Europe.
It’s for her sake, I tell you!”

“May I entreat his Majesty to continue his drive?” said an agitated
commissary of police, thrusting his way to the front through the
raging, roaring mass of people that had closed around the troopers and
their prisoner. “The crowd are beginning to believe that the assassin
has accomplished her purpose, and the woman will be torn in pieces
before we can get her to the prison, unless the King will drive on and
show himself, and so distract their attention from her.”

“Do you want her blood on your head?” cried Cyril, pushing his brother
back into his place. “Go on, and let me see after her. I promise you I
will take no steps without your leave. Drive on,” he called to the
coachman.

Angry and bewildered, Caerleon found himself carried on, past the
seething crowd into which Cyril was now forcing his way, and between
fresh rows of anxious spectators who had not been able to leave their
places, so closely were they packed together, and who were necessarily
a prey to the wildest rumours. They greeted the King with tumultuous
cheers; and as the news spread, those who were on the outskirts of the
crowd, and found it impossible to obtain a view of him, rushed to the
churches and began to ring the bells, so that the drive continued in a
perfect pandemonium of sound. Caerleon, bowing mechanically to right
and left, and wondering what could have brought Nadia to Bellaviste,
and where Cyril would take her, could scarcely hear himself speak when
he remembered that it would be suitable to make some remark to his
companion on what had happened. He looked across at General
Sertchaieff, but started when his eyes fell upon his face, for it was
pale and set, and as expressionless as a mask.

“I am afraid this alarm has given you a shock, General?” he said,
wondering whether it would be advisable to summon a doctor to
prescribe for the Minister of War.

“Who would not be painfully affected by the attempt to perpetrate such
a crime, sir?” returned General Sertchaieff. “Whom can we trust when
Scythia turns our peasant-girls into assassins? I know these women:
they will dare everything and tell nothing.”

“I hope you will find you are mistaken,” said Caerleon. “I myself am
quite convinced that it was not an attempt at assassination at all.”

Etiquette forbade General Sertchaieff to advance an opinion contrary
to that of his sovereign, but he shook his head sadly, and it was
evident that the people were sharers in his belief. Indeed, before
Caerleon returned to the palace, it was commonly known in the city
that the would-be assassin--a woman of extraordinary stature, and
armed with three dynamite bombs, a dagger, and a couple of
revolvers--had mounted the step of the carriage and dealt a stab at
the King, which was only not fatal because the troopers had seized her
and dragged her back just in time. In view of such a determined
attempt at murder, it is not wonderful that the people thronged into
the churches to return thanks for the King’s escape, and that every
loyal householder in Bellaviste devised and proceeded to execute
marvellous impromptu illuminations for the evening with candles and
oil-lamps. Cyril smiled grimly over the popular enthusiasm as he
returned to the palace, and wondered impatiently how things were ever
to be set right. Out of doors, the people were breathing out furious
threats against the assassin; inside the palace Caerleon was waiting
in restless anxiety for news of her.

“Well, where is she?” he asked eagerly, as Cyril came in.

“In the prison. We had to take her there to save her life,--the people
were kicking up such a row,” as Caerleon uttered an exclamation of
horror; “but she is in the governor’s house, treated as a guest; and
the governor’s wife, rather a jolly old lady, but as deaf as a
post,--which is an advantage under the circumstances,--is looking
after her like a mother.”

“But what brought her here?”

“She came to warn you of a plot. So far as I can make out--for she
won’t mention any names--that good-for-nothing father of hers is
intending to murder you to-morrow on the way to Tatarjé. Madame
O’Malachy died the other day, and on her deathbed she let out the
secret. Miss O’Malachy kept her own counsel, and started off here as
soon as she could to give you the tip.”

Caerleon drew a long breath. “Well,” he said triumphantly, “I hope you
see now that it is positively incumbent on me to marry her. Think of
her coming all that way to warn me! She must care for me, after all.”

“I was always under the impression that she did care for you, but
refused you on conscientious grounds for the good of the kingdom,”
said Cyril.

“Oh yes, of course; but it’s quite a different thing now. You must
think me an utter cad if you imagine that I’m going to let her take
this journey just to save me, and get herself into awful trouble with
her own people, and then simply send her adrift again after it all.
It’s absolutely the only thing to be done.”

“It’s a most unfortunate affair altogether,” said Cyril, meditatively.
“If you ask me, Caerleon, I say that the only thing to be done is to
get her out of the city to-night, and hush the matter up. Just wait a
moment, and listen to me. You may not know--I didn’t want to bother
you at the time--that very nasty reports got into the Scythian papers
a little while ago about you and her. The O’Malachys left Bellaviste
hastily and in dudgeon, you see, and the old man takes it into his
head suddenly to express a deadly hatred of you, and begins to talk
big about the vengeance he will have for the way in which you have
treated his daughter. The girl makes no sign, but all at once, hearing
of your engagement to Princess Ottilie (for she must have started
before it was known to be at an end), she returns in disguise and
attempts to murder you--that is how it will appear,--and all this will
be simply nuts for the newspapers.”

“This is awful!” groaned Caerleon, aghast. “You mean to say that I
have let her in for vile suspicions of that kind?”

“I should have said that she had let you in for them. But it’s my firm
impression that she knows as little about this Scythian _canard_ as
you did a minute ago. If she had known, she is not fool enough to have
used that dagger as she did.”

“I don’t quite see what you are driving at. That doesn’t make any
difference. Get out a special ‘Gazette,’ will you?--you’re always
issuing special ‘Gazettes’ for some reason or other--and tell the
truth in it for once. Give her reason for coming here, and--no, I’ll
draw it up myself.”

“Caerleon, stop!” cried Cyril, peremptorily, “and listen to me. You
can’t carry things off in this way. No one would believe your story,
and it would be said that you had married her as the price of her
silence.”

“Stuff!” said Caerleon, contemptuously. “I shall ask the Queen of
Mœsia to invite her to Eusebia on a short visit, and that will put an
end to these slanders. As for leaving her unprotected now, I tell you
I won’t hear of it.”

“Do you mean to marry her against her will?” asked Cyril.

“No, I shall see her and make her understand the state of the
case--not telling her anything of what you have said, of course. But I
am sure I could have made her listen to me before, only she begged me
not to urge her against her conscience, and I obeyed her, like a fool!
At any rate, I won’t do that again. It would be absurd to talk about
refusing me now for the sake of the kingdom,--after what has happened
she must know that, for if I don’t marry her I shan’t marry at
all,--and besides, when once the people hear why she came here to-day,
they will be ready to worship her.”

“Then I suppose there is no use in my giving you her message?” said
Cyril.

“You may as well let me have it,” said Caerleon, reluctantly.

“She impressed upon me that she would not consent to see you under any
circumstances. She said she came here to try to do you a service, and
found herself your prisoner. If you chose to force yourself upon her
in defiance of her wishes, she must submit, since you were her gaoler,
but she believed you were a gentleman, and would respect her desire
for privacy.”

“What is one to do with a girl like that?” groaned Caerleon. He would
have liked to accuse Cyril of inventing the message, but it bore the
impress of Nadia’s somewhat impracticable style of heroism too plainly
not to be genuine. “Still, she doesn’t understand the case. I will put
it to her that if she will marry me, she will be clearing me from
imputations that have been made against me.”

“If she doesn’t understand the case then, she is not so clever as I
think her,” retorted Cyril; “and if you don’t put it strong enough she
won’t listen to you for a moment. Now look here: she has a home
promised her at Pavelsburg with Princess Soudaroff, her godmother,
with whom she lived before, and she only needs an escort to the
Scythian frontier. The governor’s wife would be quite willing to take
the little trip at your expense, and I will accompany them as far as
Boloszjen, where they will get the proper train. Then she will be all
right, and we can hush the matter up without any scandal at all.”

“And leave this wretched slander unrefuted?”

“Nonsense! the mere fact of the Princess’s receiving her again into
her house will refute it. Besides, I contradicted it at the time.”

“I am extremely obliged to you for your solicitude about my affairs.
Perhaps on another occasion you will remember that I also have some
slight interest in them. Well, I will see her, and then decide.”

“Of course, if you care to force yourself upon her after what she has
said----”

“You will drive me wild, Cyril. I will write to her, then.”

“No, you won’t. At least, I am not going to carry any letter. You
ought to know by this time that you should never put on paper anything
that might prove compromising later on. I’ll take any number of
messages from you, if you like, and deliver them without note or
comment.”

“What do I care about being compromised? If you will tell me the most
compromising form in which a letter can be written, I’ll write it.”

“I see. What I was afraid of was your compromising her.”

“Oh, go and tell her what I want. You badger a man till he doesn’t
know whether he’s standing on his head or his heels! But if you will
make her understand that I beg and beseech and entreat her to marry
me, and that I undertake that the people shall receive her joyfully as
queen, I’ll forgive you--that is, if you bring back word that she says
yes.”

“Very well. I suppose I may give orders for a carriage and relays of
horses to be ready to-morrow morning? Whether Miss O’Malachy decides
to take the Trans-Continental express for Pavelsburg, or to go and
stay at Eusebia preparatory to being transformed into the Queen of
Thracia, we must get her out of the place before people are about.
I’ll take Wright to drive, if you can spare him. He couldn’t tell
tales here if he would.”

“Oh, all right. But what on earth is the good of all this fuss? Tell
her that if she will only have me, we will be married as soon as we
can get a British chaplain up here.”

“Do keep cool,” entreated Cyril. “In any case, I thought that the lady
always fixed the day?”

He left the room as Caerleon gave a despairing groan, and returned to
the gaol for his second interview with Nadia. He found her sitting
with the wife of the governor, a pleasant-looking, white-haired old
lady whom deafness appeared to condemn to perpetual speech. Cyril
could hear her monotonous voice rambling on as he came up the stairs,
and it was not until he had written on a piece of paper that it was
very important he should speak to Nadia Mikhailovna in private that
she withdrew to the chimney-corner and comparative silence. Nadia had
laid aside her peasant’s dress, which had been torn almost to rags in
the rough handling she had received from the crowd, and the old lady
had lent her a black gown of her own, which was so much too large
about the waist that it was necessary to keep it in place by a sash.
This gave her a somewhat nun-like appearance, and she looked very tall
and severe as she accompanied Cyril to the window.

“I suppose you have come to tell me what is to happen to me,” she
said, with extreme coldness, and yet before his entrance the irony of
the situation had almost made her laugh. To have come all the way from
Witska to save Caerleon, and to find herself accused of trying to
murder him!

“I am here as the bearer of a message from my brother, which I have
promised to deliver to you word for word,” said Cyril. “If it had not
been for your appeal to his good feeling, he would be here himself
now; or he would have written, but I refused to carry a letter. He
implores you to reconsider your former determination, and to consent
to marry him. He undertakes that there shall be no opposition to the
match among the people, and he will regard it as the proudest day of
his life if you will be crowned with him next month as Queen of
Thracia.” He paused for a moment, then went on. “I am anxious to keep
my word to Caerleon, and therefore I will tell you that no one could
be more delighted than he was at the rupture of his engagement to
Princess Ottilie of Mœsia.”

“Ah!” said Nadia, her eyes shining for a moment, “and what do you
advise me to do?”

“I don’t presume to offer you any advice whatever. If my counsel was
not in accordance with your wishes, I dare not hope that you would
follow it, and if it agreed with them, it would be unnecessary. I am
so anxious to leave you absolutely unfettered, that I will go so far
as to say that I see no likelihood of my brother’s taking the course
which it seems to me would be most advantageous for the kingdom, and
making another attempt to ally himself with a royal house. He appears
firm in his determination to allow no one to occupy your place in his
heart. I congratulate you on your triumph.”

“I hate you!” cried Nadia, with fierce irrelevance. “If anything could
induce me to marry Carlino, it would be the thought that I was
spoiling your plans by doing it.”

Cyril shrugged his shoulders. “I hope that I should never forget
myself so far as to behave otherwise than politely to the lady who had
honoured my brother with her hand,” he said.

“Oh no, there is no fear of that,” said Nadia, wearily. “But do you
think I don’t know what would happen if I married him? Don’t be
afraid--I am not going to accept his offer. Your conduct would be
unexceptionable, no doubt, but the things you would say--the hints you
would give--the way you would look at me! Whenever trouble came upon
Thracia, you would make me understand that you considered it was due
to me. I cannot see how you and Carlino can be brothers. He is so--and
you are----”

“We seem to be both easier to imagine than describe, at any rate,”
said Cyril. “I said I wouldn’t offer you any advice, and I won’t. If I
were an orator like Drakovics, I might discourse to you on the beauty
of self-sacrifice, the expediency of renouncing one’s private wishes
for the sake of the State, and other similarly appropriate themes. But
being merely a man of the world, I can only say, marry Caerleon if you
like, and become Queen of Thracia. No doubt you will be very happy
until the next revolution comes. Or else leave him free still, and let
him and the kingdom have a chance.”

“I believe,” said Nadia, slowly, “that you would prefer that your
brother had been killed rather than that he should be saved through
me.”

“Now you are becoming excited,” said Cyril, “and when you think over
the things you have said you will be sorry for them. Certainly I might
wish that you had not chosen to warn him in such a noticeable--one
might almost say theatrical--way. But that is a detail, a mere error
of judgment, and does not really prejudice the fact, for which both he
and I must always remain grateful to you.”

“Thank you,” said Nadia. “After receiving such a handsome
acknowledgment of my services, it is only fair for me to give you the
satisfaction of hearing that I refuse absolutely to marry the King,
and that I will leave Bellaviste as soon as you will allow me.”

“I can’t pretend not to be relieved by your decision,” remarked Cyril,
frankly. “Pray be sure that I will do my best to settle the
arrangements for your journey as much in accordance with your wishes
as possible, although it will unfortunately be necessary to make the
start very early in the morning, in order to avoid exciting attention.
I propose, if you will allow me, to do myself the honour of
accompanying you as far as Boloszjen----”

“Oh, why make all this fuss--this pretence of asking my permission?”
asked Nadia, impatiently. “I know quite well that I am a prisoner, and
must submit to whatever arrangements my gaolers may choose to make for
me.”

“Excuse me,” said Cyril, “but I understood that you were leaving
Thracia by your own choice, and going to rejoin your friends? I think
you will see that this is both a more correct and a more agreeable way
of looking at the matter. To return to our subject. The first part of
the journey we must make by road, for it would not be advisable for
you to take the train from here. We will get on board at some country
station, where no one is likely to recognise us. Our good friend
Madame Bruics here will accompany you as far as the Scythian frontier,
and give you into the charge of Princess Soudaroff’s lady-in-waiting.”

“I am most grateful to you for your kindness and consideration,” said
Nadia, rising to leave the room. “Perhaps you will tell Madame Bruics
anything else you may have to say. I am very tired.”

“If your gratitude is to be interpreted by your looks, it is not a
kind I should care to get much of,” said Cyril to himself as she
retired. It took some time to explain in writing to Madame Bruics what
was required of her and to meet her various objections, but at last
Cyril was able to leave the prison and return to the palace. Sending
for Wright to give him his orders for the morrow, he found the groom
bursting with excitement and importance.

“’Ave you ’eard, my lord, as ’ow Mr O’Malachy ’ave sloped?” he asked
eagerly, as soon as the footman who had conducted him into Cyril’s
presence had departed.

“Sloped? Lieutenant O’Malachy?” cried Cyril, and cursed himself for a
fool. Why had it not occurred to him to order Louis’s arrest instantly
on hearing Nadia’s story? He might have guessed that her father’s plot
needed a confederate in the city to enable him to carry it out
successfully. “Is it certain that he is gone?” he asked of Wright.

“Quite certain, my lord. The capting’s in a orful way about it, been
rowin’ the sergeants shameful, and one on ’em tell me. The capting, ’e
put Mr O’Malachy under arrest for shootin’ at the young lady, and tell
’im to come back ’ere. Contrairywise, ’e rides to the post-office, as
bold as brass, and sends off a Government telegram to Mr Francis
Xavier O’Reilly, at Tatarjé, orderin’ ’im to leave the country within
twenty-four hours. Then ’e rides out at the Feodoratz gate, sayin’ as
’e’s a-actin’ aide-de-camp to ’is Majesty, and no one see ’im since.
’Is ’orse ’ave come back to ’is stable, but they say as Mr O’Malachy
must ’ave ’ad a change of clothes ’id away ready somewheres, and ’ave
got away like that, though why ’e should want to is beyond me.”

But Louis’s motive was not beyond Cyril’s comprehension, for it was
evident to him that, expecting that Nadia would involve him in her
disclosures, he had seized the earliest opportunity for flight--a
contingency against which he had carefully provided beforehand--and
that he had, moreover, succeeded in warning his father to escape from
Tatarjé at least an hour before Cyril had telegraphed thither to
arrest him. The loquacious Wright found himself dismissed somewhat
hastily, with instructions to have the carriage ready at six in the
morning; and Cyril turned from the unpleasant contemplation of the
oversight of which he had been guilty to drafting the announcement
which was to appear on the morrow in a special ‘Gazette,’ in order to
tranquillise the minds of the people. It was evident, he wrote, that a
certain amount of misconception existed as to the incident of the day.
The supposed attempt to murder the King was not, as had been imagined,
the outcome of a plot, but it was hoped that in consequence of it the
ramifications of a very extensive conspiracy would be laid bare. As
for the young woman who had been arrested, she could not be held
responsible for the intended crime, and having been found harmless,
she had been restored to her friends. The last sentence pleased Cyril
extremely, both on account of its plausibility and its adherence to
the truth, although he reminded himself as he read it over that he
must keep the ‘Gazette’ out of Caerleon’s way. His next duty was to
write a full account of what had happened to M. Drakovics, who had
remained on the frontier in order that he might meet the Premier of
Mœsia, and to tell him all that he had succeeded in extracting from
Nadia on the subject of the plot. This was not much, for she knew very
little, and declined to tell even the whole of that, but there was one
point which seemed to Cyril to be of considerable importance. Who was
the X. of whom Nadia had heard Madame O’Malachy speaking to her
husband, saying that he had been induced by bribes to join in the
conspiracy, and to bring with him all the men in his employment? After
much cogitation, Cyril could only decide that he must be one of the
large distillers whose trade had been spoiled by the temperance
legislation of the present Government, and who would therefore be
inclined to prefer a change in the state of affairs. He resolved to
keep an eye on persons of this class in future, and he mentioned his
conjecture to the Premier in order to see whether he agreed with him
or not.

At the appointed hour the next morning, one of the royal carriages
stopped before the door of the gaol, and Madame Bruics and Nadia came
out and took their places inside. Cyril occupied the seat opposite
them, acting, as Nadia felt, more as guard than as escort. Madame
Bruics was fortunately sleepy and disinclined to talk, and they drove
on in silence until they were about to pass the palace. With a sudden
impulse Nadia bent forward and looked out of the window--to take a
last look at the place which held Caerleon. But when they came abreast
of the small private gate, she started, for beside it there stood in
the winter twilight a tall figure wrapped in a cloak. With a gasp
Nadia realised that Caerleon was there,--that a word, a sign, would
bring him to her, would end the long struggle in the way in which her
heart ached for it to end.

“How did the beggar manage to find out when we were starting?” asked
Cyril of himself with lively disgust, for the moment was a crucial
one. He was equal to it, however. “You see him?” he whispered to
Nadia. “You will give in now, I know.”

She turned away from him impatiently, feeling even then a mingled
shame and surprise that she could choose to wring Caerleon’s heart
rather than allow his brother to triumph over her. Her eyes met
Caerleon’s, and he stepped forward eagerly. For one moment she looked
into his face, saw its expression of earnest entreaty change to one of
disappointment, and read in it that her decision was accepted, as it
was given, in silence. She waved her hand to him as he drew back, the
carriage passed on, and he was left standing by the roadside, without
a word said.



 CHAPTER XIX.
 PILGRIMS PERFORCE.

The long journey on which Nadia’s unflinching determination had
embarked her was performed alternately by road and rail until
Boloszjen was reached, but from that point it was possible to find a
train running directly to Pavelsburg. At Boloszjen Cyril parted from
the travellers, after seeing them safely into their carriage. Since
leaving Bellaviste, Nadia had not exchanged a single word with him
that was not absolutely necessary, for the hatred she had frankly
avowed to him during their interview at the gaol had not been
diminished by the taunt which had finally sealed Caerleon’s fate, but
now she put aside her dislike sufficiently to make an appeal to him on
behalf of poor old Madame Bruics, who was to return alone from the
Scythian frontier. Precluded by her deafness from receiving either
advice or warning, unless these were tendered in writing, the old lady
would be quite helpless if left to herself, and Nadia told Cyril that
it was his duty to send Wright to escort her and bring her home. Such
plain speaking was rather a bitter pill for Cyril, who was wont to
pride himself on his foresight and tactful consideration, and felt
that in this case especially he had done more than any one could have
expected of him; but he recognised the cruelty involved in sending
poor Madame Bruics upon a wild-goose chase over the railways of
Central Europe, and put the crowning touch to his self-abnegation by
depriving Caerleon of Wright’s services for some days longer. He
parted from Nadia in a polite and hostile manner--that is to say, she
did not offer to shake hands with him, and he went away marvelling at
the uncharitableness of some people.

Wright as an escort was much more to Nadia’s taste than his master had
been, although he considered it his duty to come to the window of the
carriage at every station and inquire whether the ladies would like
some tea--for tea, in his opinion, was the only refreshment acceptable
to the feminine mind, and as such, was capable of being imbibed at all
hours and at very short intervals. When they reached the Scythian
frontier, and Nadia, to her great joy, had discovered Marie Karlovna,
a German lady belonging to her godmother’s household, waiting to meet
her, she commended Madame Bruics to Wright’s care with great
earnestness, although he viewed her solicitude as impassively as he
did the coin which she ventured to slip into his hand, and at which he
glanced immediately in order to ascertain its value. But when she had
seen Madame Bruics established in the return train, and was turning
away with Marie Karlovna, she heard footsteps behind her, and looking
round, found Wright close at hand.

“Beg your pardon, ma’am,” he said, in a low voice and with great
embarrassment, “but don’t you go for to take on about the King. ’E
always rides straight, ’e do--not like some people as ought to know
better and doesn’t; and ’e knows ’is own mind, and as some poetry chap
says, ‘’Is ’eart is always true.’”

For a moment after the utterance of this sentiment, the presumptuous
groom felt ready to sink into the earth under the combined weight of
his own daring and the glance which Nadia turned on him, but while he
was wondering apprehensively whether she would give him in charge on
the spot or write to Lord Cyril to complain of his conduct, the fire
died out of her eyes, and she said gently--

“Thank you, Wright. I know quite well that what you say of the King is
true. He is the best of men, and nothing of all that has happened is
his fault.”

Wright touched his hat and retired, red in the face but with a clear
conscience, deciding in his honest mind that Miss O’Malachy would make
a sight better wife for ’is Majesty than that there princess would
’ave done, and that he ’oped he might one day ’ave the honour of
trainin’ a ’orse for ’er to ride. And Nadia looked after his short
sturdy figure with something like affection, not unmingled with envy,
for he loved Caerleon, and he was going back to him now. She was
leaving him farther and farther behind as she travelled on to
Pavelsburg with Marie Karlovna, who had evidently received strict
orders not to tease her with questions, for she talked exclusively of
the great conference of members of different evangelical denominations
which had recently been held in the city, and of other matters
interesting to the supporters of the Cercle Evangélique. At last the
capital was reached, and Nadia saw awaiting her on the platform a tall
stout elderly lady, carelessly dressed, with her abundant grey hair
surmounted by a ludicrously unfashionable bonnet. If these personal
characteristics had not been sufficient of themselves to identify
Princess Soudaroff, other evidence would have been furnished by the
almost adoring reverence with which she was surrounded by the minor
officials of the railway, among whom she had worked for years. But
Nadia needed no such additional help. She could scarcely wait for the
door of the carriage to be opened, but precipitated herself down the
steps and into her godmother’s arms.

“Oh, Marraine, I have so longed to see you!” she cried.

“Not more than I to see you, dear child,” returned the Princess,
patting Nadia’s shoulder affectionately. “You have been out into the
world since we parted. How has it used you?”

“Oh, I have so much to tell you, to ask you,” said Nadia, with a sigh
that was almost a sob, but her godmother stilled her eagerness with a
gesture.

“When we reach home, my child--not now. Come, we attract attention. My
good Marie, I am rejoiced to see you. You are ready? The carriage is
waiting.”

“They have not been taking care of you while I have been away,
Marraine,” said Nadia, when she was seated in the carriage by the
Princess’s side. “You want me to choose your dresses and bonnets for
you again.”

“Very well, my child,” smiled her godmother. “Marie Karlovna has
looked after my clothes since you went to join your parents, and she
said that it was no use getting expensive things for me, because I
always gave them away.” Marie Karlovna made a deprecating gesture of
assent, and Nadia smiled, remembering that she had seen the Princess
take a sable-lined cloak from her own shoulders and give it to a
beggar-woman. “But this bonnet,” Princess Soudaroff went on, “I chose
for myself, and I think you must like it, dear child. I saw Olga
Ivanovna, the Bible-woman, wearing one, and it pleased me so much that
I asked her to have one made for me exactly like it. And she did, and
this is the bonnet.”

“Oh, Marraine, I shan’t rest until I have taken you out shopping, and
made you get some fresh clothes,” said Nadia, laughing; and then it
suddenly struck her what a mockery it was to come back and take up her
old duties as if she had scarcely been away a week, after the scenes
through which she had passed in the interval. The tears rose into her
eyes again, and her godmother laid a sympathising hand upon her arm.

“Have patience, my child; you shall tell me everything as soon as we
reach home,” and Nadia dried her eyes resolutely, and tried to assume
an interest in the changes that had taken place during her absence in
the streets through which they were passing. When they arrived at the
large house of which the Princess occupied a part, she had regained
her calmness sufficiently to be able to reply with a smile and a kind
word to the greetings of the servants who crowded to welcome her, and
who formed a motley group, owing to the Princess’s fondness for taking
her friends’ failures into her household and giving them another
trial.

“I see that the house is as full as ever,” said Nadia, as her
godmother led her up the stairs, after bestowing upon her a kiss of
welcome at the door.

“Yes, you will find many old friends, although some have succeeded in
obtaining other situations. Ah, do you remember my maid Katinka, the
pretty girl who married the handsome young carpenter on my country
estate? He has deserted her most cruelly, poor thing! and she came to
me almost in despair. I could not take her back as maid, for I am
trying to train little Vera, a _protégée_, as you may remember my
telling you, of Countess Wratisloff’s. She was serving in a little
shop, amid very undesirable surroundings, and she was not a success as
Countess Wratisloff’s kitchen-maid, so I offered to take her. It was a
little trying at first, but she has done better lately. Of course I
cannot turn her out and give Katinka her place, so Katinka is
sempstress now, and I can scarcely find her work enough to do.”

While she was speaking, the Princess was leading Nadia through the
rooms which had always been hers, and she now pointed out the little
changes and improvements she had made in view of the girl’s return.

“How good you are to me, Marraine!” said Nadia, gratefully.

“Would you have me cruel to you, my poor child? Now, come,” and she
sat down in the arm-chair--“come and tell me all about your troubles.”

“Oh, Marraine!” cried Nadia, throwing herself on the ground and
burying her face in her godmother’s dress, “I have given up everything
because it was right to do it, and I cannot even learn to forgive!”

“Not _even_ forgive? But that is often the hardest thing of all to do.
Tell me about it, my child,” repeated the Princess, and Nadia poured
forth the story of her first meeting with Caerleon, of his kindness to
her, and of the way in which each had learnt to love the other; then
his sudden acceptance of the kingdom, with all the changes it had
brought in its train; his repeated appeal to her to share his throne,
the intrigues by means of which Scythia had sought to gain ascendancy
over him through her, her journey to Bellaviste to warn him of the
plot against his life, and her resolute but ignominious departure.

“I gave him up because it was right to do it, Marraine,” she said;
“and not only am I miserable myself, but I have made him miserable.”

“Was it right?” asked the Princess, quietly.

“Oh yes, Marraine, of course,--at least I knew it must be right
because it was so hard to do.”

“Is that the way in which you test your duties, my child? It is a wise
plan in many cases, but sometimes dangerous--for instance, if you
begin to regard ‘difficult’ as synonymous with ‘right.’ You are told
to ‘endure hardness as a good soldier,’ but never to follow hardness
as an aim in itself. It is Christ you are to follow. What would you
think of a soldier who chose to live out in the snow rather than in
the barracks provided for him? Would he make himself a better soldier
by ruining his health and risking his life in such a way?”

“No, but----” the idea was too novel for Nadia to grasp it at once in
its entirety.

“And think what it is that you have been accepting as right,” the
Princess went on, with sudden passion. “You tell the man who has
assured you that he loves you alone in the world that if he desires to
please you he must marry another woman. This may be self-sacrifice, my
child, but it is certainly sin.”

“But the kingdom--the people----” gasped Nadia, confounded.

“Was the King to sin for the sake of his kingdom? Could you not have
parted from him for a time, if it was necessary, each assured of the
other’s love, and content to wait--all your lives, perhaps--in case a
way might possibly be opened for you? It may be that in taking your
own path you have missed the training God meant for you.”

“But the uncertainty would have been so dreadful. Surely it was better
to end it at once,” urged Nadia.

“Better? to you, perhaps. But what of this poor Carlino? Had you no
misgivings, my child?”

“None at all, at first. When Carlino told me at Witska that he had
accepted the crown, I had been wondering just before whether I had
done right in urging him to take it, and while he was speaking I saw
quite suddenly what I must do. Since I had goaded him into becoming
king--I really did, Marraine; I said dreadful things to him--this was
my punishment, that the kingdom should come between him and me. There
was no question about my duty.”

“But why punish the poor Carlino?” asked the Princess.

“I don’t know, Marraine--because I could not do my duty without
punishing him, I suppose. I am afraid I didn’t think of that--I was so
unhappy, and yet I never doubted that I was right. And then, when Lord
Cyril came to speak to me about it, it was just the same. He seemed
not to have a doubt as to my refusing Carlino, but took it for granted
both that I ought to do it and that I should.”

“And you felt unwilling to disappoint Lord Cyril?” said the Princess,
with a sarcasm that came oddly from her gentle lips. “Your parents,
also, would have been disappointed, no doubt, if you had become Queen
of Thracia?”

“Oh no,” returned Nadia in surprise. “They wished it above all
things.”

“And you felt that anything that they desired was on that account
alone to be regarded with suspicion? I know that you are inclined to
be always in opposition, my child. To us of the older generation,
dissent is a sorrowful necessity; to you young reformers it is the
breath of life. You feel happier when you have found something with
which you can disagree.”

Nadia digested this unpalatable remark with what patience she might.
“Carlino has hinted something of the same kind to me,” she said, “but
I did not know that I was quite so bad as that.”

“You have never doubted the wisdom of your action, then?”

“Oh yes, often, when we were at Witska the second time. The doubts
used to torment me. And then came the offer which was brought by
Vladimir Alexandrovitch. You would not have had me accept that,
Marraine?”

“And enslave your husband’s kingdom? God forbid, my child. But you
have received a message from Carlino himself, since that time, have
you not?”

“Yes, but---- It was Lord Cyril again, Marraine. I forgot all my
doubts when he put things before me.”

“Then it was only necessary for him to take it for granted again that
you would refuse his brother, and you did?”

“Oh no, Marraine; you do not know Lord Cyril at all. This time he took
it for granted that I should give way and marry Carlino, and I could
not resist proving him a false prophet.”

“You care much less, then, for the happiness of Carlino than for the
opinion of his brother, since you prefer to disappoint your lover
rather than hear Lord Cyril say, ‘I have prophesied it’?”

“No, indeed, I have no respect for Lord Cyril’s opinion; but it is the
things he says--he has a power over me.”

“You do not love Carlino sufficiently to disregard Lord Cyril’s
sneers?”

“Marraine! I love him well enough to give him up.”

“Yes; but you are afraid to marry him lest his brother should taunt
you if anything went wrong. If you loved him better, my child, you
would have no cause to fear Lord Cyril, for his words would have no
effect upon you.”

“Then it is my own fault, after all?” said Nadia, hopelessly.
“Marraine, it seems to me that I am continually discovering things too
late. Now that my mother is dead, I see that we might have been much
more to one another, and now that Carlino will never approach me
again, I find that it was I myself, and not Lord Cyril, whom I have
been blaming in my mind, that kept us apart. I am always wrong. But
you will help me; you will show me what I ought to do.”

“But I am not sure that I should be right in keeping you with me
here,” said the Princess. “You have come home at a sad time, dear
child. We Evangelicals are suspected by all the world just now, and
the spies of the Holy Synod are watching us.”

“But suspected, Marraine? How should we be suspected, when we pray
always for the Emperor and for Scythia, and counsel patient submission
even to unjust laws?”

“Alas, my child! why did the wolf suspect the lamb? Marie Karlovna
will have told you of our late conference, and of the blessing and
support which resulted from it to many among the brethren. But such a
gathering from all parts of the empire attracted the notice of the
police, and they made a raid on the hotel in which some of the
brethren, who could not all be accommodated in the houses of the
faithful here, were staying. Strange to say, there was a band of
Oudenist conspirators lodging in the same house, and on being apprised
of the approach of the police they fled, leaving a secret
printing-press and a quantity of seditious literature concealed in one
of our friends’ rooms. Happily, our brothers were able, after some
weeks’ imprisonment, to convince the tribunal of their innocence, but
M. Tourquemadischeff and the Holy Synod considered that the object for
which they had come together was scarcely to be preferred to Oudenism.
All the churches which had taken part in the conference were censured,
and ordered to keep their members at home for the future, and all our
free evangelistic services are forbidden. We are daily expecting to
hear that Anton Gregorievitch is exiled.”

“Oh, Marraine, Count Wratisloff! But what has he done, and what shall
we do without him?”

“‘God removes His labourers, and continues His work,’” quoted the
Princess. “The pillar of our faith and our work is the living God, not
Anton Gregorievitch. You ask what he has done. He has denounced wars
of aggression and religious persecutions, he has prayed in public that
the Emperor might be granted judicious advisers, and he has devoted
his fortune to helping the poor and needy.”

“But what is he doing now?” asked Nadia. “How does he endure the
suspense?”

“He goes on with his work, one day at a time. The great evangelistic
services held at his house have come to an end, but his
Bible-readings, his visiting of the sick, both at their homes and in
the hospitals, his efforts to raise the condition of the peasantry, he
will not cease.”

“Nor have you ceased yours, Marraine, I am sure.”

“Ah, we women are not in such imminent danger, my child. But still, I
do not like to involve you in any risk. Would you care to go and stay
in the South with my sister? or I have friends in England who would be
delighted to receive you?”

“Are you suggesting that I should leave you? Never, Marraine! Let me
stay and help you as much as I can. I am not good enough for the
Bible-readings and the visiting of the hospitals, but I can be some
use to you with your accounts, and the soup-kitchen, and the
sewing-class.”

“You shall, my child; and God grant that you may be blessed and be a
blessing in your life here.”

The very next day Nadia slipped into her old place in the household,
and began her chosen work, much to the relief of the Princess, who
had, as she was wont to lament, no head for accounts, and found it
very pleasant to be released from the consideration of the innumerable
business details connected with all her charitable institutions. To
the girl herself, also, it was a delight to be able to plunge into
work once more, and she was glad to be kept busy almost all day long,
getting in supplies for the girls’ boarding-house, checking the sales
at the Bible-depot, and arranging for the despatch of necessary stores
to the hospital on her godmother’s country estate. But wherever she
went, she was always conscious of the presence and scrutiny of various
watchful, ostentatiously quiet-looking men, who were invariably to be
seen lounging in the neighbourhood of the different institutions. The
Princess’s warning had given her the clue to their appearance there.
They were the spies of M. Tourquemadischeff, the Procurator of the
Holy Synod.

Things went on quietly, however, until the evening of the second
Sunday after her arrival in Pavelsburg, when Nadia accompanied her
godmother and several other members of the household to Count
Wratisloff’s house for a Bible-reading. There were only about twenty
persons present, for although many more would have been glad to
attend, the number of the invitations had been restricted, in order to
give the police no pretext for interference. The Count had been one of
Nadia’s heroes for years, and she embraced eagerly the opportunity of
hearing him once again, for what might, as she now learned, be the
last time. The address partook of the character of a farewell, and the
speaker prefaced it by remarking that it had been intimated to him by
a high authority that he might remain in Scythia unmolested if he
would consent to discontinue his evangelistic work, but that if he
persisted in carrying it on, however quietly, his exile would follow.
The holding of this meeting was his answer to the offer, and he seized
the occasion to make a last solemn appeal to those who heard him.
Their leaders might be exiled, he said, their assemblies prohibited,
but their faith did not depend on either the one or the other. Lands
and wealth might be taken from them, but they could live, as some of
their brethren already did from choice, like the poor, and share with
them what they gained by the labour of their hands. They might be
deported to distant parts of the empire, might be sent even to
Hyperborea, the dismal region of almost perpetual night; but, if so,
it was because there was work for them to do there, even though it
were only the exhibition of a contented spirit under hardships, and
God could make even Hyperborean darkness to be light. Let them feel
assured that for every earthly good of which they were deprived, there
was a greater blessing waiting to reach them, which could not do so
unless the way were prepared for it by the removal of the worldly
delight. Was there, then, any reason for condemning the rulers of the
empire, or even the authorities of the Church which they had quitted
with so much sorrow and reluctance, but which branded them as
heretics? None; they were only instruments in the hand of God, and
could do nothing without Him. And, therefore, no resentment must be
felt towards them, for all that happened would prove to be for the
best. And even when the cloud was darkest, and no silver lining was
visible, were the sufferers never themselves to blame? Had they never
injured any one without offering redress, never refused haughtily a
proffered reconciliation, never alienated by their unsympathetic
demeanour those who would fain have been friendly? If they had, and
there were few who could say they had not, let them bear their
punishment meekly, accepting it as less than they deserved, and asking
that even out of the sad consequences of their own faults and failings
good might arise to the people of God.

The coincidence between the burden of Count Wratisloff’s address and
the words which had fallen from the Princess on the night of her
arrival struck Nadia forcibly, in spite of the difference in the
circumstances to which they applied, but the similarity did not
altogether please her. It was hard to acknowledge to herself that her
heroic conduct in refusing Caerleon had been wrong from the outset and
based upon a mistake, harder still to confess that Cyril would have
been powerless for harm if she had not given him a hold upon her by
being willing to accept his arguments as true ones. She was silent
enough during the farewells and the drive home, but when they had
arrived at the Princess’s house she hesitated to face the solitude of
her own room, and lingered with Marie Karlovna, echoing her voluble
lamentations over the approaching loss of Count Wratisloff. Leaving
her at last, and passing along the passage, she heard sobs proceeding
from a room on her left, and looking in, found the sempstress Katinka
crying as though her heart would break.

“What is the matter, Katinka? Can I do anything for you?” she asked,
gently.

“No, thank you, Nadia Mikhailovna,” sobbed the girl. “No one can help
me, for the trouble is in myself. I have an enemy whom I cannot
forgive.”

Nadia started, surprised to find a story so like her own. “Tell me
about it,” she said, sitting down beside Katinka.

“It is Anna, my husband’s sister,” responded the maid, brokenly. “I
was so happy with my Yegor, he was so kind to me; and Pauline
Vassilievna had promised to have a cottage built for us close to her
own country-house, so that I might be near her still. But Anna always
hated me, because I came from the town, and she was jealous because
Yegor was so fond of me, and because of the new house. She never
showed her enmity to me--if she had I could have guarded against
it--but she made up lies about me, and told them to Yegor. He was
passionate, and I was proud. I told him that if he could listen to
such things about me it was enough to show that he did not love me in
the least. He told me to deny them, and I would not. He went to her
for advice, and she told him even worse tales, and then he left me
without another word, and I have never seen him since. And now Anton
Gregorievitch says that I must forgive Anna, though she has ruined my
home and taken away my husband and spoilt my whole life. And I cannot
do it.”

“I am like you, Katinka,” said Nadia. “I also have an enemy whom I
cannot forgive. He spoils even my prayers.”

“But you are a great lady, Nadia Mikhailovna,” said Katinka, in
surprise. “Who can have injured you?”

“He could not have injured me if I had not allowed him--helped him to
do it,” said Nadia. “That is why I can’t forgive him, Katinka.”

“But that is like me,” said Katinka. “If I had not been too proud to
explain, Yegor would have believed me at once, I am sure. Have we both
helped our enemies by doing wrong ourselves?”

“I believe we have,” said Nadia, and both girls sat silent for a
while, Nadia in her velvet and furs beside the sempstress in her
peasant dress. At last Katinka looked up.

“I have been thinking,” she said. “After all, Anna was fond of Yegor;
she had brought him up, and kept house for him until we were married.
Perhaps I was not as kind to her as I might have been, and a great
deal of the trouble was my own fault--and I want to be forgiven
myself, Nadia Mikhailovna----”

“And so do I,” said Nadia, softly.

“Somehow,” said Katinka, “looking at it in this way, I seem to have
been worse than I thought, and Anna not so bad. It is not so hard to
forgive--I will, I can forgive her.”

“I will forgive him; I do,” said Nadia.



“Marraine,” said Nadia the next morning, “I know why you took me to
Count Wratisloff’s last night.”

“I hoped you might hear something to help you, my child,” the Princess
answered. “Is your difficulty gone?”

“If I saw Lord Cyril now,” said Nadia, slowly, little thinking that it
would not be long before she had an opportunity of proving the truth
of her words, “ill or in any trouble, I should feel so sorry for him
that I would nurse him, or do anything I could to help him. And
yesterday I am afraid I should have been glad.”

“And you are happier now, my child?”

“So happy, Marraine, that I want you to find me some other work to
do,--a class of little girls, perhaps, to teach. I don’t want to keep
my happiness to myself. I can never feel really hopeless or miserable
again.”

“Take care, dear child,” said the Princess; then, her thoughts
reverting to the Scythian translation of the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’
which she was reading, she went on, “Christian’s path to the Celestial
City was not all smooth, even after he had lost his burden. There was
the Hill Difficulty, and the fight with Apollyon, and Vanity Fair, and
Doubting Castle. And there is always oneself to fight against.”

Although Nadia, in her eagerness, was scarcely willing to listen to a
forecast that seemed to her so gloomy, there came very soon to the
Cercle Evangélique a loss such as that which parted Christian from
Faithful. The first intimation of it reached Princess Soudaroff’s
household on the Thursday morning, when, as the ladies were at
breakfast, they heard a voice inquiring for Pauline Vassilievna, and
shortly afterwards the servant announced Vladimir Alexandrovitch, and
ushered in Prince Soudaroff.

“Pray don’t let me disturb you, ladies,” he said to Nadia and Marie
Karlovna, who had risen at his entrance, after a general greeting. “My
business is not private. I come merely to bring my sister-in-law a
piece of news. Anton Gregorievitch is exiled.”

“Hyperborea?” gasped the three ladies at once.

“No, merely exiled from the empire. I suppose this will make a good
deal of difference to you?”

“If God means His work to go on, He will supply the labourers,” said
the Princess.

“But will it make no change in your plans?”

“I think not. Why should it?” The Princess was on good terms with her
brother-in-law, although they differed in their religious views. Some
years before, when her own family, fearing that she would bestow the
whole of her property in charity, had applied that it should be placed
under legal guardianship, he had been appointed her trustee, and had
dealt out her money to her ever since faithfully, if with a good deal
of mockery. Hence she was grateful to him for continuing to supply her
with an unfailing store of cash for distribution to those in need,
whereas if left to her own guardianship she would have deprived
herself in a single year of all power to give.

“Oh, there is no reason whatever,” he answered lightly. “I am afraid
that this will not be the last of the banishments, that is all. But we
all know that ladies will have their way, though empires fall. I only
wish you good people could manage to keep out of the clutches of the
Holy Synod. You ought to know by this time that we are determined to
drive out all our most industrious subjects because they are Jews, and
exile all our best because they are heretics. We mean to be orthodox
if we can’t be either prosperous or pious. Adieu, my sister.”

He was gone, and the three ladies gathered round the table again to
discuss the situation.

“We shall be obliged to make new arrangements for some of the work
to-morrow,” said the Princess. “I fear that we cannot carry on all
Count and Countess Wratisloff’s classes to-day, but we will not let
them drop if we can help it. I will do my best to prepare an address
for the Count’s navvy Bible-class this evening. The police will have
prevented him from finding any one to take his place. Then there is
the Countess’s Bible-reading at the house of blind Dmitri
Nicolaievitch. We must think of some one for that.”

“I will try, if you like, Marraine,” said Nadia, timidly. “If I find
that I am too nervous, blind Dmitri will read, I know, and at any rate
I can tell the people what has happened to Anton Gregorievitch.”

“Very well, my child. The carriage shall take you on after leaving me
at the Mission-room, and I will call for you afterwards.”

In pursuance of this arrangement, Nadia found herself that evening a
member of the little gathering of poor people who met in the blind
man’s room to hear the Bible read and explained by Countess
Wratisloff, and of whom the host was the only one that could read.
None of them had heard of the fate which had befallen the Count and
Countess, and several burst into loud lamentations when Nadia told her
story. But above the tumult the voice of blind Dmitri was heard.

“Let us lay before God the case of our father, who has been taken from
us, brothers, and of the work which he must leave undone.”

They knelt down, and Dmitri prayed long and earnestly. Before he had
come to the end of his prayer, the cottage door opened. The blind man
heard the sound, but took no notice, thinking that one of the members
of the class had come in late; but Nadia, glancing up involuntarily,
saw the glint of uniform-buttons in the lamplight. She recognised the
state of affairs at once. M. Tourquemadischeff had sent a body of
police to break up the meeting. That they remained silent so long was
due to the unconsciousness of the blind man, who continued his prayer
without perceiving their presence. The moment that he had finished, an
officer stepped forward and arrested Nadia in the Emperor’s name.
Another was taking down the names and addresses of those who were
present, and their men were searching the cottage for forbidden books,
one carrying off the huge volumes of the Bible in Moon’s type which
Princess Soudaroff had provided for Dmitri. This done, her captors
ordered Nadia to accompany them; and she obeyed as though in a dream,
while the poor people pressed round her weeping, and trying to kiss
her hands or the hem of her dress. Outside the cottage was waiting a
covered sledge which she was desired to enter, the two officials
following. After a drive which lasted for some time the sledge
stopped, and she was conducted into a small stuffy room, in which two
officers were sitting writing. They looked up with some surprise on
seeing her, but proceeded to ask her name, age, abode, religious
views, and also what she was doing in Dmitri’s house. They made no
attempt to entrap her into any admissions, for it was evident that
this was a strictly preliminary inquiry; but when it was over she
found herself relegated to a bare stone cell for the night. This hard
reality brought home to her the nature of her position. The way she
was treading led to Caucasia or Hyperborea, to separation from
friends, to association with the vilest criminals, the stigma of a
felon. But in her exalted state of mind the thought did not trouble
her, and she preferred to dwell on the remembrance of Dmitri’s prayer.
“I will trust and not be afraid,” were the words with which he had
concluded; and with these on her lips she lay down upon the rough
bench without undressing and fell asleep.

“Nadia, my dear child!” were the words that awakened her in the
morning. “Forgive me. I was warned yesterday afternoon that a raid was
intended, but I thought it would be the navvies’ class which they
would attack, and I never dreamt of their arresting you. My child, I
have been driving about all night from police-station to
police-station, and from Minister to Minister, first to find you and
then to release you. I went first of all to Vladimir Alexandrovitch,
and he accompanied me everywhere. He said that it would never do to
allow you to be sent to Hyperborea, for we should have King Carlino
invading Scythia with an Anglo-Thracian army to release you. Of course
that was only his jest; but we left no stone unturned to set you free.
I threatened to force my way into the Emperor’s presence, and lay the
matter before him; I threatened to put it into the hands of the
British Embassy--although I really don’t know whether you are a
British subject or not--Vladimir Alexandrovitch says that you
certainly are not; I threatened to stir up English public opinion
through the Evangelical Alliance. At last I succeeded in obtaining an
order for your release, and for myself--this.”

Nadia took the paper she held out. It was an official permission for
Pauline Vassilievna Soudarova to travel outside the Scythian
dominions, until the Emperor should revoke the leave thus granted.

“Oh, Marraine!” cried Nadia, sadly, “and this is all through me.
Exile!”

“Oh no, dear child. It is merely permissive, you see. Now, what shall
we do? Shall we accept the permission, and place Dr Schmidt and Marie
Karlovna in charge of all our work, leaving the house as it is, and
directing operations by letter? Or shall we disregard it, and wait
until we are arrested, and conducted to the frontier by the police,
while the institutions are all closed, and our poor people sent to
Caucasia? I want your opinion.”

“I don’t like beating a retreat, Marraine,” said Nadia, frankly, “but
if we can ensure the continuance of the work better by leaving at
once, perhaps we ought to go.”

“That was just what I thought,” said the Princess. “Now, my child, I
have a scheme. I wish to follow in the footsteps of St Paul.”

“A pilgrimage, Marraine?” asked Nadia.

“Not quite. A friend of mine has a yacht, which is lying at Cadiz, and
which he is anxious to let for the winter, and I am thinking of hiring
it. I have visited the Holy Land already, but I should like to see
Malta and Asia Minor and the Ægean. It would be most interesting;
and, from the Bosphorus, one might even visit the Black Sea, and
perhaps meet some--some old friends. I have a strong conviction that
we are not driven out of Scythia in this way for nothing--without some
good purpose.”

“Yes, Marraine,” said Nadia, sedately, as the Princess ended her
sentence rather hastily; but in her heart she knew that her godmother
was anxious to see whether there was no possibility of bringing her
and Caerleon together again. Her heart leaped at the thought, but
calmer considerations succeeded to the momentary ecstasy. Was it
likely that Caerleon would be willing to put his fate again to the
touch after two refusals? It was scarcely probable.



 CHAPTER XX.
 TAKEN BY SURPRISE.

At the Thracian capital preparations were now being made a second
time for the King’s coronation. The outer walls of the chapel of St
Peter had risen from their ashes in the courtyard of the palace, and
the decoration of the interior was almost complete; while the crown
and other regalia had been subjected to a process of renovation, and
were ready for service, though somewhat shorn of their original
splendour. Many circumstances seemed to combine to enable the ceremony
to take place under the happiest auspices. Cyril had been duly
presented to the Legislative Assembly as Caerleon’s heir after the
visit to Tatarjé, and the announcement was received with acclamation.
An income was voted him from the public funds, and the title of
Prince, already conferred informally by the people, granted him by a
royal proclamation. Even M. Drakovics was content that the succession
to the throne should thus be secured, for recent events had convinced
him effectually that the King’s marrying was out of the question. The
first steps had been taken towards putting into operation the new
liquor laws; and, although there had been a good deal of discontent in
the capital, in the country the people had grumbled and submitted.
Most important of all, the Roumi Government had at length given way
before the representations of Pannonia and her allies, and had agreed
to recognise Caerleon’s election as king, safeguarding the suzerain
rights of the Grand Signior by the stipulation that he should nominate
a special commissioner to attend the coronation and invest the new
ruler with a portion of his insignia.

“We are getting on swimmingly,” said Cyril, dropping into the
Premier’s office late in the afternoon, three or four days before the
date fixed for the ceremony. “One almost wishes that things wouldn’t
all go quite so smoothly. It makes one think of chucking one’s watch
into the river, or making some other sacrifice of that sort to avert
misfortune, like the ancients, you know. I believe my brain would give
way under the pressure if it went on much longer. When Caerleon is
safely crowned and off my hands I shall breathe freely.”

“I have reason to believe,” said M. Drakovics, “that the pro-Scythian
party are planning to strike some blow during the coronation
proceedings. All the indications seem to point to that, although we
have been unable to discover what course they intend to take. They
would scarcely try to burn the chapel a second time, but they might
use dynamite, or attempt to get up a military _coup d’état_.”

“And we must provide against those possibilities by rigorously
excluding strangers from the ceremony, and associating the Carlino
regiment with the city troops as guards,” said Cyril. “Well, we have
three days left for making preparations. I’m glad I just looked in. I
thought you would probably have something to say to me.”

“What is the King doing this afternoon?” asked M. Drakovics.

“Holding his review for the benefit of Prince Otto Georg, of course,
with General Sertchaieff in attendance. When one has a foreign Prince
to entertain, and a little army doing nothing, one may as well trot
out one to amuse the other. By the bye, I believe that I have a
crumpled rose-leaf in the fact that we can’t get away from the
Schwarzwald-Molzaus. One meets them all over Europe, and the meeting
is neither unexpected nor a pleasure.”

It may be noted, as sadly characteristic of the littleness of human
nature, that neither Caerleon nor Cyril could find a good word to say
of the Princess of Dardania. One had been deceived by her, the other
had helped her to deceive him, but they made common cause against her.

“You would not think, looking at Prince Otto Georg now, that at the
time of the Franco-Prussian war his name was in every one’s mouth,
would you?” said M. Drakovics. “He was a dashing young cavalry
officer--very young--and I remember distinctly the incident which
brought him into special notice. Our friend General Sertchaieff was, I
believe, at the German headquarters at the time, and it was he who,
when we were first compelled to seek a king, suggested, from his
recollection of the matter, that the crown should be offered to Prince
Otto Georg. The Prince was carrying despatches--for Moltke, I
think--and was taken prisoner by a small body of French cavalry. He
managed to destroy the despatches, but he had been made acquainted
with the contents, and this his captors guessed. They were too far
from their headquarters to take him there that night, and therefore
they halted in a stable, put their prisoner in the empty loft and took
away the ladder, and sat down round a fire underneath. They must have
got hold of some wine--at any rate, they went to sleep one by one, and
the fire burned low. Prince Otto Georg watched his opportunity, and
let himself drop from the entrance to the loft. He fell among the
embers of the fire, and burnt his hands badly, but he crept past the
Frenchmen to the spot where their horses were tied, unfastened them
all, and led them across the grass until they were out of hearing.
Then he mounted one, driving the rest before him for a short distance,
after which he turned them loose and rode for his life, reaching his
destination safely and delivering his message.”

“You are quite right in saying that no one would imagine it who looked
at him now,” said Cyril, as M. Drakovics rose to escort him to the
door. “By the bye, you have rather a good view of the river from this
window. What steamer is that flying Pannonian colours?”

“A Scythian trader, I fancy,” returned the Premier. “A good many of
them hoist the Pannonian flag while they are here. It prevents
unpleasantness, and we don’t ask too many questions, knowing that we
can gain nothing but benefit from their coming, even though it is
under the rose. A thriving trade with Scythia would in itself be
almost a guarantee of peace. This particular ship has just unloaded
her cargo, and leaves to-morrow.”

“Brought wheat, I suppose?”

“No; machinery for use in the arsenal. Sertchaieff has had two clerks
on the wharf for three days checking all the cases as they were
unloaded. When everything is in working order we shall be far more
independent of other nations than any of our neighbours. This is
another piece of good news for your Highness to convey to his
Majesty.”

“Yes, I think that on the whole Caerleon has about as pleasant a berth
as he could wish,” responded Cyril as he went out.

It is generally recognised that our good fortune is always much more
clearly visible to others than to ourselves, and the fact that
Caerleon himself was totally unconvinced of the advantages of his
position need not, therefore, excite any astonishment. If Cyril had
thought fit to broach in his brother’s presence his theory of the
expedience of making some sacrifice to fortune in order to avert the
perils arising from unbroken prosperity, Caerleon would have reminded
him bitterly that his separation from Nadia was quite effectual in
preventing him, at any rate, from growing intoxicated with success.
His face was gloomy enough at the present moment as he rode up to the
palace with his royal guest after the review, General Sertchaieff and
a group of officers following them at some little distance. It was a
wretched wintry afternoon, and only a German prince would have
appreciated the compliment paid him in holding a review in his honour
on such a day; but the courteous gentleman who rode beside the
taciturn King was overflowing with contentment and good humour. Prince
Otto Georg of Schwarzwald-Molzau was a gay young man of forty-five or
so, a younger son of the reigning Grand-Duke, and said by his
detractors to live on the reputation he had gained in the
Franco-Prussian war, and on anticipations of a _guerre de revanche_.
This was unkind, although it is undeniable that of late years he had
been much better known in Paris or at Monte Carlo than on the
parade-ground or the manœuvre-field; but there was a certain amount
of truth in the accusation, for he was one of the men who are content
to vegetate indefinitely unless aroused by some great stimulus. He had
come to Bellaviste to represent his father at the coronation of
Caerleon, ostensibly as a kind of _amende honorable_ for Princess
Ottilie’s heartless conduct; but as he was the brother of the Empress
of Pannonia, it was generally believed that political considerations
were not wholly unconnected with his visit. It was not, however, of
politics that he was speaking as he rode up the street at the side of
his host.

“You have the material for a fine army here,” he said; “but you want
drill, drill, organisation, organisation. Your men are too much
inclined to be independent, to act individually or in small bodies,
without waiting for orders. Here we are in Europe--we do not, as in
semi-savage warfare, need scouts, men of initiative. The ideal
European army is absolutely a machine, without any thought or volition
of its own, merely what is communicated to it by its head. If the
different items forming that army once begin to try and think for
themselves, whether in seeking cover or in making an advance, all is
lost. Their only concern is to obey orders, and their commander’s
business is to obtain the victory. It is even more humane for the
leader to be untrammelled, when he is once in action, by
considerations as to the lives of his men, and so on, for he has
planned his movements with the view of attaining a certain end with
the minimum of loss, and they must be carried out exactly if he is to
win. The better an army, the more completely is its will merged in
that of its leader--that is to say, the more thoroughly is it drilled
into a machine. Your men are more like Cossacks, or irregular levies,
at any rate, than thoroughly trained soldiers. It is easy to see that
your army has been drilled by Scythians, not by Germans.”

“You will hurt General Sertchaieff’s feelings severely if you tell him
that,” said Caerleon, glancing back at the War Minister. “I believe we
flatter ourselves that we are in a very high state of military
efficiency.”

Prince Otto Georg laughed silently. “Your _corps d’élite_ amuses me,”
he said; “your city guard, I mean, and that portion of it especially
which you call the palace guard. The uniforms of these gentlemen are
so magnificent, and their drill is so lamentable--to a German eye, at
least. They are beautiful to behold, but a much smaller number of good
soldiers, or even of your Carlinos, would scatter them with the
greatest ease. By the bye, is it true that you discovered a Scythian
plot among the palace guard which led to the degradation of an
officer?”

“Not exactly,” said Caerleon, “although we seem to have been
victimised very ingeniously by the officer you mean. He presented
himself here as having thrown up a post in the Scythian army for the
purpose of joining us, and we gave him a commission. About a month ago
we were warned of a plot, which contemplated murdering me, among other
laudable objects, and to our surprise, for we had not heard anything
to connect him with it, this man disappeared promptly. We have never
succeeded in catching him, and all we could do was to outlaw him and
strike his name off the roll with ignominy.”

“You leave too much power and responsibility in the hands of these
guards of yours,” said Prince Otto Georg, abruptly. “They will grow to
think themselves supreme in the State.”

“We are doing our best to reduce their privileges gradually,” replied
Caerleon. “They have behaved extremely well so far, on the whole, and
we have no excuse for heroic measures.”

“Nevertheless, you would find such a measure your best policy, if I
may venture to advise you,” said the Prince. “I could almost envy you
the task of bringing your army into shape. It might turn out little
less exciting than actual war.”

“Perhaps you would like the privilege of doing it?” suggested
Caerleon. “But I forgot, you have declined it already. If you have no
objection to telling me, I should very much like to hear why you
refused the Thracian crown when it was offered you?”

“To tell the truth,” replied the Prince, confidentially, “it was
because I thought that I should find Thracia dull. Drakovics imagined
that I was afraid to accept the offer, and I was afraid--that I should
be bored. You see, it was not likely that my election would excite the
opposition yours has done, for I had the Schwarzwald-Molzau influence
behind me from the first. But under present circumstances, I must own,
the position looks more hopeful. You have the army to reform, and also
Drakovics to conquer. I see you are beginning to teach him that the
State is not Drakovics, but he has not fully learnt the lesson even
yet. Yes, I think that, on the whole, the situation is distinctly
interesting.”

“I am glad that it strikes you in that light,” said Caerleon. “I
suppose I am not up to the work.”

“What! you are not thinking of abdicating?” asked the Prince, in
dismay.

“Abdicating? No! Now that I’m here I’ll stick to the place. The
kingdom has cost me enough already, but I’ll stay on until I’m driven
out, and try the temperance experiment properly, in spite of
obstructionists and rioters.”

“You take things too seriously, my dear fellow,” said the older man
compassionately. “Look at me. I live quietly, I am not devoted to
philanthropy, or any other form of excitement. I recognise that these
are days for management, not for despotism. If a wave of excitement of
any kind should arise, it might carry me with it, though not by my own
choice. Similarly, I might find it necessary, were I in your position,
to issue a decree, and enforce its fulfilment, but I should much
prefer to flatter the people into originating it themselves. But you
young men must always plunge into things so madly. You will have
prompt obedience, unreasoning submission instantly. You have not
learned to take things easily.”

“I am afraid I have an invincible prejudice in favour of wearing out
rather than rusting out,” said Caerleon; “and I think,” he added, with
a quiet smile, “that your own early history would be on my side,
Prince, if I called it as a witness against you.”

Prince Otto Georg smiled, much gratified by the compliment, and the
atmosphere at the palace that evening was extremely agreeable. A State
banquet had been held the night before in honour of the guest, but
to-day, at Prince Otto’s special request, General Sertchaieff had been
invited to join the royal party informally, since he wished to have
some conversation with him on the subject of the Franco-Prussian war.
The War Minister was highly flattered by this mark of favour, and he
exchanged reminiscences at great length with the Prince, which he was
well qualified to do, having gone through the war attached, as a great
favour, to the staff of one of the German princes. After such an
opening, it was not remarkable that the tone of the conversation
continued to be extremely warlike, and became even undesirably
technical in character, to the unmilitary auditor, when it turned on
modern weapons and projectiles. This was in the smoking-room after
dinner, and although Caerleon was quite content to allow the two
visitors to discuss velocities and electric-firing apparatus together,
Cyril objected to being left out in the cold, and after several
valiant attempts succeeded at last in bringing the talk round to the
comparatively simple theme of the use of the revolver in warfare. The
two experts rose to the bait, and displayed as much enthusiasm with
regard to the mechanism and weight of various types of revolvers as to
those of the machine-gun, and Cyril, who flattered himself that he
knew something about revolvers, was able to take part in the
conversation.

“I wish I could show you what I mean,” he said at last, after an
animated discussion of various knotty points, “but we can’t try
pistol-practice in this room, for fear of breaking something.” They
were not in the sacred “den” which Caerleon had established in an
out-of-the-way upper room, but in what might be called the State
smoking-room, which had been furnished in gorgeous Moorish style by
the late king. “Caerleon has a revolver of the kind I was describing,
and I believe it’s out and out the best.”

“Let us send for it, if the Prince would like to see it,” said
Caerleon.

“I’ll get it,” said Cyril, “if you’ll give me your keys. I’ll get mine
too. It’s a newer make, but I’m sure it’s not so good.”

He returned in a few minutes with both weapons, and explained their
action to the guests, General Sertchaieff showing special interest in
the subject, and examining the mechanism over and over again. Indeed,
it appeared almost that he had looked at it too long for his peace of
mind, for just before taking his leave, after arranging that the
Prince should visit the arsenal in a day or two with Caerleon, in
order to inspect the new machinery, which would then be unpacked, he
might have been observed to slip Cyril’s revolver into his own pocket,
and take it away with him. Cyril did not happen to remember to look
for it when he went to bed, and the loss was therefore not discovered.
Prince Otto Georg was duly escorted to the rooms he occupied in the
front of the palace, Caerleon and Cyril betook themselves to theirs in
the southern wing, and silence settled down upon the building.

Cyril had been asleep for some time when he was awakened by a low,
hurried tapping at his door. Sitting up in bed, he called to the
intruder to come in, wondering sleepily why the sentry in the passage
could not keep people from knocking him up in the middle of the night.
To his astonishment it was Wright who entered, closing the door
carefully behind him, and striking a match on his clothes as he
advanced.

“How dare you come here like this, Wright?” demanded Cyril, angrily.
“You must be drunk.” Wright took no notice of the accusation, but lit
a candle, and placed it in such a position that the mirror came
between it and the window.

“No, my lord,” arresting Cyril’s hand as he was about to turn on the
electric light, “don’t show no more light, if you vally your life.
I’ve been down at the stables, my lord, lookin’ to ’is Majesty’s
charger, as was ’urt to-day by the General’s ’orse knockin’ up agin
’im, and when I come back to the ’ouse, I see as things ain’t right.
Do your lordship know as there ain’t a single sentry anywheres about?
I come all the way up ’ere without meetin’ one, nor a servant neither,
right from the door I come in at.”

“Good gracious!” cried Cyril, “there must be something wrong. Can the
guards have deserted in a lump?”

“Well, my lord,” said Wright, “they may be all a-sleepin’ quiet in
their beds, or they mayn’t.”

“We must go down and rout them out,” said Cyril, getting out of bed.
“You go in by this door, Wright, and wake the King, while I get some
clothes on.”

Almost the first thought that now occurred to Cyril’s mind was the
recollection of his revolver, but when he looked for it in vain in its
accustomed place, he remembered that he must have left it down-stairs.

“I must go and hunt it up,” he said to himself, as he hurried into his
clothes. “Caerleon has got his, at any rate. I remember now that he
was carrying it.”

But while the words were in his mouth, Caerleon came in hastily in his
shirt-sleeves, with his revolver in his hand.

“Who has been tampering with this, Cyril?” he asked, sharply. “Some
one has given it a wrench, and the trigger won’t work.”

“There’s something fishy about all these mysterious occurrences,” said
Cyril. “Does it strike you that our guns are at the other end of the
house, and that we have no other weapons here?”

“If you ask me, my lords,” said Wright, impressively, “I think there’s
foul play.”

“Stuff!” said Caerleon. “Don’t croak until you’re told, Wright. If we
can’t find any weapons, we must get hold of something that will do
instead--not that I think there’s any danger, but it’s as well to be
on the safe side.”

“Of course,” said Cyril, “the guards _may_ have all struck work at
once, and be enjoying sweet repose in their quarters, but the
coincidence about the revolvers is suspicious.”

“I have it!” cried Caerleon. “There are our dress-swords, which will
be better than nothing. Put on a coat or something, Cyril, while I get
them out, and don’t stand there shivering.”

He went back to his room, and returned with his own sword, while
Wright unearthed Cyril’s; and armed with these elaborate if not
particularly dependable instruments of warfare, they prepared to start
on their voyage of discovery.

“Haven’t you got a weapon of any sort, Wright?” asked Caerleon of the
groom.

“Buckle, your Majesty,” returned Wright, unfastening the strap round
his waist. “’E ain’t bad at a pinch.”

Thus unsatisfactorily accoutred, they set out along the corridor. The
electric light was burning brightly, but, as Wright had said, there
was not a human being to be seen. It felt almost uncanny to be
marching noiselessly over the thick carpets, in the blaze of light,
without hearing a sound or uttering a word, and Cyril and Wright
caught themselves glancing apprehensively at the open doors of dark
rooms and at the heavy folds of _portières_. As for Caerleon, he was
far too much incensed against the guards on account of what he
conceived to be their dereliction of duty to have any thought of
supernatural terrors, or even of the more palpable danger of a
possible enemy lurking to intercept him. His intention was to go
straight to the guard-room and give the guards a thorough fright,
which would teach them not to confide too trustfully in their
sovereign’s drowsiness on another occasion. The head of the great
staircase was reached without encountering any further suspicious
circumstances; but Wright, looking out into the courtyard from a
window, pointed out to Cyril in a whisper that there were no lights
visible there. They began to descend the stairs, and as they did so,
there was a sound of footsteps in the hall beneath, and several men
appeared from the direction of the entrance. Both parties caught sight
of each other at the same moment, and halted suddenly, Caerleon,
Cyril, and Wright half-way between the head of the stair and the
landing in the middle, the others on the lowest step. They were
General Sertchaieff, Louis O’Malachy, and half-a-dozen stalwart
troopers of the palace guard. For a moment astonishment kept every one
silent, then Caerleon recovered himself.

“May I ask the meaning of this, General? What brings you to the palace
at this hour, in the company of a man who is a traitor and a spy?”

“Milord Caerleon,” returned the War Minister, “I am deputed by the
National Convention to inform you that Thracia has returned to her
true allegiance. The city is in the hands of the patriotic supporters
of the exiled King, and you might well expect that no mercy would be
shown you. Our gracious monarch, however, abhors bloodshed, even in
the case of an adventurer whose usurpation began in fraud, and has
been maintained by means of force and treachery, and it has been
decided, in accordance with his expressed wish, to spare your life on
condition of your abdicating and leaving the country instantly.”

“And you are the person to bring me this message?” said Caerleon. “I
hope I am to understand that you have been compelled to do so by
force?”

“Milord,” said General Sertchaieff, “your question touches my honour.
I am acting of my own free will as the agent of my rightful sovereign,
King Peter II.”

“X.!” cried Cyril. “What fools we have been!” But the veins on
Caerleon’s forehead were swelling, and there was a dangerous glitter
in his eye.

“Then you are a perjured traitor,” was his answer to General
Sertchaieff. “As for abdicating, I’ll do nothing of the sort, and I’ll
leave the country just as soon as you can get me out of it, and not
before.”

“Come on, you bloomin’ cowards!” yelled Wright, the joy of battle
carrying him away. “We ain’t afraid of yer! Eight men don’t dare fight
three. Yah!”

The long-drawn contempt infused into the last monosyllable appeared to
stimulate the courage of the attacking party, and they made a rush up
the steps and threw themselves upon the defenders, who were much
embarrassed by the extent of their position, for the staircase was a
very wide one. Cyril singled out General Sertchaieff as his opponent,
and if any one had found time to watch them, a very pretty display of
swordsmanship might have been seen. Louis O’Malachy had not mounted
the stairs with the rest of his party, but had disappeared, apparently
to summon further assistance, and the soldiers left their leader to
account for Cyril, and devoted their attention to Caerleon. He found
himself hard put to it to maintain his position against them, although
Wright, using as a buckler a chair which he had caught up on the
landing, rendered him yeoman service by dealing fierce and disabling
blows with his belt on the heads and wrists of the opposing swordsmen.
All too soon Caerleon’s untrustworthy blade broke off in his hand, and
he was left to repel his assailants with the remaining half, but their
shout of triumph distracted the attention of General Sertchaieff, who
glanced aside for a moment, and in that moment Cyril ran him through
the arm and obliged him to drop his sword. Wright whisked up the sword
immediately, and thrust it into Caerleon’s hand before any of the
enemy could prevent him, and the fight was now of a more equal
character, since General Sertchaieff was forced to retire disabled. He
retreated no further than the half-way landing, however, and taking
out his revolver, began to fire and load again as fast as he could
with his left hand.

“If he’s going to pot at us one by one, we’re done for!” gasped Cyril.

“If he shoots no better than this, we’re all right,” returned
Caerleon, breathlessly, and the fight went on in silence until a
sudden exclamation of rage from Cyril showed the King his brother’s
sword shivered at his feet. At the same moment a heavy blow from
behind threw him forward among the enemy, and a howl of fury from
Wright proclaimed that an attack in the rear had proved successful.
When Caerleon recovered his scattered senses, he found himself held
down by four men, while Cyril and Wright were in a like predicament.
Under cover of the noise made by General Sertchaieff’s pistol
practice, Louis O’Malachy had led a party round and captured the
position from behind.

“I think your lordship will now see that it is expedient to submit
without further resistance,” said General Sertchaieff smoothly, as he
tied a handkerchief round his wounded arm. Caerleon made no answer,
for he had caught Wright’s eye, and seen his free hand stealing
towards the ankle of one of the men who held him, and in another
instant two of the captors had gone down with a crash, and Caerleon
was on his feet and hitting out furiously, while Wright made herculean
but unavailing efforts to join him. But the struggle was hopeless from
the first, for Caerleon could not even get his back against the wall,
and he was dragged down by sheer weight of numbers, and bound firmly
with the tasselled cord torn from a curtain.

“I don’t think you will get that undone,” said Louis, bending over him
and testing the knots, then, with that tendency towards the theatrical
which besets a certain class of Irishmen in moments of excitement, he
kicked him heavily, adding, “That is for my sister.”

“Nasty coward!” growled Wright. “’It a man when ’e’s down that you
don’t dare touch when ’e’s up, and bring in a young lady’s name about
it, you precious blackguard, do!”

“Captain O’Malachy,” interrupted General Sertchaieff, as Louis
advanced threateningly towards his unconquerable assailant, “if you
will be so good as to take three men and secure the person of the
Prince of Schwarzwald-Molzau, I will wait here with the prisoners for
your return.”

Louis departed instantly, to return before long with a laugh.

“No fighting there. He accepts the situation with great philosophy,”
he said, and Caerleon felt oddly disappointed. Something had given him
the idea that he might reckon on Prince Otto Georg for support at this
crisis.

“Your presence is now required down-stairs, milord,” said General
Sertchaieff. “If you will give yourself the trouble of walking, it
will be as well; otherwise we must take you.”

Choosing the less of the two evils, Caerleon allowed himself to be
dragged to his feet and conducted down the stairs to his study by his
captors, wondering vaguely whether a scaffold and a block would meet
his eyes on entering. Nothing of the kind was visible, however,
although the room was crowded with people--officers of the palace and
city guards mostly, with a sprinkling of civilians, principally
officials connected with the Ministry of War, and a number of men of
foreign appearance, who were evidently exiles returned from Scythia.
On the writing-table lay a document, which General Sertchaieff
presented to Caerleon as a formal deed of abdication, and demanded his
signature.

“I thought you had done with that foolery,” said Caerleon. “I have
told you already that I won’t abdicate.”

“Milord,” said the War Minister, impressively, “we are anxious not to
shed blood, but we are not men to be trifled with; and if you refuse
to sign the paper, Captain O’Malachy has his orders.”

“Sign under compulsion,” whispered Cyril. “I can bear witness that you
were forced by threats to do it, and it can’t stand.”

“Shut up, Cyril!” said Caerleon, gruffly. “Have you unlimited time to
waste, General?”

“At least consider your brother and your servant, who must suffer with
you if you remain obstinate, instead of returning in safety to
England,” said General Sertchaieff.

“If ’is Majesty will say anything to get me my ’ands free for a
moment, fust thing I do, I’ll give you one in the eye,” said Wright,
ferociously.

“We are to understand, then, milord, that you refuse finally to sign
the deed?” asked the General.

“I do refuse,” said Caerleon, “and if there is one man here, of all
those who have taken oaths of allegiance to me and have eaten my
bread, who has one spark of honesty left in him, I hope he will let it
be known that I preferred death to abdication.”

“May I ask whether you are referring to me?” demanded Louis O’Malachy.
“I have not offered to carry any messages of yours to my unhappy
sister.”

“No, I don’t think you ever had a spark of honesty in you,” returned
Caerleon. “And as for your sister, to send a message to her through
you would be to insult her.”

“Captain O’Malachy, you will conduct the prisoners to the river-bank,
and follow the directions you have received,” said General
Sertchaieff.

Caerleon drew a long breath. To be led out, and shot like a dog! But
his stubborn English pride came to his aid. Show any sign of flinching
before these Scythian spies and Thracian traitors? Never! and he
squared his shoulders and held his head erect as he was led out of the
room. On the threshold a thought struck him, and he paused to say--

“I do not know whether this rebellion is to be conducted according to
the usages of civilised nations in time of war, but in any case I
entreat you, for the honour of Thracia, to allow Prince Otto Georg of
Schwarzwald-Molzau to return unharmed to his own country. He came here
merely as my guest, and has taken no part in Thracian politics.”

“Make your mind easy, milord,” said a tall man, with a strong likeness
to General Sertchaieff, who stood among the returned exiles. “As the
representative of my gracious sovereign, I can assure you that the
King of Thracia does not make war on non-combatants.”

Caerleon bowed his head in acknowledgment of the reply, and followed
his guards. They passed through the courtyard, where the first snow
lay on the ground, new-fallen, then out through the gardens. A few
steps further brought them to the batteries on the river-face of the
town, and they were ordered to enter the lift by which shells and
ammunition were raised from the shore. The descent accomplished, they
came out on the bank of the river, where a boat was lying, manned by
two sailors whom Louis addressed in Scythian. The prisoners were
thrust in without ceremony, the soldiers took their places, and the
boat was pushed off from the shore.

“Caerleon,” said Cyril, in a low voice, “I’m sorry I’ve brought you to
this, old man. If I had had the sense to see through that blackguard
O’Malachy, it wouldn’t have happened.”

“Oh, don’t go and blame yourself,” said Caerleon, hastily. “It’s just
as much my fault. Wright, I wish you were not obliged to lie just on
my chest. No, don’t wriggle, that’s worse.”

“Silence, dogs!” said one of the soldiers, angrily, and the boatmen
rowed steadily on until they reached the Scythian steamer which had
attracted Cyril’s notice that afternoon. The prisoners were dragged up
the ladder, and placed in a row on the deck.

“You have one more chance,” said Louis O’Malachy to Caerleon. “Will
you sign?”

“No,” returned Caerleon, doggedly.

“Then I must carry out my orders. Your fate is on your own head.”



 CHAPTER XXI.
 A REVOLT OR A REVOLUTION?

While Caerleon and his two companions were lying bound on the grand
staircase of the palace, under the charge of General Sertchaieff,
Prince Otto Georg was aroused from sleep by a sudden incursion of
armed men into his room. Sitting up, he blinked curiously at them as
their leader turned on the electric light and came to his bedside.

“It is my duty to inform your Highness that you are my prisoner,” were
the words which met his ears, and which were emphasised by the casual
display of a revolver in the hand of the speaker.

“I do not think,” said the Prince, with extreme mildness, fumbling the
while mechanically but unsuccessfully for his eyeglass, “that I have
the pleasure of recognising your face, sir. When were you presented to
me?”

“My name is O’Malachy,” returned the intruder, “and I am a captain in
the army of King Peter II. of Thracia. It is unfortunate that your
Highness’s visit to Bellaviste should chance to coincide with a slight
readjustment of affairs here--the restoration of the rightful
sovereign, and the overthrow of the tyranny under which the country
has groaned for so long.”

“I assure you that I fully perceive my presence to be _de trop_ in
these painful domestic circumstances,” said the Prince.

“Pray do not imagine for a moment that your Highness will be put to
any inconvenience. You are the guest of King Peter instead of the
usurper Carlino, that is all. I regret that I am obliged, merely as a
matter of form, to post a sentry, by General Sertchaieff’s directions,
in the corridor outside your door, with orders to fire if you attempt
to leave your room.”

“In that case, you may be sure that I will not trouble the sentry,”
said Prince Otto Georg, blandly. “But before I wish you good-night,
Herr Captain, perhaps you will kindly enlighten me on one point. What
of King Carlino? Did I understand you to say that he had abdicated the
throne?”

“The propriety of doing so has not yet been represented to him,”
returned Louis, “but there can be little doubt that he will find it
advisable to yield quietly. A pistol at the head, Highness, is
occasionally a powerful persuasive.”

“Thanks; I will not detain you longer,” and the Prince waved his hand
politely, and laid his head on the pillow again. “If I know anything
of my young friend Carlino, he will choose the pistol,” he mused, as
Louis and his men left the room, and the former locked the door on the
outside. For a moment the prisoner lay listening, while the sentry
began his measured tramp up and down the corridor, then he sat up
suddenly.

“Let me think,” he said to himself. “There may yet be a chance of
doing something. For these plotters, there are two points of attack,
Carlino and Drakovics. Both men must be in their hands to give them
any hope of success. Now it is scarcely likely that their numbers are
sufficient to allow them to seize both at once--that is, to obtain the
mastery of the palace and the town at one blow. Which will they
attempt to capture first? Drakovics is the most important--Carlino is
a figurehead, comparatively speaking--but still, I think this is one
of the cases in which the natural foolishness of mankind may safely be
considered as a factor. The seizure of Carlino would appear a greater
success at first--and it would give them the command of the palace,
which they could defend against the town, while the town could not
long hold out against a foe in possession of the palace. They have,
then, concentrated their strength on the palace in order to make a
prisoner of the King, and while they are doing their best to induce
him to abdicate, it may yet be possible to warn Drakovics.”

Prince Otto Georg was out of bed now, and dressing in the dark with
the speed and silence of an old campaigner. Hurrying into his boots
and a fur-lined coat, he went to the window, drew up the blind
noiselessly, and looked out.

“Snow!” he said. “So far, so good.”

He returned and took one of the sheets from the bed, then, with the
utmost care, opened the window, which was fortunately a casement, and
moved easily. As has been already mentioned, the room was in the front
of the palace, and the window opened directly two or three feet above
the great porch. Here Prince Otto had noticed the day before a hinged
iron ladder, folded up and concealed by the coping from the view of
any one below, but ready in case of fire. He climbed out upon the
leaden roof of the porch and looked round. No light shone from any of
the windows on this side of the building, and the great door was fast
shut. The conspirators had made their entrance through the courtyard
from the back, and the sentries who kept guard in front of the palace
on ordinary occasions had forsaken their posts like the rest, while it
had not occurred to Louis to place any others. There was not a soul to
be seen. Prince Otto Georg drew out and unfolded the ladder, let it
down over the side of the porch, and fastening it firmly at the top by
the hooks attached to it, descended it in safety. It was impossible to
remove it when he had reached the ground, and he could only hope that,
as the side of the porch was in deep shadow, it might escape the
notice of any one who might chance to come out at the front door.

“And now,” he said to himself, wrapping the sheet round him, “one may
as well take every precaution, painful as it would be to be discovered
in this costume. To think of my giving myself all this trouble for the
sake of a man I saw for the first time the day before yesterday!”

Gathering up the ends of the sheet, he walked cautiously across the
garden, indistinguishable among the whitened shrubs to any one looking
out of the windows of the palace. But on arriving at the wall he found
his further progress impeded, for there was a sentry on guard at the
gate, and another at the corner overlooking the town. Prince Otto
groaned mentally, but there was no help for it. Choosing a spot as
remote as possible from both sentries, he climbed the wall by the aid
of a tree which grew beside it, and threw his fur-lined coat over into
the road. This done, he let himself drop from the branches, with
considerably less agility and confidence in his own powers than he had
felt at the time of his former exploit of the kind, but with happier
results, for the coat broke his fall, and he rose unhurt, and after
creeping a short distance in the shadow of the wall, turned down a
side-street, and made the best of his way to M. Drakovics’s house. In
spite of the highly logical reasoning with which he had started on his
journey, he felt a good deal of misgiving as to whether he had been
justified in calculating so confidently on human folly; and it was
with unfeigned joy that on coming round the corner of the house he
caught sight of the Premier standing at a window with a light behind
him, and looking out at the river. To attract his attention was the
work of a moment, and in obedience to the call M. Drakovics, in
extreme astonishment, hastened to admit his visitor by a side-door.
There was no time for lengthy explanations.

“There is a plot to depose the King and restore the house of Franza,
headed by General Sertchaieff and Captain O’Malachy. They have seized
the palace, and the King is in their hands. By the uniforms of the men
whom I saw, I believe that both the palace and the city guard are
implicated.”

After the first exclamation of surprise, M. Drakovics remained silent,
passing his hand thoughtfully over his chin, until the Prince had
finished speaking.

“When your Highness arrived, I was watching the Scythian steamer in
the river,” he said. “Boats have been going to and fro between her and
the quay all evening, and it struck me that something was wrong. No
doubt they were bringing arms on shore.”

“What do you intend to do?” asked Prince Otto Georg, interrupting his
meditation impatiently. “Have you men enough whom you can trust to
defend this house, or the Hôtel de Ville?”

“The police are staunch,” returned M. Drakovics; “but to oppose them
to the city guard would be simply massacre. There are not enough of
them. No! Is your Highness prepared for flight? To reach the Carlino
barracks is our only hope.”

“If you think we can do more good there, I am ready to go,” said the
Prince. “But what about the city, and your adherents?”

“The conspirators will not injure the city, since they must be
reckoning upon the townspeople as their chief support,” said M.
Drakovics; “and if your Highness will wait for one instant, I will do
what I can to warn the most prominent among the Carlinists.”

He turned aside to a speaking-tube, and after the preliminary whistle,
began to converse with some person apparently at the other end of the
house.

“A band of traitors have formed a plot to restore the Franza dynasty.
They are in possession of the palace and of the King’s person, and
will be here in a few minutes. Listen carefully to what I say. You
will offer no resistance. No, I do not want your comments; listen. You
will say that I am spending the night out of town. If you are further
questioned, I trust to your ingenuity to account for my absence.
Telephone now at once to the bureaus of all the other Ministers,
except the Ministry of War, that the situation is to be accepted until
I send word to the contrary. If the Sertchaieffs turn you out of your
offices, submit; if not, go on as usual. Of course you will take no
oath to Peter Franza, on pain of being dealt with as traitors when I
return. Keep me informed at the Carlino barracks of anything you may
discover with regard to the extent and progress of the conspiracy. You
understand?”

The invisible auditor apparently answered that he did, for M.
Drakovics replaced the plug in the mouth of the tube, and turned to
Prince Otto Georg.

“I am sorry to have kept your Highness waiting so long. If you will
come this way, we shall find my boat in its shed.”

They hurried down the garden to the river, and got out the boat. M.
Drakovics, who was well accustomed to the water, took possession of
both oars, remarking drily that there was no time to waste in giving
rowing lessons just then. Prince Otto Georg pushed the boat off, and
they began to drop down with the current, keeping in the shade of the
bank. Presently M. Drakovics uttered a stifled exclamation, and the
Prince, glancing over his shoulder, saw that the Scythian steamer had
left her moorings, and was also dropping down the stream. It was not
long before she passed them, the wash caused by her screw making the
boat rock.

“If only we could intercept her under the barracks!” sighed the
Premier. “But she is much more likely to intercept us. If they
discover that I have escaped by water they will signal to her from the
palace, and she will pick us up. We will row only as far as the
outskirts of the city, and then walk to the barracks.”

This programme was carried out, rather to the relief of Prince Otto
Georg, who was more at home on land than in a boat. A brisk walk of
two miles, uninterrupted by any exciting incidents, brought them to
the barracks, where they were duly challenged by a sentry, rescued by
the guard, and conducted into the presence of the hastily aroused and
arrayed commandant. M. Drakovics detailed what had happened, and the
acting colonel, in response to his suggestion, immediately alarmed his
force, and gave orders to prepare the place for defence in case of an
attack from the town. This done, an informal council of war was
called, composed of the chief officers of the regiment, Prince Otto,
and the Premier.

“First of all, Colonel, are your men to be trusted?” asked M.
Drakovics.

“They are devoted heart and soul to King Carlino,” was the soldier’s
reply. “The news you brought has put them into a perfect frenzy.”

“Good,” said M. Drakovics. “I wonder whether the same can be said of
the garrisons in the provinces? Perhaps you will have the goodness to
telegraph inquiries to the fortresses with which you are in
communication, Colonel?”

A young officer left the room to carry out the order, but returned
with the news that no communication could be established with any
other station.

“I thought so,” said M. Drakovics. “They have cut the telegraph wires.
This plot is a larger thing than we anticipated, gentlemen. Be so good
as to have a horse and a mounted escort prepared for me, Colonel. I
must start before morning to rouse the country.”

“Pardon me,” interrupted Prince Otto Georg. “May I inquire whether you
have any guns here, Colonel, that will carry as far as the town?”

“Alas, no!” replied the Colonel. “Our guns are very old-fashioned, and
useful only for firing salutes. His Excellency the Premier will
remember that there was some question lately of erecting regular
fortifications upon this hill, and quartering a battery of garrison
artillery here, but that the Minister for War opposed the suggestion
on the ground of the shock such a proceeding would give to the
susceptibilities of the people of Bellaviste.”

“I remember,” said M. Drakovics, curtly. “But what was your Highness’s
idea?”

“It struck me that the threat of shelling the town might enable us to
secure the King’s being given up to us unhurt,” said the Prince.

“Ah, General Sertchaieff knows our resources too well for that. But I
very much fear that we may even now be too late to save the King.”

“What!” was the general cry. “You cannot imagine----”

“I do not for a moment believe that he will consent to abdicate, and I
fear they will not keep him a prisoner, lest the Thracians should
rally to release him.”

“But as a hostage for themselves in case of defeat?”

“They do not mean to be defeated. They are fighting with ropes round
their necks, and to murder the King would be a plain declaration that
they had left themselves no way of escape. They are well supported,
but they know that there is no help for them if they fail.”

“Then you think that this conspiracy is incited by Scythia?”

“Not openly, of course. Scythia’s opportunity will come later, when
she can throw troops into the country under pretext of curing
disorder. No; she has merely allowed fugitives from us to take refuge
and hatch their plots upon her soil, and there may possibly be a few
retired Scythian officers who have returned with them. But Scythia has
not authorised them to come, nor supplied them officially with money.
If they succeed, she will reap the advantage of their labours; if they
fail, she will disown them.”

“It is possible that there may be retired officers of other armies who
will take the opposite side,” said Prince Otto Georg. “Allow me, your
Excellency, to offer myself as a volunteer.”

“Your Highness is most welcome,” said the Premier. “You will not, I
trust, involve yourself in any difficulty with Germany upon our
account?”

“If the telegraph wires are cut, no remonstrance can reach me,” said
the Prince, drily.

“In that case,” said M. Drakovics, “I may give utterance to my most
earnest wish under the circumstances. I know you will agree with me,
gentlemen, that we cannot do better than invite his Serene Highness to
direct the military operations for the recovery of the capital. Our
own Commander-in-Chief has betrayed his trust, and the officer next in
seniority to him is a _protégé_ of his, the commandant of Tatarjé.
Prince Otto Georg of Schwarzwald-Molzau is the pupil of Moltke, and
has had a larger experience of war than any of us can boast. If you
concur in my suggestion, I will draw up a formal invitation to him to
take the command of the army before I start on my journey.”

The officers made no objection to the appointment, and indeed, in the
helpless condition to which they were reduced by the cutting of the
telegraph wires, and their ignorance of the state of feeling in the
other garrisons, to say nothing of the treachery of their natural
leader, they were only too glad to feel a strong hand at the helm.
Moreover, they had feared that M. Drakovics might be about to install
himself as Commander-in-Chief, and it was a relief to their minds to
obtain a soldier instead. Prince Otto Georg’s appointment was
therefore received with acclamations, and when M. Drakovics departed
on his journey, he left him firmly established in his post.

To describe in any detail the doings of the next three days would be a
task both long and dreary. As soon as it was light on the first
morning, an officer, bearing a flag of truce, was despatched to the
city to ask for an assurance of the safety of the King, but he was
fired upon from the gate, and obliged to return without gaining any
information. News on other points was, however, obtained in various
ways. In spite of the absence of telegraphic communication, Prince
Otto Georg received constant intelligence through messengers. From M.
Drakovics’s confidential clerk in Bellaviste he learned, by means of a
cipher letter carried by a fisherman, that nothing had been seen or
heard of Caerleon, but that King Peter Franza was not among the
returned exiles, having preferred to remain at Nice in trustful
quietness while his faithful subjects regained his throne for him.
General Sertchaieff’s brother, the late Premier, was, however, one of
those who had returned, and was now at the head of affairs. He had
taken possession of the Government offices, and had levied a certain
sum of money from the town--a measure which had called forth much
opposition from the people, although the city guard enforced the
payment of the impost. News arrived also from M. Drakovics. The
garrison of Feodoratz he found to be staunchly Carlinist, while that
of Tatarjé was divided, and the division was carried to such a point
that the detachment which sympathised with the house of Franza had
already set out for Bellaviste with the commandant in order to join
the insurgents. This was Prince Otto Georg’s opportunity. Posting his
men in a wood on the road by which the mutineers were expected to
arrive, he attacked them unawares as they straggled along in a
disorderly crowd, captured the field-artillery they were bringing with
them, and left only a few scattered fugitives to carry the news to
Bellaviste.

This victory proved to possess a double value for the Carlinists. Not
only did it deprive the rebels of the reinforcement they had been
anxiously expecting, but the news of the battle, spreading with
extraordinary rapidity from village to village, came in the nick of
time to secure the allegiance of the people, who were bewildered by
the sudden rush of events. The country gentlemen and their mountain
clans required no such earnest of the eventual success of the
Carlinist cause; but the bulk of the dwellers in the more settled
districts were accustomed by long tradition to side with the party in
power, and it is undoubtedly startling to retire to rest one night
knowing that you have an idolised King on the throne, and a determined
Minister exercising all the functions of government, and to find on
awaking in the morning that your King has probably been murdered, and
certainly been dethroned, while your Premier is stumping the country
for support. In such a case it was difficult for the obedient
partisans of “Government” to know exactly who the Government was, and
Prince Otto Georg’s victory came just when it was needed to quiet
their minds. He took his prizes back in triumph to the barracks, and
the whole of the next day was spent in maturing and preparing with
their aid his plan of attack on the city. At night M. Drakovics
returned from his tour of the outlying districts, bringing with him a
military contingent drawn from the faithful portion of the Tatarjé
garrison, and an irregular force of mountain chiefs and their
retainers.

“I half hoped that your Highness might have retaken the city by this
time,” he said to Prince Otto Georg.

“I never strike until I am ready,” replied the Prince, and M.
Drakovics deferred to his wider experience, nor did he, when the plan
of attack had been explained to him, regret that he had done so.

The next morning--the third after the seizure of the palace--broke
dull and hazy, a fact which Prince Otto Georg hailed with delight as
of the greatest moment to his scheme. During the two days that he had
held office he had stopped all the vessels which came up the river, so
that he had now under the guns of the barracks a miniature fleet of
small steamers and cargo-boats, from which he selected a certain
number to convey the greater portion of the artillery which he had
captured from the Tatarjé rebels. Each vessel mounted one gun, and
carried a small number of soldiers, sufficient merely to work it and
to defend the ship. Before it was light these ships were now towed up
the river in perfect silence by boats with muffled oars, and anchored
close under the batteries, the fire from which would, owing to this
precaution, pass harmlessly overhead. The batteries had been
constructed to command the deep channel in which alone warships could
anchor, and their guns were hopelessly unable to reach the small
river-steamers with their light draught of water. Secured in this way
against interference from above, the vessels opened fire on the town,
and maintained their position with ease, even beating off successfully
a boat-expedition led against them by Louis O’Malachy. Although the
effect of the firing was small, since Prince Otto Georg’s object was
to frighten rather than hurt, it was evident that the rebels regarded
the situation as serious, for they left the batteries which they had
been engaged in constructing in other parts of the town, and began to
throw one up at the end of M. Drakovics’s garden, with the intention
of rendering the position of the vessels untenable. This gave the
Prince the opportunity for which he had been waiting. He had very soon
perceived that when the rebels had effected their great _coup_, and
had telegraphed to the various European capitals the news of the
revolution (as M. Drakovics informed him had certainly been done), and
then cut the wires, they had worked themselves at least as much harm
as their opponents. If they had managed to capture M. Drakovics as
they had intended, all would have been well; but they had been baulked
in this, and he, once outside the limited zone in which the wires were
cut, had used the telegraph to call together his adherents from all
parts of the country, while they had no means either of gaining
information or of sending orders to their more distant supporters.
Disappointed of the help they had expected from Tatarjé, their action
would necessarily be partial and undecided, since they had no idea of
the extent to which their views found support outside the capital,
although it was evident that the country had not risen in their favour
as they had anticipated. It was true that they had made an attempt at
a cavalry reconnaissance the day before; but the troopers had been
driven back into the town in disorder with the help of the guns taken
from the Tatarjé contingent, and at the present moment every one was
far too much engrossed by the attack on the river-face to think about
obtaining information on the land side.

Once assured that his naval demonstration was successful, Prince Otto
Georg led the main body of his little army, together with two guns
which he had reserved for this purpose, round to the other side of the
city, remote alike from the river and the Carlino barracks. By taking
advantage of every scrap of cover afforded by the woods and rising
ground, he succeeded in performing this manœuvre without its being
perceived by the townspeople, the attention of whose leaders was
completely occupied by the attack on the river-face. Bringing his guns
into position on the edge of a wood, he formed up his men in readiness
to advance, and opened fire on the gate nearest him, following up the
first effective shot by an immediate rush forward. The small guns
mounted on the wall, and served by half-hearted townsmen, who were by
no means anxious to provoke an artillery fire which would probably
bring their houses about their ears, had little result in checking the
advance of the besiegers, and before the rebel leaders could be
recalled from their futile labours on the other side of the city, the
gate was down and the Carlinists were pouring in.

Prince Otto Georg smiled grimly as he watched the operations from a
point of vantage. “Never trust citizens to defend their town,” he
said. “They surrendered Strasburg.”

The worst of the fighting was yet to come. From house to house and
from street to street Prince Otto Georg’s soldiers made their way,
with their ranks at one moment swelled by a band of welcoming
sympathisers, at another thinned by a stream of fire from some public
building turned into a fortress, and fiercely defended by desperate
men, who had rushed from the river-face to make a last effort for
their lives. While one party of the assailants was making for the
palace, two others were gaining possession of the walls, and turning
the guns there upon the quarters where the strongest resistance was
experienced; and the Prince himself appeared to be ubiquitous, alike
in keeping up communications with the strong force he had left to hold
the gate, guarding against a flank attack by an overlooked force of
the enemy, and moderating the fierceness of the strife by proclaiming,
whenever he could get a hearing, quarter to those who were willing to
lay down their arms. After all, the bulk of the townspeople were very
glad to submit to the besiegers. The exactions of the rebels had not
endeared them to any one within the walls, and there had been rumours
of what was to happen to the faithless city on King Peter’s return
which caused most people to tremble for their property, if not for
their lives. Only the men of the city guard, knowing, as M. Drakovics
had said, that they fought with ropes round their necks, persisted in
maintaining the fight, making a stand at every available point, and at
last crowding with their leaders into the palace for a final effort.

Even now, if it had been possible to move the great guns from the
river batteries to the palace, and turn them against the town, the
result of the day’s fighting might have been different; but time and
appliances were alike wanting for this operation, and after a short
resistance the wall of the garden was scaled, and the rebels made
their last stand in the palace itself.

“Take them alive! Take them alive!” had been the reiterated order of
Prince Otto Georg and M. Drakovics. “_They know what has become of the
King_,” and the Carlinists, mad with rage and fight though they were,
did their best to obey. When the stubborn contest ended at last, Ivan
Sertchaieff, the Premier, lay dead on the grand staircase where
Caerleon had been taken prisoner; his brother, less fortunate, was in
the hands of the victors, and with him were Louis O’Malachy and about
a score of others. The civilians of the party were committed to the
custody of the police, who had been imprisoned in their barracks by
the rebels, and had done good service by breaking out during the
street-fighting and joining the Carlinists. A summary court-martial
sat immediately, under the presidency of Prince Otto Georg, to try
such of the prisoners as had belonged to the army, while M. Drakovics,
who had fought his way in with the troops, searched the palace and
interrogated the other captives as to the King’s whereabouts.

What the Prince was chiefly anxious to discover from the men before
him was the extent to which the disaffection which had led to the
rebellion had spread in the army and in the country, and also whether
Scythia had committed herself to any definite encouragement of the
scheme; but from General Sertchaieff he could gain nothing but a
denial of the competency of the tribunal to try him, from Louis a
declaration that he was a Scythian subject, and from the rest more or
less vehement protestations of devotion to the house of Franza and of
their readiness to die in its service. The competence of a court
presided over by the Commander-in-Chief to try officers undoubtedly
belonging to the army could not be seriously questioned, and the trial
proceeded with due ceremony until it was interrupted by a tremendous
uproar outside the hall. Prince Otto Georg ordered the sentries to
clear the approaches to the court; but the moment that the door was
opened a motley throng of Carlinists streamed in, with M. Drakovics,
wrathful and agitated, at their head.

“What is the meaning of this unseemly proceeding?” inquired Prince
Otto Georg. “I am surprised that you should so far forget the gravity
of the occasion as to interrupt the trial.”

He was addressing himself to M. Drakovics; but his words were drowned
by the excited crowd, who pressed about the prisoners with shouts and
gestures of rage, and were only prevented from rushing upon them by
the exertions of the guards.

“Where is the King?” they cried. “Give us back our Carlino!”

“Gentlemen,” said M. Drakovics, addressing the officers who formed the
court, “I am grieved beyond measure to tell you that we have searched
the palace and a great part of the city, but we can find no trace of
our beloved sovereign.”

General Sertchaieff smiled sardonically. “It is scarcely likely that
you will,” he said.

“Great heaven!” cried Prince Otto Georg; “they have murdered him,
then!”

“You will not find it easy to bring him back,” went on General
Sertchaieff. “Ask Captain O’Malachy if you wish to hear what has
become of your Carlino.” It was evident from his tone that he
anticipated a surprise for his hearers; but it was also clear that
when Louis spoke he received one himself. While the rapid dialogue was
in progress, Louis had been weighing the situation in his mind. Would
truth or falsehood serve the cause best at this juncture? The fate of
his comrades and himself was already sealed, and nothing that he could
say or refrain from saying would avail to save any of them. But what
of that? It was still possible to produce an impression which might go
far to effect the object aimed at by the revolt. Were Caerleon alive,
the Drakovics party would rally around him in irresistible strength;
if he were dead, the weary, dispiriting search for a King must begin
again, with all the jealousies and strifes it involved, and the
opportunity it offered to Scythia for armed intervention. He hesitated
no longer.

“You will certainly consult the best authority,” he said,
sarcastically. “I had the honour of being present during his Majesty’s
last moments.”

A howl of rage went up from the crowd of Carlinists, and the rest of
the prisoners repressed a start of astonishment.

“You killed him?” was the cry. Louis bowed calmly.

“That duty fell to me,” he said.

“But how? where?” asked many voices.

“I took him on board the Scythian steamer,” returned Louis, “with his
brother and his English servant. They were all bound. I stabbed them
one after the other, and threw their bodies into the river.”

“But why on board the steamer?” asked Prince Otto Georg.

“Because it was feared that some of our less ardent supporters might
object to Carlino’s death if it was carried out before their eyes,”
said Louis.

“You give us to understand that you murdered three unarmed men in cold
blood?” said Prince Otto Georg. “This is inconceivable. Human nature
is not capable of so horrible an atrocity, though why you should
attempt to deceive us in such a matter I cannot imagine. You are not
in earnest?”

“Am I likely to tell you anything but the truth at such a moment, and
on such a subject?” retorted Louis. “Your Carlino is dead, and I
killed him. I have not yet heard any of my comrades,” he glanced round
at his fellow-prisoners, “deliver the dying message with which he
charged them. I am the only honest one among them, after all. He
wished it to be known that he chose death rather than abdication.
Well, he had it.”

“You--a soldier,” said the Prince to General Sertchaieff, “and
connived at the commission of this dastardly murder?”

“We did not expect to make our revolution with rose-water,” returned
the ex-Minister. “Our intention was to surprise Carlino, and to force
him to abdicate by means of threats, if possible; but Captain
O’Malachy had strict orders to kill him if any resistance or rescue
were attempted, and he did so.”

“I should wish to adjourn the court,” said Prince Otto George. “I do
not feel that I can conduct business properly after receiving this
terrible news.”

“Then the mountain men will break in and tear the prisoners to
pieces,” said M. Drakovics, in a low voice, glancing at the crowd of
excited peasants who stood with weapons in their hands, muttering
imprecations and glaring at the self-accused murderers. “I entreat
your Highness to bring the trial to a close, so that it may be evident
that the murderers will meet the punishment demanded by their crimes,
and then to come with me to break the news to the people.”

Prince Otto Georg turned impatiently to the papers on the table before
him, and M. Drakovics succeeded in inducing his followers to leave the
hall by assuring them that summary justice would be done by the
court-martial. Indeed, the evidence was so clear that there could be
no doubt of the result of the trial. Even leaving out of sight the
added atrocity of the murder of the King, the prisoners had committed
a sufficient number of crimes against both military and civil law to
cause them to incur the death-penalty several times over. There was
not a dissentient voice among the members of the court, and the
President pronounced the sentence with a sensation not far removed
from loathing.

“I never saw a man so bloodthirsty as that O’Malachy,” he said to
himself as he left the chair after the prisoners had been removed. “I
believe that the murder was his doing altogether, for Sertchaieff
seemed at first as much surprised as I was. I wonder whether there
could have been any truth in that story about a sister of his that got
into the Scythian papers? It would account for his peculiar ferocity.”

It would have afforded Louis additional gratification had he known
that the apparent purposelessness of his conduct had cast a slur upon
Caerleon’s name, but he was very well content as things were. His was
not the part of the informer, who is said to be present, by some
strange fatality, whenever two Irishmen are plotting together, and
through whom the best-laid schemes go wrong; on the contrary, he had
carried out his share of the conspiracy with triumphant success, and
even at the bitter end had turned defeat into victory. Of this
character were his exultant musings as he was led away with his
companions, but in indulging such hopeful anticipations he was
reckoning without his host. M. Drakovics’s proverbial resourcefulness
had not forsaken him at this crisis, and from the moment of hearing
the fatal news of Caerleon’s death he had been preparing a _coup
d’état_. When Prince Otto left the hall in which the court-martial
had been held, he found that he was awaiting him, and the two men rode
down the steep street with their escort to the Hôtel de Ville, in the
square in front of which were assembled the loyal townspeople and the
irregular troops. A momentary cheer saluted the Premier and his
companion as they made their appearance on the balcony; but the news
of the King’s murder had spread among the people, and the feeling of
mourning was universal. The soldiers alone greeted Prince Otto Georg
with shouts when M. Drakovics presented him to the crowd as the
saviour of Thracia, and he retired into the background while his
companion came forward again to speak. The crowning triumph of the
great orator’s eloquence was to be obtained to-day, and the lack of
responsiveness among his audience only served to stimulate him to
surpass himself.

He began his speech by paying a well-deserved tribute to the troops,
both regular and irregular, who had fought so bravely in crushing the
revolt. Their courage and endurance had been beyond all praise; but
they had been sustained by the hope of rescuing their beloved King
from the hands of the dastardly conspirators who sought to deprive him
of his throne. The struggle was successful, the victory was won, but,
alas! success had come too late. Their young sovereign, who had given
up the splendid prospects which belonged to him in his own country in
order to lead the forlorn hope in Thracia, had chosen to die rather
than forsake the trust he had received from the people. He was the
last martyr on the glorious roll of Thracian independence. Let them
look around them. There on the hill above them was the sacred shrine
at which, that very day, Carlino was to have received the crown of
Thracia, and there also was the palace in which he should have lived
for many happy years, beloved and honoured. But beside them there
flowed the river, accursed from that day forward, whose waters had
rolled over his blood-stained corpse, and there remained yet in the
land of the living the miscreants who had not scrupled to murder in
cold blood a bound and defenceless man.

The yell of mingled rage and grief which arose from the people at
these words rendered it impossible for the speaker to proceed with his
oration for some minutes; but at last he succeeded in restoring
comparative silence, broken only by the sobs of the women. What now
remained for Thracia? he demanded. She had lost her place among the
nations; she could not protect the stranger who had come at her call
to assist her. But at least she could avenge his death, both on the
traitors who had sprung from her own soil and on the perfidious nation
which had stooped to use such instruments to further its shameful
ends. With this object in view let her proceed without an hour’s delay
to the election of another king, and who could be better fitted for
the post than the illustrious Prince who had been raised up by
Providence to help her in her utmost need, and who had striven side by
side with her own sons for the rescue of Carlino? That Prince, he went
on, checking by an imperative gesture the protest which Prince Otto
Georg sprang forward to make, had shrunk once already from accepting
the throne, owing to a sensitive modesty which did him all honour, but
this was no time for holding back. Thracia appealed to him to accept
the place left vacant by the man who had been moved by its very
difficulties to undertake it,--would the German hang behind where the
Englishman had pressed forward? Let the Prince make his decision,
knowing, as he did, that his election would be hailed with delight by
the country, and welcomed by all Europe with the exception of Scythia,
and let him devote his life to the avenging of Caerleon’s murder.

Prince Otto Georg yielded. In after days he complained that he had
been carried away by the fervid rhetoric of M. Drakovics and the
frenzied enthusiasm of the people; but he accepted the throne in the
excitement of the moment, although with a slight mental reservation
respecting the last clause of the Premier’s invitation, and the
proviso that his election should be approved by the Powers. About this
condition there proved to be little difficulty. The Roumi envoy, who
had been on his way to attend Caerleon’s coronation when the rebellion
broke out, had discreetly remained upon the frontier in order to see
to which side victory would ultimately incline, and the Premier
hastened to obtain his good offices as an intermediary with Czarigrad.
M. Drakovics had already closed the post-offices throughout the
country in the name of the public safety, and forbidden the issue of
passports to foreign newspaper correspondents, so that Thracian
affairs were enveloped in the most profound mystery, while secret
messages flashed about among the Powers. Prince Otto Georg’s elevation
to the throne seemed to commend itself to every one as an excellent
solution of the Thracian difficulty. Pannonia and the house of
Schwarzwald-Molzau welcomed the election as a set-off to the rebuff
sustained by their joint diplomacy in the matter of Princess Ottilie’s
marriage, while the authorities of Prince Otto’s own country were not
sorry to find in it a way of escape from the intricate international
questions involved in his unauthorised connection with the suppression
of the revolt. Even Scythia, whether because she judged it well to
remain for a time in the background after the failure of the
conspiracy, or because, having given in her approval to Prince Otto
Georg’s candidature two years ago, she considered that it would appear
inconsistent to draw back now, offered no objection to his accepting
the crown, while bright visions of a Scythian princess seated beside
him on the Thracian throne at some future date began to float before
the eyes of the Pavelsburg authorities. M. Drakovics hurried back to
Bellaviste in triumph, and the new King was crowned the very next day,
with the regalia prepared for his murdered predecessor. The palace was
still filled with the traces of the devastating fight which had been
waged within its walls, and the chapel of St Peter itself had not
escaped scathless, while the people who looked on at the ceremony had
scarcely a cheer to spare for their new sovereign, since their
thoughts were all with Carlino. But as though to give point to the
words with which M. Drakovics had ushered in the new reign, the guns
which announced the accession of King Otto Georg thundered forth also
the knell of the traitors who had conspired against Caerleon.



 CHAPTER XXII.
 A KING WITHOUT A CROWN.

Banished from Scythia, Princess Soudaroff and Nadia turned their
faces southwards, and after a hurried winter journey across Central
Europe and a more leisurely one through Spain, found themselves at
Cadiz and on board the yacht Anna Karénina. The Princess had acted
with her usual impulsiveness in deciding on the way in which she would
spend her winter, and she was a little startled when she found herself
in command of a ship, the crew of which, with one exception, was
entirely English. She had no experience of yachting whatever, and her
ignorance made her fall an easy prey to the captain, an ancient
mariner endowed with as many wiles as those popularly attributed to
the heathen Chinee. Like his late Majesty King George III., however,
this gentleman “gloried in the name of Briton,” and considered that
all foreigners were constitutionally afflicted with a more or less
mild form of insanity. It was both right and advisable to humour their
fancies, especially when they were sufficiently wealthy to hire a
large yacht for the winter; but it was also necessary to guide them
gently in the direction in which they ought to go, and to restrain
their natural eccentricities by the moral influence of a stronger
mind.

On the very day that the Princess first came on board, the captain
asserted his independence by refusing to receive his orders through
the courier, a useful and important individual whom Prince Soudaroff
had chosen to accompany the ladies on their travels, and protect them
from extortion by the way, since if he did cheat them right and left
himself he would take good care that no one else should have the
opportunity of doing so. The Princess, in her kindness of heart,
recognised at once that it was only natural that the captain should
dislike to take orders from Alessandro, and accorded him the privilege
of seeing her whenever he found it necessary, thus yielding herself as
a helpless slave to a most unbending autocrat. Not that Captain Binks
was rude or overbearing--far from it. The commander of a Cunarder
could not have been more accommodating and urbane; but it was evident
that he must know more about the winds and currents and shoals of the
Mediterranean than his employer, and when some conjunction of these
natural objects interfered to prevent anything that the Princess was
anxious to do, it certainly could not be considered the fault of
Captain Binks. This being the case, it was not, perhaps, a just
punishment which overtook the old sailor when, after a short cruise in
which he had regulated the ladies’ trips on shore in regular
man-of-war fashion, the yacht was run into by a lumbering collier as
she lay at anchor outside the Grand Harbour of Valetta on the night
after arriving in sight of Malta. It had been Captain Binks’s
intention to take the Anna Karénina into the harbour by daylight,
thereby exhibiting to all and sundry both her beauties and his own
seamanship, and then to grant the Princess the day in which to make
her pilgrimage to St Paul’s Bay and back while he took stores on
board; but now the spars and bulwarks were so much damaged as to
render necessary a stay of a week or more in the island.

It must be confessed that this accident gave keen pleasure to Nadia,
who was not a favourite with Captain Binks; but the Princess failed to
perceive either his uplifting or his fall, for she was absorbed, as
usual, in schemes of kindness for the benefit of those about her. She
was acquainted with the histories of all the crew by this time, knew
how many children each man had, and who had aged parents to support,
and it was her delight to write letters home for them in her formal
foreign hand with its queer twirls and flourishes, while Nadia,
longing to be of some use or help to some one, stood shyly aloof, and
wondered how her godmother managed to take so much interest in the
affairs of all these strangers. In one of the Princess’s pleasures,
however, Nadia’s interest was as deep as that of her godmother, for
the person involved had been connected with herself at one of the
crises of her life. It was on the day that they sailed from Cadiz,
before they had been on board more than a few hours, that the Princess
came into Nadia’s cabin with a face radiant with delight.

“Who do you think is the carpenter on this ship, my child?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Marraine,” said Nadia, looking up puzzled. “Some
relation of the English coachman you had once?”

“No; it is not an Englishman--it is a Scythian.”

“One of our own people? or a Bibelist? The Oudenist cabinetmaker you
visited in the hospital, perhaps?”

“Dear child, no. But it is a person of whom you have often
heard--Yegor Popoff, my poor Katinka’s husband.”

“Oh, Marraine! How did he get here?”

“When he left Katinka, he went to Pavelsburg to look for work, and
made a voyage to Sweden as ship’s carpenter. At Bergen he heard that
my friend Feodor Petrovitch, to whom this yacht belongs, was in the
harbour looking out for a carpenter, as the one he had brought from
England had died, and he obtained the post. And now, without our
knowing it, he was waiting at Cadiz, and we, without his knowing it,
were bringing Katinka to him. Do you see now why we were driven out of
Scythia, my child?”

“I see,” said Nadia. “But what are you going to do? Have you said
anything?”

“Said anything?” cried the Princess. “My dear child, I have said
everything! I sent for Yegor to come to me in the saloon, and I have
spoken to him very seriously. I told him how wrong and foolish he had
been in doubting Katinka and in listening to Anna at all, and much
more so in running away as he did. He saw it all for himself--in fact,
nothing but pride had kept him from coming back and telling her so. He
was waiting for her to write first, when she did not know where he
was! I think I made him thoroughly ashamed of himself. When I saw that
he was really sorry, I slipped out and fetched Katinka. _She_ was
ready enough to forgive, poor child! and I left them together. What a
happy beginning for our voyage, is it not?”

Nadia acquiesced, and a new hope rose suddenly in her own heart. Could
this voyage be destined to bring Caerleon and herself together, as it
had already united Yegor and Katinka? The same thought had occurred to
the maid, who came shyly to tell her that she and Yegor were praying
that she might be as happy as they were. They did not know her story;
but Katinka guessed at it, and found it easy to fill up the details
from imagination. Her sympathy contributed still further to raise
Nadia’s spirits, and perhaps to bring her into the somewhat
uncharitable frame of mind in which she welcomed the discomfiture of
Captain Binks. In any case, she submitted cheerfully to the necessary
detention at Valetta, in spite of the desolate aspect of the dried-up
town, with its huge fortifications and flat-roofed white houses, and
was indefatigable in helping the Princess to render habitable the
enormous rooms, stone-floored and scantily furnished, in which they
took up their abode while the repairs to the yacht were pending.

Here it was that two days later they heard the news of the rebellion
in Thracia--news which sent all the special correspondents who keep
portmanteaus ready packed, in case of a sudden summons, to the Balkans
at racing speed. Carlino was dethroned, Peter was restored, Bellaviste
was in the hands of the Franzist party,--this was what the telegram,
despatched by M. Sertchaieff and his brother the General, told the
world, and after its contents had been made public there was silence
for several days. What those days of waiting were to Nadia it is
impossible to describe. As is always the case when no authoritative
news can be obtained, the most sensational rumours were rife--all, of
course, founded on “private messages of undoubted trustworthiness,” or
on the utterances of “a person who was better acquainted with the east
of Europe than any other man living.” The purveyors of news of this
description were largely concerned with the fate of Caerleon, and his
supposed adventures formed the universal subject of conversation in
Valetta society. There was not an Englishman in the island that did
not admire the way in which he had stuck to his kingdom, although
there were some who objected to his having gone to Thracia at all, and
many were the conjectures, each backed by the authority of some
newspaper statement or other, as to what had become of him. He had
yielded to the demands of the rebels without striking a blow; he had
refused to abdicate until a pistol was held to his head; he had
offered such a strenuous resistance that he had been vanquished only
when severely wounded; he was now imprisoned in one of the underground
galleries of the Bellaviste fortifications; he had entered the service
of King Peter; he had disappeared mysteriously; he had blown out his
brains; he had been murdered;--the variety and mutual inconsistency of
the rumours bore reliable testimony to one point only, the
impenetrable mystery that shrouded his fate. It seemed certain that he
was not at large, or why was he making no effort to regain his throne?
but it seemed certain also that the victory of the insurgents had not
been so complete as was at first reported, or why did they not send
for King Peter?

That easy-going gentleman was still at Nice, apparently caring very
little whether he was restored to his kingdom or not, and professing
to have no more certain knowledge than any one else whether Thracia
was in a state of civil war or had submitted calmly to the new order
of things. Meanwhile the Thracian border was beset by hordes of eager
journalists, each man anxious to obtain for his own paper the first
authentic news, and all alike refused an entrance into the kingdom.
One or two, more enterprising than their fellows, succeeded in
crossing the frontier at some unguarded point; but they were detected
and seized before they had got a mile nearer the capital, and after a
few hours’ detention in a police-station to cool their ardour, were
escorted over the border again without gaining any information beyond
a further addition to the stock of rumours.

At last a definite piece of news made its way to the frontier, and
remained uncontradicted. M. Drakovics, still strong in the possession
of office, was at Tatarjé, and was engaged in conference with the
envoy from Roum, while negotiations were being carried on with the
various Powers. The next day the embargo on special correspondents was
removed, and the long-tried newspaper men rushed across the frontier,
and raced one another to Bellaviste. The ‘Empire City Crier’ only
missed gaining the earliest details through an unfortunate accident
which befell the cart in which its representative was being conveyed
at break-neck speed across country; but as it was, the correspondent
of the ‘Fleet Street’ took the first place, with the unconquerable Mr
Hicks as a good second. After them came the representatives of
numberless other journals, and Europe was speedily deluged with full,
true, and particular accounts of the origin, progress, and extinction
of the revolt.

The news reached Malta in time for publication in the morning papers.
Ever since the first tidings of the outbreak had arrived, the Princess
and Nadia had heard nothing discussed, whether in public or in
private, but the “Thracian business,” with all the gruesome details
which the hopes or fears or imaginations of different people had
grafted on to the truth. The long uncertainty had made the girl sick
with fear. She was almost driven to feel that it would have been less
painful to hear once for all that Caerleon was dead than to have
absolutely no idea as to what had become of him. On this particular
morning she was crouching in one of the windows of the great bare
drawing-room, afraid to go out lest she should hear the question of
Caerleon’s fate discussed once again, but knowing that she could not
refrain from listening to the conjectures which tormented her, when
the Princess was summoned to an interview with Captain Binks.
Breakfast was only just over; but the autocrat of the Anna Karénina
resembled time and tide in that he waited for no man, and he wanted
the Princess’s authority for some item of the repairs to the yacht.
The formality, which was naturally of a purely ceremonial character,
having been gone through, Captain Binks was about to depart, when the
Princess caught sight of a newspaper sticking out of his pocket.

“Is that to-day’s paper?” she asked, moved by a sudden impulse of
alarm for which there appeared no special reason.

“Yes, your Highness. Sad business this about Thracia. I wish I had the
men that murdered that poor fellow aboard of my ship. There would be
no yard-arms to let when I’d done with ’em.”

“Murdered?” said the Princess, with sinking heart. “Please let me
see.”

Captain Binks smoothed out the crumpled sheet and handed it to her,
and she read the account, telegraphed in the first instance from
Bellaviste to London, over a hastily repaired wire, by the
correspondent of the ‘Fleet Street,’ of the recapture of the city, of
Louis O’Malachy’s confession, and of Prince Otto Georg’s election to
the vacant throne. As she read it she resolved instantly that Nadia
should hear nothing of the news until the report was confirmed.

“Thank you, my good captain,” she said, handing the paper back to its
owner. “It is indeed terrible! Will you have the goodness to send
Alessandro to me as you go out?”

Captain Binks departed, somewhat disappointed by the indifference with
which the Princess had received the news, and which he attributed to
the fact of her being a foreigner, and she hastily laid her plans
while waiting for the courier to appear. The account in the newspaper
had mentioned the presence of Mr Hicks in Bellaviste, apropos of the
accident which had delayed his arrival there, and the Princess had a
certain amount of acquaintance with Mr Hicks. He had been sent on a
journalistic mission to Scythia some time ago, charged to ascertain
the real facts as to the persecution of the Evangelicals, rumours of
which had reached America, and he had gone to the fountainhead, and
had interviewed Count Wratisloff and herself. When Alessandro entered
the room she directed him to procure a carriage for the whole day, and
intrusted him also with a telegram to be despatched immediately,
addressed to Mr Hicks at Bellaviste, and inquiring whether the reports
which had reached Malta of recent events in Thracia were trustworthy.
Alessandro was relieved of his usual duty of accompanying the
carriage, and ordered to wait at the house and bring the return
telegram to his mistress as soon as it arrived. Having made these
arrangements, the Princess went in search of Nadia, whom she found
still curled up on the stone window-seat.

“I have ordered the carriage to take us to Il Boschetto this morning,
my child,” she said, briskly. “We will spend the day there, and come
back in the evening. It will be a pleasant change, and you will like
to see the orange-groves.”

“Yes, Marraine,” assented Nadia, without showing much interest in the
prospect. “I suppose there is not likely to be any news before we get
back--genuine news, I mean?”

“If there is, it shall be brought out to us,” said the Princess. “You
may be sure of that, dear child.”

Somewhat comforted, Nadia went to her room to prepare for the drive;
but her godmother did not breathe freely until they were safely
outside the gates of the city and well on their way. At any moment,
while they were in the house, some acquaintance might come in, and
enter upon the one absorbing topic of conversation. But it was too
early as yet for most of the Valetta ladies to be out, while the
gentlemen were still busy in office or orderly-room, and all was safe
when once the white city on its steep hill had been left behind, and
the long country drive begun. Bare little fields with stone walls
enclosing them, without a tree or a bush to break the monotony,
interspersed with small houses like square stone boxes, windowless and
chimneyless, lay on either side of the road. After driving some
distance, they came in sight of Città Vecchia. Here there is a grotto
which is said to have been at one time the abode of St Paul; but the
Princess thought that its genuineness was too problematical for it to
call for a visit, and the city was left on one side, in spite of the
remonstrances of the driver of the carriage.

Il Boschetto was reached after a further drive--a pleasant oasis of
gardens and orange-groves in the midst of the surrounding desolation,
and the northern eyes of the Princess and Nadia rejoiced in the
luxuriant greenness. The place was a favourite one for picnics; but it
happened that there were no other visitors that day, and they had the
gardens to themselves. After lunch the Princess suggested a rest in
the shade; but Nadia could not sit still, and preferred to walk on by
herself and obtain a view of the sea from a hill near at hand. She had
been gone some time, and the Princess was becoming a little drowsy,
when the sound of footsteps roused her to full consciousness, and she
saw Alessandro coming towards her with a telegram in his hand. Taking
it from him, she turned back among the trees and tore it open:--


 “Too true that King Carlino was murdered at outbreak of revolt. Prince
 Otto Georg of Schwarzwald-Molzau is to be crowned King to-day.”


“This poor Carlino!” broke from the Princess. “And my poor child! how
shall I tell her?”

“Marraine,” said the panting voice of Nadia behind her, “wasn’t that
Alessandro I saw from the hill-top just now? It looked like him, and
he seemed to be coming here. Did he bring any news?”

The Princess turned quickly, guilty and tongue-tied, crumpling the
telegram in her hand. Nadia caught sight of it, and knew at once what
it was.

“Marraine, you have had news of Carlino!” she cried, snatching the
paper from her godmother’s reluctant hand and reading it. The moment
that the words had met her eyes she dropped it with a groan.

“He is dead, and I have killed him!” she cried.

“Killed him? But you did not kill him, my child,” said the Princess.

“Yes, I did; I urged him to accept the crown, I wouldn’t let him
abdicate when he wished to do it. I made him stay in Thracia, and I
have killed him. It is my doing.”

“It is God’s will, dear child. You may have been the instrument----”

“I was,” said Nadia, in the same hard voice. “You told me that I had
been doing wrong the night I came to Pavelsburg, and now this has
happened to make me sure of it. It is all through me. Don’t speak to
me, Marraine. No doubt it is well that I should see what harm my
wanting my own way can do. But why should he be punished for what was
my fault?”

She stood looking away through the trees with stony eyes that saw
nothing, and the Princess laid her hand on her arm and guided her
gently back to the carriage. When they reached it, Alessandro came
bustling up to express a hope that the telegram had not contained any
bad news, but Nadia neither saw nor heard him. As they left the
gardens behind them, she sat looking out over the arid landscape,
refusing to listen to the Princess’s attempts to comfort her.

“Please don’t speak to me just now, Marraine. Let me get used to the
thought,” she said at last, and her godmother desisted with a sigh
from her well-meant efforts. They had passed Città Vecchia before the
Princess spoke again; and this time she did not address Nadia, but
seeing two weary-looking men toiling along the road a short distance
in front of the carriage, she called to Alessandro, who was riding
behind--

“Tell the driver to stop when we come up to those men, Alessandro.
They look tired, and we might drive them into Valetta.”

Alessandro obeyed in silence, for he was becoming accustomed to his
mistress’s eccentricities, but with a slight grimace.

“Vill your ’ighness zat I speak to zem?” he asked, as the carriage
stopped.

“No,” said the Princess, “I will invite them myself. This one does not
look like a Maltese. I will try him in English. My poor man, I fear
you are in some distress. Can we help you in any way?”

The second wayfarer, a Maltese peasant in the ordinary dusty cotton
clothes and Phrygian cap, stared in surprise and utter lack of
comprehension at the lady; but the one whom the Princess had addressed
came forward respectfully, touching the place where the brim of his
hat would naturally have been, if he had worn one. He was an
undersized, light-haired man, haggard and unshaven, and clad in what
looked like the tattered remains of a suit of livery of some kind.

“I’m sure you’re very good, ma’am,” he said. “If you would be so kind
as tell me the word for ‘doctor’ in this chap’s lingo, and ’ow to find
one in the town yonder when we gets to it, me and my master would be
no end obliged to you.”

“Your master is ill--hurt?” asked the Princess. “You have been
shipwrecked with him, perhaps?”

“No, ma’am; we ain’t been shipwrecked,” returned the man, politely but
repressively. “I ’ope as you’ll excuse me sayin’ any more, for my
master is a very well-known gentleman; but bein’ in difficulties just
now, so to speak, ’e tell me not to mention ’is name. But we want a
doctor badly, and as we couldn’t make out these fellers, nor them us,
’is Maj---- I mean my master, said as me and this chap ’ad better go
on to the town there, and see where we was. We’ve tried ’em in English
and in French and in Thracian----” he broke off suddenly, and stared
at Nadia, whose attention had been caught by the last word, and who
had turned and was regarding him fixedly.

“It is you, is it, Wright?” she said, with listless indifference.
“Then you forsook him too?”

“Me forsook ’is Majesty, miss?” cried Wright, much injured. “Not until
’e tell me to. Would you ’ave me say, ‘Go yourself,’ when ’e sent me
for the doctor?”

“_He sent you_?” Nadia almost screamed. “When? Where?”

“About ’alf a hour ago, miss; from this chap’s farm’ouse over there.”

“Then he is alive? They didn’t kill him? Tell me quickly, or I shall
go mad. He is there, you say?”

“Why, yes, miss,” said Wright, stolidly, trying to disentangle the
sheaf of questions which Nadia poured upon him in her agitation. “’E’s
there, of course--leastways, I left ’im there, and it stands to reason
as ’e ain’t dead.”

“Oh, Marraine!” sobbed Nadia, burying her face on the Princess’s
shoulder, “do you hear? He’s alive, he’s alive!”

“Compose yourself, my child,” said the Princess, although Wright’s
wooden face showed no sign of his having observed the girl’s
excitement. “Who is this worthy man? Tell me.”

“He is the King’s groom, the man who brought me to meet Marie
Karlovna. Oh, Marraine, he isn’t dead!”

“My good man,” said the Princess, abandoning the attempt to reduce
Nadia to reason, and addressing Wright, “get into the carriage, and we
will return to find your master, and drive him to Valetta.”

“Not with you, ma’am,” said Wright, in horror. “It ain’t my place at
no time, and now----” he looked at his disreputable clothes with
disgust. “If I might ride on the box this little way, and get down
before comin’ into the town, so as not to disgrace you----”

“Your companion will sit on the box, and show the driver the way to
his farm,” said the Princess. “Tell him so, Alessandro. Now, my good
man, if you wish to be of assistance to your master, you will do as I
tell you.”

Thus adjured, Wright obeyed in much confusion, and took the seat
opposite the Princess, making himself as small as possible, and with
great delicacy keeping his face turned from Nadia, who was leaning
back in her place, holding her parasol so as to shield her from
observation, and crying quietly for joy.

“Now tell me,” said the Princess, when the carriage had turned and
they were driving in the direction of the farm, “is it the King who is
ill?”

“No, ma’am; it’s ’is brother, Prince Cyril. ’E’s always been sickly,
and me and ’is Majesty think as the cold ’as got to ’is chest. ’E was
moanin’ awful when I come away.”

“Poor boy!” said the Princess. “And what did the King propose to do
when he reached the town?”

“I don’t rightly know, ma’am, seein’ as ’e’s precious ’ard up. We
didn’t ’ave no money with us when we was took, except a copper or two
as I ’ad in my pockets, and ’is Majesty ain’t quite sure what ’e can
lay ’is ’and on ’ere. You see, the British Government, they didn’t
like ’is takin’ the kingdom on, and ’e don’t know that ’e mightn’t be
took up if ’e showed ’imself. That’s why I didn’t tell you ’is name
until I see Miss O’Malachy.”

“I see,” said the Princess, beckoning to Alessandro, who rode up, and
received his mistress’s orders to return to Valetta and prepare some
of the unused rooms at her lodgings, and to secure the services of a
doctor, all without making any fuss, or saying who the new visitors
were. He departed at once, and the Princess began to inquire into
Cyril’s symptoms, a subject which lasted Wright until the carriage
arrived at the farm. The peasant descended from the box and led the
way into the little courtyard with its high stone walls and one tree,
while two or three women and a number of children peered shyly at the
ladies from the shelter of the outbuildings. Wright went straight into
the house, and with an innate dramatic instinct, the existence of
which had hitherto been unsuspected in him, announced merely--

“There’s two ladies ’ere, your Majesty, with a carriage, as will be
pleased to give you and ’is ’ighness a lift into the city.”

“Ladies!” Nadia heard Caerleon remark, in tones of dismay; but
catching sight of their shadows behind Wright, he took his courage in
both hands and came towards them. There is a popular superstition,
which is an article of faith with some people, that a gentleman looks
like a gentleman under any circumstances. Perhaps Caerleon was the
exception which is said to prove the rule--at any rate, wearing
neither coat nor waistcoat, and not having had the opportunity of
washing or shaving for several days, he presented the appearance of an
unusually powerful ruffian with whom trade had not prospered of late.

“I am most grateful for your kindness,” he said, coming to the door
and bowing to the Princess; “but I could not think of trespassing upon
it by accepting your offer. The fact is, we are not exactly in trim
for ladies’---- Nadia!” he seized her hand in both his, and stood
gazing at her, forgetful alike of the Princess and of what he had been
saying, until Nadia, feeling herself growing crimson under the look in
his eyes, drew her hand away and retreated behind the Princess.

“My child, you are acquainted with this gentleman, I think?” murmured
her godmother reprovingly; and Nadia came forward again for an instant
and said in confusion--

“The King of Thracia--Princess Soudaroff,” and retired in greater
confusion still, feeling that it was indeed the most unkindest cut of
all that she should be the first to remind him of his altered estate,
by presenting him to the Princess instead of the Princess to him. But
her godmother was already crossing the room towards Cyril, who was
lying moaning and only half-conscious on a bed of maize-leaves in a
corner.

“I am afraid he is very ill,” said the Princess aside to Caerleon,
“and he certainly cannot be nursed here. We must take him to Valetta
in my carriage immediately, and there is a room in my lodgings where
he can be well looked after, and you will be safe at the same time.”

“Oh, really,” began Caerleon, “I don’t know how to thank you enough;
but I can’t saddle you with all the bother of an invalid in this way.”

“Of course not,” said the Princess; “I saddle myself with him. I have
the room, and he needs it. Besides, you are friends of my dear
child’s, so that I cannot count you as strangers, though I hope I
should do the same if you were.”

“I have seen my godmother bring home a dying beggar from the roadside,
in a most dreadful state, and have him nursed and cared for,” said
Nadia, reassuringly. The comparison suggested was not a particularly
happy one; but her intention was so kind that Caerleon felt ashamed of
the twinkle in his eye as he glanced at her, and hoped she had not
seen it.

“See,” said the Princess, “we will get into the carriage, and you and
your servant shall carry your brother to it. Then we will make room
for you too, and the groom shall go on the box. Stay,” and she drew
him aside and put her purse into his hand, “you will wish to reward
these honest people who have given you shelter, and you can repay me
afterwards, when you have been able to make arrangements.”

“You are too good, Princess,” said Caerleon, gratefully; and he
remunerated the farmer and his family for their kindness in a way that
left them calling down blessings on his head. Then he and Wright
carried Cyril to the carriage, where the Princess and Nadia had been
arranging the cushions as comfortably as they could for him, and when
he had been propped up safely, they were able to leave the farm on the
way back to Valetta. There was little opportunity for conversation
during the drive, for Cyril was restless and uneasy, and turned
continually from Nadia to his brother in weary bewilderment, relapsing
now and then into moaning unconsciousness, so that every one was glad
when the city was reached. It was now dusk, and the friendly twilight
prevented the Princess’s strange companions from being noticed in
their passage through the streets and their entrance into the house.
Alessandro had done his work well. The doctor was in attendance, and
Cyril was speedily relegated to a comfortable bed, and delivered over
to the care of an elderly woman, the widow of a martyred Bibelist,
whom the Princess had brought with her on her travels as Nadia’s maid.
The doctor said that cold and exposure had brought on an attack of
pleurisy, but he hoped that it might not prove very serious; and
Caerleon, much relieved by the verdict, gave himself up to the tender
mercies of Alessandro, who provided suitable clothes in a marvellous
manner, and sent him down in proper trim, an hour later, to dine with
the ladies. He was warmly welcomed by the Princess, who had found all
her kindness of heart necessary hitherto to help her to conceal the
dismay she had felt at his appearance, and who positively beamed upon
the transformation effected by Alessandro.



 CHAPTER XXIII.
 UNDER WHICH KING?

“Your Majesty will relate to us your adventures?” said the Princess,
when they were seated at table. “At present we know only that the
insurgents declared most solemnly that they had killed you, and that
we find you are here in Malta several days after your supposed death.”

“I can’t at all understand that confession myself,” said Caerleon,
smiling, “for the men who made it had the best possible means of
knowing what had really happened to us. Well, to go back to the
beginning of everything, it seems, from what my brother has since told
me, that he and Drakovics had some idea that an attempt would be made
on my life at the coronation, which was to take place to-day--or
yesterday--or was it the day before?--I am in a state of utter
confusion now as to the day of the week. I suppose the rumour was a
mere blind, intended to distract our attention from the real plot. At
any rate, rather less than a week ago, Wright woke us in the middle of
the night, and told us there was not a sentry to be seen about the
place, and that the servants had all disappeared. We got up and looked
for our revolvers, but they had been tampered with, and the only
weapons we could find were the wretched Brummagem swords we wear in
full dress. We started out along the corridor with these in our hands,
but it wasn’t until we came to the landing that we caught sight of the
enemy. Then we had a fight on the stair-way, like old Umslopogaas, and
we were led forcibly to the conclusion that a Zulu battle-axe was a
more satisfactory weapon than a tailor-made sword. Still, with General
Sertchaieff’s sword, which Wright got hold of for me, I think we might
have managed to hold our own, if they hadn’t come upon us from behind
and knocked us down the stairs. Then they tied us up with
curtain-ropes, and wanted me to sign a deed of abdication, but I
wouldn’t do it.”

“I am sure you would not!” cried Nadia, with flashing eyes. “Did they
threaten to kill you?”

“Well, the atmosphere was rather threatening, certainly, and they were
kind enough to warn us that our fate was in our own hands, and that
sort of thing. Then they took us down to the river, and on board a
steamer, and there, I don’t mind telling you, I did think that our
last hour was come. They blindfolded us, and I made sure we were to be
shot at once; but then they began to drag us along the deck, and I
thought they must be going to make us walk the plank, that there might
be no signs of violence visible on our bodies. I know it crossed my
mind even then that they must have a robust faith in human nature if
they believed that three bound and blindfolded corpses would be
imagined to have got into the river by accident. At last I felt them
give me a good push forwards, but instead of falling overboard I found
myself on my hands and knees in a cabin. The next moment my brother
and Wright were flung in on top of me, and the door was locked. I
believe they never really meant to kill us after all, only to frighten
us into begging for mercy, or something of the kind; but if that was
the case, they were disappointed. Before we had picked ourselves up we
heard the men who had brought us on board putting off again in the
boat, and the steamer started immediately. They must have been getting
up steam beforehand in readiness for our arrival. We set to work at
once to try and free ourselves, and as our hands were tied in front of
us, we managed to do it after a time. Wright succeeded first, and he
helped us. Then we got off the handkerchiefs which were tied over our
eyes, but the place was quite dark. We felt all round and about it,
and made up our minds that we must be in some sort of deck-cabin, but
there were no windows, only wooden shutters. There was no furniture,
nothing but a heap of old tarpaulins, and it was frightfully cold, for
the snow was on the ground when we started. Cyril hadn’t got a proper
coat on, merely a smoking-jacket, and he began to shiver horribly. I
had no coat either, but Wright gave him his, and we took turns in
walking about so as to keep warm, and covering ourselves as best we
could with the tarpaulin. If you asked me how long we stayed in that
place, I should say about six hundred years, but I suppose it can’t
have been more than six days,--or was it only five? A grinning
Scythian rascal with a lantern opened the door and poked us in some
ship’s biscuit and water several times during our voyage. I really
never knew before how old and stale ship’s biscuit could be. We tried
to induce the fellow to bring us some better food for Cyril and a
blanket or two; but we had no money with us, and he demanded cash
down, and exhibited a holy horror of dealing on credit. Cyril got
worse and worse, and we couldn’t do anything for him. We gave him all
the tarpaulin to keep him warm, but it was wretched stiff stuff, and
wouldn’t cover him properly. At first he was able to talk sensibly to
us, and to try to appeal to the jailer’s better nature in Scythian,
but as time went on he became half-delirious, and we could see that he
was suffering horribly. We banged at the door and did everything we
could devise to attract attention, and we promised the jailer
unheard-of sums if he would bring the captain or some one in authority
to speak to us, but he only laughed. All this time we could tell that
the ship was moving, but happily there was not much sea on. At last,
this morning, she stopped suddenly, and as far as we could make out, a
boat came on board, and then put off again. Whether this was an order
for some change in our destination I don’t know, but not very long
afterwards they called to us to come out of the cabin. Wright and I
dragged Cyril up, and helped him out into a sort of passage-place,
where the light dazzled us, for we had seen nothing but the jailer’s
lantern since we had been on board. Before we could look round or
manage to see who was there, we were blindfolded again and our hands
tied, and we were taken down the ship’s side into a boat. We were
rowed some way until we felt the keel grate on some sort of shore, and
then they hauled us out and dumped us down upon the sand, and we heard
them rowing away again. Our hands were tied behind us this time, so
that it was a long while before we could get them free, and when we
got our eyes uncovered, the ship was steaming away from us right out
at sea, almost out of sight. There we were stranded, on a desert
island for all we knew, with poor old Cyril gabbling away in all sorts
of languages, and quite off his head. We drew him under the shadow of
the cliff, and Wright went a little way along the beach to look for a
path. He found a place where there was a gap in the cliffs, and went
up it a short distance, and then came back and told me that he could
see houses a good way off. We lifted poor Cyril between us, and
carried him up through the gap and along a little field-path to the
house where you found us. There were only the women and children at
home, and they couldn’t understand us, nor we them; but they were very
kind to us, and gave us food and made up a bed of leaves for Cyril.
Then when the farmer came back from work, we had another try at making
ourselves understood; but it was no good, and we couldn’t even get him
to tell us slowly where we were. He talked so fast, and said so much,
that though I had an idea that he mentioned Valetta, I couldn’t be
sure of it. However, I thought it was very likely that they had
brought us to Malta as the nearest piece of British territory to
Thracia, so Wright and I agreed that he had better get the farmer to
take him to the town we could see in the distance, and look about for
some good Samaritan who could speak English, and might be able to
guide him to a doctor. But I never hoped to fall in with two such good
Samaritans as those who brought him back.”

“Hush!” said the Princess, “let us have no compliments, please. To
have been the means of helping fellow-creatures in distress is enough
for me, and if it is not enough for Mdlle. O’Malachy, she may say so
for herself. But tell me--do you seriously consider that you are in
danger here?”

“I haven’t an idea,” said Caerleon. “The English Government has never
recognised me as King of Thracia, and therefore it has no right to
consider me as anything but a private person; but there might be some
official who would prefer security to logic, and put me in prison just
to prevent any risk of accidents. I must telegraph to Drakovics
to-morrow, and see how things stand, and after I have heard from him I
shall know better what to do.”

“Quite so,” said the Princess. “You are aware that the Thracians,
believing you to be dead, have chosen one of the Schwarzwald-Molzau
princes as their king?”

“I know--Prince Otto Georg, a very good fellow; he was staying with me
at Bellaviste before I--well, left. I have no wish whatever to
interfere with his election,--though no doubt it will be an awful sell
for him when he hears that I am alive after all.”

“I doubt whether you could interfere even if you were anxious to do
so,” said the Princess. “We heard that he was to be crowned to-day,
and it is possible that his coronation might bar any claim on your
part.”

“I shan’t be sorry,” said Caerleon. “It seems to me that this would
end a very difficult situation in a very desirable way. It certainly
looks as though my captors were of your opinion. If that boat this
morning brought the news of Otto Georg’s coronation to the men who had
me in charge, it appears that they considered me no longer dangerous.
Otherwise they might have marooned us somewhere along the North
African coast, where there would have been very little chance of our
ever turning up again to trouble them, or if they were particular
about British territory, they could have found one or two rather nasty
places on the shores of Cyprus.”

“But you are the King still,” said Nadia, with fierce eagerness.

“I really don’t know, and I can’t say that I care very much if I am
not. It has not been such a delightful post as to make me want to turn
the other man out of it if he likes it. And if I am not king I must
surely be a very harmless individual, who might safely be left in
peace.”

“Yes,” said the Princess, “and yet it might be supposed that you had
come here for the purpose of setting on foot a plot for your own
restoration. I will tell you what I will do. We have not yet attended
one of the Governor’s receptions, but I brought with me a letter of
introduction to him, and I will deliver it to-morrow morning. I will
represent your situation to him in his private capacity, and if as
Governor he considers it his duty to arrest you, he will give me some
hint of his intention, and you shall take refuge on board the Anna
Karénina, and leave the port. Under the Scythian flag you will be
safe.”

“This is the irony of fate,” said Caerleon. “Scythia has turned me out
of Thracia, and now she is to protect me against the lawful
authorities of my own country.”

“Then you believe that the plot against you was of Scythian origin?”
asked the Princess. Caerleon reflected for a moment before answering.

“I do not think that there were any Scythians among the actual
plotters,” he said; “but I feel pretty sure that they would never have
entered into the conspiracy if they had not felt sure of Scythia’s
support in case of success, and her sympathy if they failed. I think
it’s quite possible, too, that she strained a point in granting the
exiles permission first to settle in her territory, and then to leave
it.”

“But who were the leaders of the conspiracy?” asked Nadia, suddenly.

“Well, I saw most of General Sertchaieff; but I hear that his brother,
the former Premier, was in it too.”

“Yes, I saw their names; but that is not what I mean. Was my brother
there?”

“There were a good many of them altogether,” said Caerleon, evasively.

“Was Louis there?” she persisted.

“Well--yes, he was,” admitted Caerleon.

“You need not be afraid of hurting my feelings,” said Nadia, her eyes
gleaming ominously. “He has no special tenderness for me--he would
have shot me once if another man had not knocked his hand up just in
time, so don’t try to spare him.”

“My child,” said the Princess, “do not say what you may afterwards
regret. Your unhappy brother is dead.”

“Dead?” said Nadia, awed. “Was he killed in the fighting?”

“No,” said the Princess, “afterwards. Do you wish to leave us, my
child? His Majesty will be so kind as to excuse you,” and Nadia rose
and left the room.

“What became of Louis O’Malachy?” asked Caerleon, returning to his
place after opening the door for her. “All that I know about the
outbreak is what I heard from your man just now, and he did not
mention his name.”

“He was to be shot this morning with General Sertchaieff and others
among the rebels who had belonged to the army,” said the Princess.

“I can’t say that I don’t think his fate was well deserved,” said
Caerleon, hotly. “When I remember the way in which that fellow
deceived us all--pretending that he had given up his commission in the
Scythian army for the sake of throwing in his lot with Thracia, and
how he took the oaths to me, and received the pay of our Government
while all the time he was plotting against it--I feel as though
shooting was too good for him. But that’s not all,” he rose from his
seat and began to walk up and down the room. “As Miss O’Malachy says,
when she came to Bellaviste to warn me that her father meant to murder
me, he actually fired at her--would have killed her rather than allow
her to betray his secret. There are some things one feels it very hard
to forgive a man, though he is dead.”

“It is cases of this kind,” said the Princess, with apparent
irrelevance, “that make one wish that Scripture and reason allowed us
to believe in the efficacy of prayers for the dead.”

“It is, indeed,” Caerleon assented heartily, although wondering a
little at the turn the conversation was taking. But when the Princess
spoke next, she had changed the subject again.

“My poor Nadia is very much alone in the world,” she remarked. “Now
that her father has cast her off, she has really no relations left.”

“Is the O’Malachy acting the Roman father?” asked Caerleon. “I was
surprised that he took no part in the rebellion.”

“He has been laid up with a bad attack of gout at a little town in
Scythian Sarmatia,” said the Princess, “and no doubt his illness has
saved his life. He must have heard from his son the reason for the
failure of the plot which you mention, for Nadia has received a long
letter from him, containing the promise of his dying curse, and
declaring that from thenceforward she was no daughter of his.”

“She could have worse spared a better father,” said Caerleon.

The Princess smiled. “That is exactly my idea. No doubt it is selfish
of me, but I cannot but rejoice that Colonel O’Malachy has cast her
off so unequivocally. When she came to me first, as a little child, I
was always afraid that a day would come when her parents would claim
her again, and, as you know, they did.”

“And I’m afraid that I can’t say I’m sorry for it,” said Caerleon. “It
was to my advantage, you see, for if Miss O’Malachy had remained in
Scythia with your Highness, I might never have met her--nor yourself,
madame,” he added, hastily.

“I did not know that Englishmen were so fond of paying compliments,”
said the Princess, looking surprised. “However, as I was about to
remark, it is a great happiness to me to know that my god-daughter is
altogether mine from henceforth.”

“I--I’m afraid you don’t quite understand what I wanted to say,” said
Caerleon, desperately. “I don’t know whether she has told you, but it
doesn’t seem right for me to be staying in your house without your
knowing it--I mean that I have twice asked Miss O’Malachy to marry
me.”

“You are candid,” said the Princess, smiling. “Nadia has told me of
your obliging offer, I assure you. May I ask whether this plain
speaking is intended as a prelude to a third proposal?”

“I wish it might be! But that must depend upon circumstances.”

“I see. Your Majesty is a prudent lover.”

“But you don’t see what I mean,” persisted Caerleon. “I can’t be
certain until I know whether I am still King of Thracia or not.”

“Then you consider that Nadia is good enough to be your wife, but not
to be your queen?”

“I think she is fit for any throne on earth,” said Caerleon,
indignantly. “Your Highness seems determined to misunderstand me. It
is not my fault that Nadia--I beg your pardon, Miss O’Malachy--is not
Queen of Thracia at this moment; but she would not have me when I was
King, and yet she wouldn’t allow me to abdicate. She put me on my
honour to stay in Thracia until I was turned out, and refused to have
anything to say to me as long as I stayed there. Of course I see the
difficulties in the way. Her Scythian blood, and her name, would make
the people detest the marriage at first, even now, especially after
what has just happened, and Drakovics would oppose it violently, and
he is capable of a good deal. But time works wonders, and if she would
have given me a grain of hope, I would have waited any number of
years; but she wouldn’t, and therefore your Highness can’t wonder that
I shall be glad if Prince Otto Georg is left in peaceable possession
of the throne.”

“This is a declaration of war, then? If you find yourself once more a
private individual, you will again ask Nadia to marry you, and do your
best to deprive me of my child?”

“Like a shot,” returned Caerleon, promptly. “I am sorry if you think I
am ungrateful, but I thought it only fair to tell you the state of the
case.”

“You are right. I prefer an open enemy. Now, I can see that all your
fatigues and anxieties have left you very tired, and no wonder. Don’t
let me keep you up if you would rather go to your room at once. I hope
the servants have made you comfortable?”

“Perfectly, thank you. But I am going to sit up and look after my
brother.”

“Are you?” asked the Princess. “I think not. I lay my commands upon
you to leave him to-night to my care and Tatiana’s, while you take a
good rest. If you wish to please me (and you know that I am a very
important person to please if you want to marry Nadia) you will do as
I tell you.”

“How can I thank you for all your kindness?” asked Caerleon,
gratefully, but she stopped him at once.

“By saying nothing about it. Good night.”

“I don’t think she is really as angry with me for wanting to marry
Nadia as she seemed to be just now,” was Caerleon’s reflection as he
kissed her hand, while the Princess was congratulating herself that
she had at least shown him plainly that he need not contemplate
marrying Nadia out of pity, nor imagine that she had no friends.



The next day opened brightly for the fugitives from Thracia. In the
first place, Tatiana announced that she thought Cyril seemed a shade
better. Next, Wright won a victory which filled his soul with delight.
Entering his master’s dressing-room before he was up, he discovered
Alessandro and an aiding and abetting boy engaged in putting out the
clothes which they had procured for Caerleon to wear. In the present
state of affairs, Wright looked upon this duty as his own, and after
the employment of much broken English and many Italian gestures on the
side of the two foreigners, and much silent contempt on his part, he
ousted his rivals and remained master of the situation. Lastly, the
Princess interviewed the Governor at an absurdly early hour, and found
him in a most reasonable frame of mind. Truth to tell, when his
Excellency heard that Princess Soudaroff wished to see him on urgent
private business, his thoughts flew immediately to Captain Binks,
whose tyranny, owing to his own boastful spirit, had become a joke in
the town. As a man of honour, the Governor was rejoiced to welcome the
opportunity of delivering this harmless and excellent foreign lady
from her oppressor, and accorded her an interview at once. His
amazement, when he found that she had come to inquire his opinion as
to the personality of the reigning King of Thracia, and not to ask his
advice as to the best way in which to get rid of the captain of her
yacht, was extreme, but he was quite ready to help her. He had not a
doubt that Prince Otto Georg would immediately be recognised as King
by the Powers, and in that case Caerleon could probably count on being
left unmolested, unless he took to devising plots against the new
_régime_ in Thracia. At any rate, if orders for his arrest should be
sent from England, his Excellency would contrive that the Princess
should hear of the mandate by a side wind before it could be carried
out.

This was the news which the Princess imparted to Caerleon when he
appeared, much ashamed of having overslept himself, at the late
breakfast. The intelligence, following on his conversation with her
the night before, served to raise his spirits considerably, and he
went so far as to chaff her gently on the subject of the exactions of
Captain Binks, of which he had heard from Wright, much to her
amusement, while Nadia listened in silence, pleased at his
cheerfulness, but still puzzled by it. After breakfast, nothing would
satisfy him but to go out at once and despatch his telegrams to King
Otto Georg and M. Drakovics. He felt himself a free man once more, but
he was feverishly anxious to have the charter of his liberty signed
and sealed. It was only as he enjoyed the unwonted sensation of
filling in the telegraph-forms that he realised what a relief it was
not to find himself waylaid during his walk to the post-office by
half-a-dozen broken-hearted officials, all beseeching him,
reverentially and almost with tears, not to give himself the trouble
of writing out his messages with his own hand. As he left the building
he made an eager mental calculation of the time which must necessarily
elapse before he could receive his assurance of release from
Bellaviste, and rejoiced to discover that a few hours ought to be
sufficient to end his suspense. It was not only that he was desirous
to escape from the trammels of etiquette--he had endured them for the
past three months, and could manage to endure them again, he thought,
if it would do any human being any earthly good,--but there was Nadia.
He could not help knowing that she had been glad to see him again the
night before; she had allowed him to hold her hand, and her beautiful
eyes had been full of tears when they fell before his,--and yet, if he
was King of Thracia still, she would persist in maintaining the
barrier which she had erected between them. If it was his duty to go
back to Thracia and take up the weary round again without the support
of her companionship, he would do it, doggedly if not with a good
grace; but if things had been settled otherwise without any action on
his part, how gladly would he hail the release! He was fully convinced
by this time that he was not suited to be a king--the position
demanded mental and moral (or perhaps unmoral) qualifications of which
he was not possessed, and a quiet life in England with Nadia was more
than ever his ideal of happiness. He walked back to the house as
though he had been treading on air, and was greeted by a friendly
smile from Alessandro, who had washed his hands of Wright, but still
retained a proprietary interest in Wright’s master, and took occasion
to inform him that the doctor had arrived some time ago to pay his
morning visit to Cyril. Almost before the courier had finished
speaking, Caerleon caught sight of Nadia standing on the piazza and
apparently waiting for him. He ran up the steps at once.

“I have just been telegraphing my congratulations to the new King,” he
said, “and assuring him that I had far rather he was on the throne
than I. I feel like a schoolboy out for a holiday.”

“Oh, hush!” said Nadia, gravely. “I have bad news for you. The doctor
is here, and he says that your brother is decidedly worse.”

Caerleon gazed at her in astonishment. “But I thought he was so much
better!” he cried.

“That was only a temporary improvement, attributable to the greater
comfort of his surroundings,” she answered, quoting the medical
pronouncement word for word. “The doctor hoped that the pain would
decrease a good deal in the night; but it is worse, and he is afraid
he will be obliged to perform an operation.”

With a muttered apology, Caerleon hurried past her, and hastened
up-stairs to Cyril’s room, meeting the doctor on the way, and hearing
the unfavourable verdict confirmed. The patient’s state was critical,
and the remedies which had been applied seemed to have failed of their
effect. Everything depended now on constant care and attention, and
this the Princess and her household might be relied upon to furnish.
But such a transference of responsibility could not satisfy Caerleon.
He insisted on taking his share, and much more than his share, of the
nursing, and would never have quitted his brother’s room if he had not
been compelled to do so. The Princess and the doctor between them
hunted him out for a walk twice a-day, and obliged him to take his
meals in an adjoining room, but except during these short intervals he
insisted on remaining with Cyril. The telegram which reached him from
M. Drakovics, inquiring anxiously what course he intended to pursue
with regard to Thracia, and that from King Otto Georg, offering to
resign the kingdom to him at once, were read and answered by the
patient’s bedside, and forgotten as soon as they had been disposed of,
in the all-absorbing interest of the struggle between life and death.
The Princess was surprised and touched by the devotion of the elder
brother to the younger, but Nadia read Caerleon’s feelings more
clearly. He was indignant with himself for acquiescing so easily in
the cheerful view at first taken of Cyril’s state, and for allowing
his mind to turn to considerations respecting his own love and
happiness when the brother who had come to Thracia for his sake, who
had done his best to keep him on his unstable throne, and who was
suffering even now through his misfortune, was too much prostrated by
pain and weakness even to realise the gravity of his own condition. To
devote himself now altogether to Cyril, and to atone for his past
neglect by cutting himself off almost entirely from Nadia’s society,
was his first impulse, but Nadia only admired him the more on this
very account, for in a similar case her own instinct would have been
to do exactly the same. As it was, she stifled a sigh over the
memories of that first evening and morning, when Caerleon had seemed
so happy and had talked so cheerfully as to recall the first days of
her acquaintance with him, and turned heroically to taking her share
of the nursing, or to doing what she could towards leaving her
godmother free to devote herself to the invalid.

“What an ungrateful wretch I am!” she said to herself. “A week ago it
would have seemed to me the very height of happiness merely to know
that Carlino was alive, and yet now that he is in the same house, and
I see him every day, I am not content. Can it be that I am jealous of
poor Lord Cyril? It sounds dreadful, and yet, when I see that Carlino
is always thinking about him, and never speaks to me unless he is
obliged, it makes me miserable. And I ought to be glad to be able to
do anything for Lord Cyril, and so I am,--only I am glad that I
forgave him before I knew how hard it would be.”

Another thing that made the time she spent in nursing Cyril more than
ordinarily hard for Nadia was the fact that her presence always seemed
to exert on the patient an influence the reverse of soothing. Whether
it was that her anxious, painstaking ways irritated him, or that his
conscience pricked him with regard to her, did not appear, but his
fevered eyes followed her persistently about the room, and seemed to
be addressing some entreaty to her. The doctor noticed it at last.

“He has something on his mind,” he said to Caerleon. “Has anything
occurred to trouble him, do you know?”

“Nothing but our leaving Thracia, so far as I am aware.”

“He did not leave any young lady behind him there, of whom Miss
O’Malachy may remind him, did he?”

“Oh no. He’s not that sort of fellow at all,” responded Caerleon, with
absolute assurance. But no other suggestion presented itself to his
mind, and he found himself puzzling continually over the uneasiness
Cyril showed in Nadia’s presence. Could it be that for some reason she
was vaguely connected in his mind with her brother? Nadia herself
could offer no explanation but this, and the discovery of the real
cause of Cyril’s aversion to her surprised her almost as much as it
did Caerleon. She was left in charge of the patient one day, while
Caerleon ate his lunch in the dressing-room, and he was astonished
after a time to hear the sounds of an altercation from the
sick-room,--if that could be called an altercation in which all the
speaking was on one side.

“Is he delirious?” he asked, opening the door slightly. “Can I help
you?”

“Oh, do go away,” said Nadia, her face flushed and angry. “No, it’s
too late; he has heard your voice. I think he must be delirious.”

“But what is it? Does he want anything?”

“He wants me to tell you something, and I won’t. There is no reason
why I should, and it can’t do any good.”

“But how do you know that is what is troubling him?”

“It struck me suddenly that he wanted something, and I asked him all
the things I could think of, until it flashed upon me that it was
this, and I have told him I can’t do it, and he won’t be satisfied.”

“Can’t you tell me, just to quiet his mind? I will never think of it
again, but this excitement must be very bad for him.” He glanced at
Cyril, who was straining his ears to catch their low-toned
conversation.

“No; I can’t. He has no right to ask it of me, nor have you. It is
merely a thing between him and me, and it would make no difference if
I told it to you, except that you would think worse of him. I say to
him that he must tell you about it himself if he wants you to know
it.”

“How can he, when he hasn’t strength to utter a word?” asked Caerleon,
indignant at what seemed her unkindness. “Come, I must insist on your
telling me. Do you know that this anxiety is the worst possible thing
for him? You cannot refuse to ease his mind.”

“You care a great deal more for his feelings than you do for mine!”
cried Nadia, angrily.

“If you really believe that, I must bear it, I suppose. Kindly tell me
this mystery.”

“It is merely that he came to see me at Bellaviste, some days before
the great ball, and got me to promise that I would not marry you if
you asked me. That’s all. And it made no difference whatever. I would
never have married you under any circumstances.”

And launching this Parthian arrow at him, she retreated defiantly,
leaving him stupefied. He remembered how Cyril had offered to help him
in his suit, had arranged for him a meeting with Nadia, had contrived
to keep M. Drakovics from suspecting what was going on,--and all the
time he had been playing this double game. Now he was lying helpless,
gazing with anxious eyes at his brother, and awaiting his reception of
the news. With those eyes upon him, Caerleon could not hesitate.

“It’s all right, old man,” he said, with something like a groan; “she
says herself that it made no difference, you see.”

Whether Cyril accepted the forgiveness with less difficulty than it
was offered, or whether it was that his act of treachery did not loom
so large in his eyes as in his brother’s, certain it is that he seemed
to begin to mend from that time. The doctor commented on the
improvement in his condition, and opined that the load on his mind had
been removed, and Caerleon, although conscious that it had merely been
transferred to his own, agreed with him. It was fortunate for the
ex-King that public affairs were now once more of a character to
engross his mind, for side by side with the realisation of Cyril’s
perfidy came the knowledge that Nadia was most grievously offended
with him, and that she ignored him resolutely whenever they met. But
it was high time that the affairs of Thracia should be settled on a
definite basis, and two delegates, one the president of the
Legislative Assembly, the other M. Drakovics’s chief supporter in the
Ministry, were about to visit Malta for the purpose of opening
negotiations with Caerleon, since the Premier himself dared not leave
the kingdom at this juncture. A very short conference with their late
sovereign convinced the ambassadors that they were not likely to meet
with any opposition on his part to the established state of things. To
King Otto Georg’s offer to abdicate he had from the first returned an
unqualified refusal, and he scouted even the idea of retiring into
private life on his laurels and a pension, as his predecessor had
done. His reign of three months had been merely an interlude in his
life, he said, although a most picturesque and stirring one, and he
was quite content to return to England as poor as he had left it now
that peace and liberty were so happily secured to Thracia. The news of
this noble self-abnegation was duly telegraphed to Bellaviste, and
rehearsed to the Assembly by M. Drakovics, who was overcome by emotion
during the delivery of his speech, although not to such an extent as
to be unable to cope with the business side of the question. It was
immediately arranged to give legal effect to the renunciation by
drawing up a document renouncing all claims to the Thracian throne, to
be taken to Malta with all possible speed, and there signed by
Caerleon and Cyril. To Caerleon the signing of this document was a
formal release from his fetters, and when he was informed that the
commissioners had brought it to the house, and were awaiting his
presence, he so far forgot the dignity of his late position as to
whistle while he hurried down-stairs. But before he could enter the
drawing-room Nadia came flying along the lofty stone passage, and
forgetting her displeasure of the past week, caught his arm.

“Don’t sign it,” she gasped. “You are the true King.”

“But I have no objection whatever to signing it,” he replied.

“Oh, don’t say that!” she entreated. “Don’t forsake your work. There
was so much to be done, and you were sent there to do it.”

“Perhaps,” said Caerleon, “and I was ready to stay on there as long as
I was wanted. I was not anxious to leave Bellaviste--in fact, I
objected most strongly to doing so; I had no hand in announcing my own
death, nor in getting King Otto Georg crowned, but all these things
happened, and it is pretty clear to me that any work that is to be
done is left for other people.”

“But you must not leave it,” she cried. “Oh, why won’t you listen to
me?”

“Isn’t that rather hard, when I have always obeyed you so implicitly?
I don’t deny that if you would have listened to me at Bellaviste on a
certain evening, Thracia would not have appeared quite such a howling
wilderness as it did latterly. But after all, that was not the cause
of my leaving, and I would not go back there now, even if you refused
to have anything more to say to me unless I did.”

“You have no right whatever to suggest such a thing,” said Nadia, with
great dignity.

“Quite so; I haven’t. But I know very well that I am not going back on
the old footing, which I suppose you intended should continue? I
thought so. It seems to me that you are making the choice a very easy
one. But I beg your pardon for teasing you. The fact is, that I am not
going to plunge Thracia, and perhaps Europe, into bloodshed to gratify
my personal ambition--or even yours for me. King Otto Georg is liked
by the people and acceptable to the Powers, whereas my return would be
the signal for revolution, perhaps for a European war. That risk I
will not incur, even to please you.”

“I never thought you were a coward!” she cried, bitterly. Caerleon
looked down at her with a smile which he could not repress.

“I wonder whether it has ever occurred to you what a very queer girl
you are?” he said. For the moment he thought that Nadia would have
struck him.

“How dare you say that to me?” she cried, and rushed away.



 CHAPTER XXIV.
 THE KING HAS HIS OWN.

“Can you spare me a minute or two, Princess?” asked Caerleon, coming
into the cool and shaded drawing-room, where his hostess sat writing a
circular letter to her band of Bible-women at Pavelsburg.

“I will spare you any number of minutes--half an hour if you like,”
returned the Princess, with a smile. “Sit down here,” and she pointed
to a low chair beside her.

“Cyril and I have been talking over our plans,” Caerleon went on, but
she interrupted him impulsively.

“I hope you did not decide to adopt any of them, then, for I have one
to suggest. The doctor recommends a sea-voyage for your brother, and I
have been looking forward to your coming with us for a cruise in the
Anna Karénina.”

“You are much too kind,” said Caerleon. “After the shameful way in
which we have been imposing upon your good nature all these weeks, we
really can’t quarter ourselves upon you any longer. Now that Cyril is
well enough to travel, we ought to be looking out for some place of
our own.”

“But what will you do?” asked the Princess. “You would not return to
England now--in February? It would be fatal. And if you were
travelling about on the Continent, your brother could not be properly
looked after. Oh, I know that you and your good Wright would take
every care of him, but it would not be the care which a woman
gives--which we have been giving him.”

“I should think not,” said Caerleon. “We could never aspire to
approach you in that. But--you will excuse my saying it--I don’t think
my presence on board your yacht would meet with Miss O’Malachy’s
approval.”

“What!” cried the Princess, with astonishing duplicity, “am I to
understand that Miss O’Malachy has been making herself disagreeable to
my guests, in my house?”

“Good gracious! I shall get the poor girl into trouble,” was
Caerleon’s instant reflection. Aloud he added hastily, “Not at all, I
assure you. It was merely a fancy of mine that she might not care for
me as a fellow-passenger.”

“Then I trust that it will remain a fancy. I should be very seriously
displeased if Miss O’Malachy forgot herself in such an extraordinary
way. But perhaps you do not wish to leave Malta at present?”

“It’s the very thing I do wish,” cried Caerleon. The leaders of
Valetta society had shown a tendency to lionise him of late, and an
enterprising newspaper man had come out from England expressly to
interview him. “I am absolutely yearning to get away.”

“Then come with us,” said the Princess. “Come as a favour to me. I am
really afraid of the captain of my yacht, and all my friends here tell
me that I ought to get rid of him. He seems to have been boasting to
his acquaintances in the harbour that he can make me do as he likes.
There is no harm in that, so long as he does not make me do anything
wrong, but it was unnecessary to publish abroad the fact. I will not
discharge him, for I have no fault to find with him professionally,
and it is only reasonable to suppose that he must know more about the
sea than I. But still, I do not care that he should regulate all my
movements, and I have been looking to you to protect me against him.”

“Oh, if I can be of any use----”

“Then it is settled. You are coming with us. And now, I want your help
at once. Captain Binks informed me this morning that if I had any
intention of continuing my voyage at all, this was the time for
visiting the Ægean. Just to prove to him that I am a free agent, can
you suggest any cruising-ground that is not the Ægean?”

“Let me see. You are in search of the places visited by St Paul, are
you not? Well, you know, there is the other Malta--the other Melita, I
mean--up somewhere in the Adriatic, off the Austrian coast.” Caerleon
spoke from a somewhat hazy recollection of long-past discussions which
had enlivened various Greek Testament classes in his college days. “I
believe the theory that it is the real Melita is quite exploded, but
you are not bound to concur with the critics without seeing the place
for yourself. It would be fairly new ground, and you could touch at
the Ionian Islands on the way.”

“Excellent!” cried the Princess, clapping her hands. “I think we shall
astonish Captain Binks.”

So much astonished, indeed, was the worthy man when he realised that
his employer had taken matters into her own hands, and chosen a course
for herself without consulting him, that he forgot to make his usual
objections until it was too late to urge them with any hope of
success, and when he did so, the Princess merely referred him to
Caerleon.

“Lord Caerleon suggested this trip,” she said, “and if there are any
difficulties, he will know how to meet them. He is a gentleman of
great experience, my good captain.”

To the surprise of every one Captain Binks surrendered at discretion.
It was only fitting that he should take the lead when the other person
concerned was a woman and a foreigner; but when there was an English
gentleman on board the captain knew his place. The Princess’s mild
suggestions he had regarded as eccentricities, to be nipped in the bud
for fear of disaster, while he would have welcomed the wildest
proposals Caerleon had cared to make as oracular utterances to be
obeyed literally for the honour of the British flag.

Under these happy auspices the voyage began, and the greatest harmony
prevailed among the passengers on board the Anna Karénina, with one
unfortunate exception. Captain Binks might defer humbly to Caerleon,
the Princess might honour him with her fullest confidence, but Nadia
would not so much as speak a civil word to him. In the circumscribed
surroundings of the yacht she could not succeed in ignoring him
altogether, but she could and did cavil at everything that he said,
and lost no opportunity of making cutting remarks at his expense. The
most trying part of it was that, as in the case of a certain historic
curse, no one seemed at all affected by what she said, and least of
all the person most concerned. When she was cherishing a lively
indignation against Caerleon on high moral grounds, and was determined
to prove to him how thoroughly she despised and detested his conduct,
it was melancholy and even irritating to find that her disapproval had
no more effect upon him than rain upon the plumage of the proverbial
duck, and that when she had exhausted herself in a tempest of
indignation he was willing to return to the charge unruffled as soon
as she liked. To tell the truth, her behaviour puzzled him not a
little; but he had no mind to lose an hour of Nadia’s society now that
it was possible to enjoy it, and submitted with perfect good humour to
hearing all his actions criticised and his most innocent remarks
railed at.

Matters reached their worst point on the day that the Anna Karénina
visited Ithaca. It verged a little upon the commonplace, no doubt, but
still it was only natural that Caerleon should fall into the snare of
making the inevitable comparison between the characters of Penelope
and Ulysses as he stood on deck beside Nadia and watched the island
fade from sight, but it was distinctly unfortunate that having said so
much, he did not stop there.

“But nowadays,” he went on, “we have changed it all. Penelope goes out
into the world, and has her fling, or her _Wanderjahr_, whatever that
may be, and Ulysses stays in Ithaca, and keeps the home together until
it pleases her to come back.”

“Did you intend that comparison to apply to me?” demanded Nadia,
standing on the defensive at once.

“No, really. It didn’t strike me that there was any resemblance. Do
you see one?”

“If you didn’t mean it, why did you say it?”

“I assure you that there was not the slightest personal allusion
intended. It was a most innocent remark, made merely for the sake of
conversation.”

“Pray don’t trouble yourself to make conversation for my benefit. I
should have thought you would see by this time that your efforts were
not appreciated.”

She walked away, and about an hour passed before Caerleon came upon
her again, sitting in a basket-chair near the companion. His evil
genius prompted him immediately to cross the deck to her side, and
say--“Shall we resume our argument, Miss O’Malachy? I don’t think we
finished it.”

“I do not wish to talk about nothing,” she returned; “and when I have
anything to say to you, I will say it.”

“This sounds alarming. Do you mean that I am forbidden to speak to you
unless I am first addressed?”

“I mean,” she said passionately, but in a low voice, “that I wish I
might never have to speak to you again.”

Caerleon looked at her in utter bewilderment, not believing that she
could be serious. “In the old days you would have apologised to me as
soon as you had said that,” he said, trying to treat the speech as a
joke. But she rose and looked him in the face.

“I wish I had never seen you,” she said. “This last month has been the
most miserable time of my life.”

“What have I done?” asked Caerleon of himself helplessly, as she
turned and went below. “Have I teased her too much? But no--she could
never have meant all the things she has said, and she couldn’t expect
me to think she did. I don’t know what to do.”

She did not appear in the saloon again that evening, and he sat
through dinner gloomy and conscience-stricken. The Princess had
letters to write when the meal was over, and Caerleon and Cyril went
on deck for their usual constitutional. Cyril broke the silence first,
as they tramped steadily and soundlessly backwards and forwards.

“I say, old man,” he began, with some hesitation, “excuse my asking,
but how long are you going to let that girl treat you in this way?”

“In what way?” inquired Caerleon, too much relieved at finding some
one with whom he might discuss his perplexities to feel angry at his
brother’s interference.

“Why, the way she goes on from morning to night, slanging you all day
long, and snapping your head off if you open your mouth! She’s making
you the laughing-stock of the ship. When you come on deck together the
men begin to grin.” This was a slight exercise of the imagination on
Cyril’s part, although it was true that he had seen Captain Binks
close his left eye on one occasion in a way that expressed unutterable
things, intending the action for the benefit of Wright, who ignored it
loftily.

“Well,” said Caerleon, “it pleases her--at least, I suppose it does,
or I don’t see why she should do it--and it doesn’t hurt me much. But
what makes her so angry with me I can’t tell.”

“I can. It’s her belief that you’re laughing at her.”

“But that’s absurd.”

“No, it isn’t. She thinks you don’t take her seriously, and the modern
woman must be taken seriously, or die.”

“But Nadia is not a modern woman,” said Caerleon, placidly.

“Oh, I know she is a cross between a Puritan and an early Christian;
but even those excellent people would have turned rusty if they had
thought they were being humbugged. And she is in deadly earnest, and
you do nothing but rag her.”

“Not intentionally, on my word and honour. But what am I to do? I can
never manage to hit on the right thing to say. How did you learn to
understand women, Cyril?”

“I didn’t learn, it is a gift--improved by cultivation, of course. You
will never have it, old man,” Cyril dropped into Nadia’s chair as he
spoke, and Caerleon leaned against the bulwark opposite him; “but if I
may venture on one small bit of advice, do make an effort to
understand the woman you want to marry.”

“I’ve done that until my brain is softening. If she wasn’t so utterly
truthful and transparent, so that one knows she means everything she
says----”

“Oh, you ridiculous idiot!” cried Cyril. “Then why do you stay to be
slanged?”

“Because I hope all the time that she doesn’t mean it.”

“There you are! I tell you, Caerleon, that unfortunate girl is pretty
nearly desperate. Do you think she talks to you in this way out of
pure cussedness, or for fun? She has raged at you for a fortnight, and
you laugh at her the whole time.”

“But if she has anything against me, why in the world doesn’t she tell
me so plainly, and let us have it out once for all?”

“Your reasoning would be most cogent if you were only speaking of a
man, but lovely woman has her own ways of doing things. And when you
come to think of it, you would be rather startled if the lady in the
present case marched up to you some morning and informed you that you
had offended her grievously, giving details, of course, and added that
all intimate relations between you would be suspended until you had
purged your contempt. That is the actual state of things, of course,
but Miss O’Malachy is not going to tell you so. She has let you see it
pretty plainly, and I’m not surprised that she is in despair over your
denseness. The most maddening thing you can do to a woman is to ignore
her moods, and when she is in love with you----! I tell you it
wouldn’t astonish me in the least if she left the ship at the next
port we come to, and tried to lose herself. Another woman would throw
herself overboard, but she is not that sort. The Princess’s teaching
does not produce suicides.”

Caerleon’s face was very pale. “For heaven’s sake, Cyril, stop talking
in that way, and tell me what you think I ought to do. It’s no use
trying to appeal to her feelings, for I’ve done it, and she simply
scathed me.”

“Listen,” said Cyril, sitting up in order to give greater effect to
his words. “You must lay aside that contented, don’t-care manner of
yours. It maddens her. I know you do care, and with some women your
manner would answer admirably, but she can’t see through it. Look
here; I know you will naturally feel shy of taking my advice after
that business at Bellaviste, but this is a straight tip----”

Caerleon started. “I was not thinking of that,” he said.

“Well, you don’t imagine that it is very agreeable to me to remind you
of it, do you? I felt that I had to let you know of it when I was so
bad, but I’ve been glad enough since that you seemed ready to forget
it. Now, old man, if you have forgiven me, take my advice in this. I
give you my word that I’m trying to do my level best for you and her.
Turn rusty yourself. Let her see that she has gone too far. If she
tries to begin rating you, give it her back----”

“I can’t. You seem to forget that she’s a woman, and that I care for
her.”

“Yes, you can; if it’s for her own sake. Don’t you see, it will show
her that you are in earnest? Once she knows that she has made you
really angry, she will be ready to do anything she can to appease you.
Matters must come to a crisis then. Try to make yourself feel that she
isn’t treating you fairly. She has no business to inflict on an
innocent inexperienced fellow like you the punishment which would be
all very well for a hardened old offender, such as your humble
servant. Yes, that’s your line. Get up a feeling of indignation. Lay
it on hot and strong. Provoke an explosion, or you’ll never get the
chance of an explanation.”

“Well, I will try. Anything’s better than the way we have been going
on lately. But suppose it doesn’t succeed?”

“It must, unless you are too late already; but you will have to be on
the look-out for the slightest change in her manner. Don’t lose your
chance, or you’ll blame yourself for it all your life. Now I’m going
below to turn in.”

He disappeared, but Caerleon remained long on deck, meditating on what
he had said. As it happened, the Princess also was moved just at this
time to take some notice of the state of affairs, and the next morning
she said suddenly to Nadia--

“Have you quarrelled with Carlino, my child? You do not seem to be on
good terms with him.”

“He cares nothing for what I say or do,” responded Nadia, sullenly.

“Is there any encouragement for him to care, dear child? What has he
done that you should treat him as you do?”

“He has disappointed me, Marraine. I thought he was brave, that he
could be trusted, and he has abandoned his work, and betrayed his
trust. He sneers at the mere idea of honour.”

“My child, you astonish me!” cried the Princess. “Are you certain of
this? To make such accusations without proof is cruel.”

“I know it by what he has said to me himself, Marraine. I had not
spoken to him for a week, but I laid aside my anger and implored him
to be firm, to do his duty,--and he laughed at me.”

“I am certain you are making a mistake, Nadia,” said her godmother,
with most unusual decision. “You have judged hastily and harshly, and
you are wronging an excellent man. You should cultivate more faith in
your fellow-creatures, and especially in your lover. Are you the only
person in the world that can possibly be in the right? Allow Carlino
to possess a conscience as well as yourself, I entreat you. You have
been very hard upon him, and I feel that I must give you a warning. Am
I to understand that for a whole month you have been cherishing these
angry feelings against him, without even doing him the courtesy of
asking whether you understood him rightly on the occasion to which you
refer? You would not have treated your worst enemy in this way at one
time. You may have misunderstood him; you may have refused to listen
to what he had to say. Give him the chance of explaining the reasons
for his action, and don’t press him too far. No man will put up with
such treatment for ever.”

“I want to make him care,” said Nadia, with fierce determination, and
she went on deck, stifling in her heart the Princess’s warnings and
the answering echo of her own conscience, which told her that the real
reason for her quarrel with Caerleon was that he had disappointed her
ambitious dreams for him. Emerging from the companion, she found the
subject of her thoughts examining the distant coast-line with the aid
of a glass borrowed from Captain Binks. Ordinarily he would have
turned at once to greet her, and offered her the telescope, but now he
took no notice of her approach.

“Is that island very interesting?” she inquired, sarcastically.

He did not answer, and she repeated the question with a little added
sarcasm.

“I beg your pardon,” he replied, coldly. “Were you speaking to me? I
understood that I was not to be favoured with your conversation in
future.”

This was unexpected. Nadia looked at him in surprise, unaware that he
was congratulating himself on the way in which she had addressed him.
If there had been the slightest sign of softening in her manner, he
could not have followed Cyril’s advice.

“And you are satisfied that it should be so?” she asked, in blank
dismay.

“If it satisfies you. What pleases you must always please me,” he
said, politely, and then folded up the telescope and walked away,
leaving her suddenly conscious that the deck was very wide and bare,
and that she was very lonely and desperately miserable. At breakfast
he ignored her in the most pointed way, answering briefly and
repressively when she addressed him, but confining his own
conversation exclusively to the Princess and Cyril. It was one of the
hardest things he had ever done in his life, to keep up this pretence
of coldness when he found Nadia’s beautiful eyes scanning his face
timidly from time to time; but the remembrance of Cyril’s words the
night before armed him with a determination not to yield until he had
gained his point. Accordingly, he held aloof from the ladies all the
morning, chatting with Captain Binks upon the bridge, and Cyril, who
was reading aloud to the Princess as she worked, observed with
satisfaction that Nadia’s needle made no progress, and that the
reluctant tears dropped slowly on the stuff which she was supposed to
be forming into a garment.

“She is thoroughly frightened at last,” he said to himself. “After
all, it’s just as well that Caerleon should have given her her head so
freely hitherto. It makes the sudden pull-up all the more effective.
Now, if I can manage it, he shall get things settled this afternoon,
for he will never be able to go on with this.”

Pity for the desolate Nadia was making itself felt even by the
business-like Cyril; but pity itself could not induce him to relax one
whit of his precautions for securing a happy ending to Caerleon’s
wooing. When they landed that afternoon on a small island, inhabited
only by a few fishermen and goatherds, he sent his brother to walk
with the Princess, and to carry the stock of Gospels and
picture-tracts which she always distributed at the huts they visited,
while he himself, on the plea of weakness, followed slowly with Nadia.
When the Princess and Caerleon emerged from the little church on the
hill-top, whither the village priest had taken them to look at the
ancient _icons_ and service-books, they found him waiting for them
outside alone.

“Miss O’Malachy was tired, and I left her to rest on the way up,” he
said. “Caerleon, don’t you think it would be a delicate attention if
you went and offered her your arm? Give me the Princess’s books, and
we will try and establish communications with the old pope here.”

Very willingly Caerleon left his brother talking to the priest in a
wonderful medley of dialects, and began to descend the path by which
they had come up the hill. A bare-footed little girl herding goats was
the only person he saw until he came upon Nadia, sitting upon a stone,
with her face buried in her hands.

“Can I--can I do anything for you, Miss O’Malachy?” he asked,
hesitatingly.

“Yes--you can go away,” she returned, fiercely, without looking up,
but the tears were forcing themselves through her fingers, and she
began to sob in a hopeless way that went to Caerleon’s heart. He stood
looking at her, without an idea what to do, until she rose suddenly.

“If you will not go away, I must,” she said in her most dogged tone,
dashing away her tears, but for once Caerleon saw his opportunity and
grasped it.

“No, you will not,” he said, barring her path. “We must have an
explanation, Nadia. I want to know what you mean by treating me in
this way?”

“In what way?” It was evident that this carrying of the war into her
own territories took Nadia by surprise.

“Why, the way you have behaved to me ever since we came on
board,--rating me all day long, and treating me as if I was the dust
under your feet.”

“It has not done you much harm. I wish it had,” and her grey eyes
flashed stormily.

“How do you know whether it has or not? Do you think I am going to beg
for mercy from a girl who doesn’t mind what she says to me, and rather
likes to make me a public spectacle, because she knows that I care for
her too much to say anything in return? No; the fact is, Nadia,” he
stopped her indignant denial, “that you have been taking a mean
advantage of me. You treat me like a dog because you know that I love
you, and would rather have you scolding me all day than be King of
Thracia.”

“At least avoid that subject,” said Nadia, with a sudden shiver. “But
no, as you say, it may be better to come to an explanation. How can
you expect me to have anything to do with you when I know that you
gave up your work like a coward that you might be able to marry me?”

“I promise you I didn’t,” cried Caerleon.

“You almost told me so. At any rate, you did not deny it.”

“I didn’t know that you expected me to state everything in plain
English, but I will. You know how I hated Bellaviste; but still, if
King Otto Georg had not been elected and crowned in my place, or if it
had been possible for the Powers to object to him more strongly than
they did to me, I would have gone back, and stayed there until I was
kicked out again. But as I said to you a month ago, I was not going to
risk causing another revolution and a European war, even for your
sake. That is my position exactly, and I have told you all about it
already. It’s very hard, to be sure, that one’s motives are altogether
pure; but I honestly believe that I did not allow the thought of
marrying you to weigh with me in making my decision. You must trust me
a little, Nadia.”

“But you said--you said that I was making your choice an easy one,
when I said I wouldn’t marry you if you went back. If you thought I
would marry you in case you gave up the kingdom for my sake, you were
mistaken. What have you to say now?”

“Simply this, that my resolution was taken before you spoke to me that
day at all. If I had felt it right to go back, I hope I should have
gone, and done my duty to the best of my power, but I felt that it was
neither right nor desirable. It is unfortunate for me, from your point
of view, that duty and pleasure both pointed the same way in this
case, but I can’t help it. I can only give you my word. If you will
accept that, it’s all right, but if not---- Well, it’s for you to
decide.”

“To decide what?” asked Nadia, sharply.

“The question I have asked you once or twice already. I could not
expect you to marry me if you didn’t believe my word.”

“I do believe your word,” said Nadia. “No, don’t touch me,” drawing
herself away from him as he took a step forward, “that is not the
question to be decided. You know what I am--you have seen during this
last month how truly hateful I can be when I take a thing into my
head; you see that I was not even ready to trust you, after all that
you have done. And I can’t promise to be any better--a little time ago
I thought that I should never be unreasonable and foolish again, and
now I have been worse than ever. Why don’t you say that you have been
mistaken in me, and let us part? I know I have deserved it--I will
never utter a word against you if you decide that this time I have
tried even your patience too far. What do you say?”

“This,” replied Caerleon, promptly, taking her hands in his and
kissing her. “Why do you want me to punish myself?”

“Don’t--please don’t,” cried Nadia, bursting into tears again. “You
don’t know all the wicked things I have thought. I believed that you
had been consulting Lord Cyril about the kingdom, and that he had
advised you to do just as you liked, and not care whether it was right
or wrong. I know he doesn’t like me, and I thought he would be glad to
get you to do anything that I wanted you not to do. I meant to refuse
you again, even if it broke my heart.”

“And I haven’t a doubt you’d have done it,” said Caerleon, “but you
are a little hard on Cyril. It is due to him that we have had this
explanation at all, for he told me he was sure that there was
something that came between us, and advised me to speak to you. And
you do believe me now, dear, don’t you?”

“Indeed I do,” said Nadia, smiling through her tears, “and I hope you
will always be my friend; but I am not going to marry you. I am such a
wretch. I shall make your life miserable.”

“Are you going to start with that determination?” asked Caerleon,
“because it would be rude of me to say that you couldn’t make me
miserable if you tried. But if you are only judging from past
experience--well, I have been making you cry just now, but I hope I
shan’t be such a brute as to do it again. We must both turn over a new
leaf.”

“At any rate,” said Nadia, with tremendous resolution, “I know what I
shall do. I will make it a matter of conscience always to obey any
order or suggestion of yours without the slightest hesitation. It only
makes trouble when I try to settle things for myself.”

“What!” cried Caerleon, stepping back a pace and looking at her in
consternation, “do you intend to use me as a means of self-discipline?
I can’t stand that. And who talks about _orders_? You certainly have a
most unflattering opinion of me, Nadia. Am I such a tyrant as all
that? Haven’t I made you understand yet that what made me take to you
at the very first was that you looked at things so differently from
myself? I want you to differ from me. I want you to criticise my
plans, to show me where I am wrong, to tell me how everything strikes
you. Then we can thresh the matter out together, and decide it by our
joint wisdom. But tell me, do you really look upon me as such a
fearful despot?”

“It’s not that,” said Nadia, slowly. “It is only that I feel I ought
to obey you--that I should like it--because you are so good, and I
have treated you so badly, and----”

But her further reasons for obedience cannot be known, for Caerleon
interrupted her suddenly and forcibly, and it was some little time
before she freed herself and spoke again.

“But would you really like me to marry you, Carlino?” She brought out
the name with an effort, and yet from her lips it sounded like a
caress. “I have thought lately that you must certainly have left off
caring for me.”

“Did you really think that? What have I been doing? You didn’t believe
that I could possibly give you up? Won’t you ever trust me, Nadia? I
do entreat you, the next time you have anything against me, let us
have it out at once. Don’t accuse me in your mind for weeks without my
knowing it, and take everything I say and do as a sign of guilt. It’s
not fair. Only come and tell me what it is that you don’t like, and
give me a chance of explaining things. You will have a lot of trouble
with me, my darling, for I’m such a stupid fellow that I can’t see a
thing unless it’s plainly pointed out to me, but I will do my best to
look at things from your point of view. I do want to make you happy.”

“A little time ago,” said Nadia, meditatively, “I should have said ‘I
want to try to help you to be good,’ but I know better now. I want you
to help me.”

“Oh, that’s absurd,” cried Caerleon. “You will have to educate me up
to your level, you know. Don’t be too hard on me, dearest. I’m only an
ordinary man, and I haven’t been practising martyrdom from my youth
up, as you have. Let me off easily in the way of hurting my feelings,
and that sort of thing, just at first. By the bye, why did you send me
that cruel message through Cyril the time you came to Bellaviste?”

“Because I was sure that I could not hold out if you came and spoke to
me yourself. I would have given worlds to stretch out my hands and
call to you to come to me when I saw you standing by the gate,
Carlino.”

“If you had only yielded to that impulse!” said Caerleon. “Or if you
hadn’t refused me that night I asked you first to marry me! I am sure
that it would have been happier for both of us, dear.”

“Not for you,” said Nadia, decidedly. “I have learnt one or two
lessons since then. But you would in all probability have been King of
Thracia still, so that you have to thank me for losing you your
kingdom, after all. But there is one thing I want to say now, Carlino,
just that you may see that I know all about it, and then we will never
mention the subject again. It is about that other girl to whom you
were engaged, and who married the Prince of Dardania. I quite
understand how it was. It was all my fault, for I made you so angry
with me that you took me at my word. You must not think that I am
vexed with you about it, for I know that you were not to blame. I
should only have been rightly punished if you had married her. Now
please don’t let us say anything more about it.”

“But I must just say one thing,” said Caerleon. “Let me defend myself,
for I wasn’t quite the mean scoundrel you think me,--getting engaged
to one girl simply in order to punish another. Princess Ottilie asked
me to pretend to be engaged to her just for a fortnight or so, that
suspicion might be averted from her real lover, and I was fool enough
to do as she asked. She led me a pretty dance. I think even you would
have pitied me, Nadia, if you had seen me then. It served me right for
being such a fool, but I don’t think I was a cad. I never even kissed
her.”

“If you had, you should never have kissed me,” said Nadia, hotly; and
Caerleon wondered anew at the intricacies of the feminine mind. “But I
am glad you have told me this,” she went on, after an interval,
“because it makes me more ashamed of myself. When you find me very
troublesome and very unbelieving, please whisper in my ear, ‘Remember
Princess Ottilie.’”

“I had rather forget her, myself,” said Caerleon; “but I’ll do it if
you are sure you’ll like it. Oh, bother it all! there are the Princess
and Cyril going down to the boat. We’ll let them get on a little, and
catch them up afterwards.”

“But the gig was to go to the mainland for the letters,” said Nadia,
innocently. “Are you not in a hurry to see yours?”

“I had much sooner talk to you. Who knows when I shall find you in
this angelic frame of mind again?”

“I knew you could not depend upon me,” and the tears began to rise
once more in Nadia’s eyes. “You can never feel certain that I shall
behave properly.”

“Oh, what a doubly distilled ass I am!” cried Caerleon. “I wonder
whether there ever was a worse fellow for putting his foot in it than
I am. My darling, it was a joke. Please do try to expect jokes
sometimes, and don’t take all I say in earnest. I won’t joke more than
I can help.”

“You must teach me,” said Nadia. “If you will explain your jokes at
first, I shall soon learn to understand them; and I will try not to be
so silly.”

To which the infatuated Caerleon replied by declaring that on no
account would he have her in the slightest degree different from what
she was, and they went down the hill together in great peace and
contentment, to find the Princess and Cyril waiting for them at the
waterside. Once on board the yacht, Cyril was accommodating enough to
occupy himself with his letters, while Caerleon sought an interview
with the Princess, and received her warm approval of the engagement.
There was no lonely prowl on deck this evening for the two brothers.
Muffled in shawls, the Princess and Nadia joined them, and under the
lee of the deckhouse they discussed plans for the future.

“I have heard from Mrs Sadleir,” said Caerleon, “in answer to a letter
I wrote asking her what she thought about my returning home. She
advises me not to come back just yet, since the Thracian question is
very much in people’s minds at present; but after a few months she
thinks I may count upon escaping notice. ‘Of course,’ she says, ‘you
will not expect to find yourself a _persona gratissima_ in exalted
circles, nor to receive the offer of the Pavelsburg Embassy when it
falls vacant, but I think there is little doubt that you will probably
be allowed to grow mangel-wurzels (whatever they may be) on your
ancestral acres in peace, and even to vote in the House of Lords now
and then if you do not make yourself too conspicuous.’ The next
sentence is slightly personal, but I hope you won’t mind, Nadia. ‘I am
all anxiety to know how the romance of the beautiful Scythian girl has
ended. If you succeed in winning her and bringing her back with you,
give me a week’s notice, and I will guarantee that she shall be the
greatest social success of these twenty years.’ Mrs Sadleir means you
to come, be seen, and conquer, Nadia.”

“That will not be until some time hence,” said the Princess, seeing
Nadia look alarmed. “But since you are not to return home for three or
four months, Lord Caerleon, I hope we may count upon your society for
the rest of our tour. We have still all the coasts of the Ægean and
Cyprus to see, and I thought of spending Easter at Jerusalem.”

“There is nothing on earth I should like better,” said Caerleon, with
enthusiasm.

“And you, Lord Cyril?” asked the Princess. “I hope you will come too?”

“You are very kind,” said Cyril, speaking with an evident excitement
unusual with him, “and I should be most delighted to accept your
invitation; but as soon as I am strong again I must set to work. You
won’t be surprised to hear that this Thracian business has about done
for me in the diplomatic service. Of course, if we arranged things
nowadays in a common-sense, Elizabethan kind of way, I should be made
British agent at Bellaviste immediately, on the score of my intimate
acquaintance with the country and the people; but we don’t, and I’m
afraid there are not many chiefs that would care to have me under them
now. I never have felt exactly drawn towards settling down and
cultivating mangel-wurzels, and after the experiences of the last
three months such a prospect looks less enticing than ever. This
letter here is from King Otto Georg. He wants me to go back to Thracia
as his private secretary--the post I held under you, Caerleon. He
finds himself horribly lonely, he says--by the bye, Drakovics is said
to be looking out for a wife for him, so that oughtn’t to last
long--and I can see that he wants me to act as a sort of under-study
for him as well. Drakovics is too important, both in view of the
possibility of his being assassinated, and of his influence in the
country. The King thinks that I might be useful in two ways, first, in
getting some idea of the manner in which things are done, so that
Drakovics’s removal might not necessarily mean the collapse of the
whole system of government; and secondly, in keeping Drakovics himself
from going too far. Of course Otto Georg, poor old fellow! can’t very
well do that sort of thing for himself, but I think that I, as a
friend of both parties, might be able to manage it.”

“I don’t envy you,” said Caerleon, drily.

“The position is delicate, but all the more interesting on that
account,” said Cyril. “Drakovics has rather a liking for me, somehow
or other, and if I can keep in with him, I might put the drag on when
he is inclined to act in a regal way that few kings would stand. Otto
Georg is a good fellow, and will see that I don’t have too much to do
in the way of routine work. In fact, I can see that he wants me as a
companion even more than as a secretary.”

“You are very young,” said the Princess, and Caerleon laughed
unfeelingly, for only that evening he had told Cyril that he looked so
young and so innocent, with his pale face and thin hands, that all the
ladies at the different ports would take him for a schoolboy. “You
ought to have some one to take care of you.”

“Ah, if Miss O’Malachy had only a sister to take pity on me!” sighed
Cyril. “But as it is, I must wait and grow older before I can venture
on a wife. When I come back from Bellaviste after thirty years or so
of service with Otto Georg, and stay with you in England, Caerleon, I
shall fix upon some sweet child just out of the schoolroom, with a
comfortable fortune of her own. I shall not look young or innocent
then. I shall be worn and grey, and slightly, very slightly, bald, and
I shall hint darkly to the dear girl at unknown depths in my past
history, with the description of which I will not pollute her ears.
That will fetch her more than anything. The attentions of a man with a
reputation for wickedness will set that girl on a pinnacle at once in
her own estimation.”

“I shall warn her against you,” broke in Nadia, with righteous
indignation.

“Do you think she would believe you?” asked Cyril, pityingly. “She
would naturally take the first opportunity of asking me whether the
charges against me were true. I need only look sad, and remark
mournfully that it was easy enough for a man to go to the dogs, but
hard indeed for him to recover himself when even his own relations
were against him; and if that girl and her fortune were not promised
to me before the interview was over, I don’t know anything of human
nature.”

“This is merely one of Cyril’s jokes, dear,” whispered Caerleon behind
Nadia’s fan, as she sat looking puzzled and angry; and Cyril, who had
overheard him, laughed and went on.

“I have another Bellaviste letter here, from our late master of the
household, who tells me that there is no hope of recovering any of our
personal property. The rebels looted the palace, and burned what they
couldn’t take away. The Assembly has voted us a handsome sum by way of
compensation, but, alas! one cannot ‘buy with gold the old
associations.’ I am especially sorry for you, Caerleon. Your rubies
are gone.”

“Oh, those rubies!” cried Caerleon.

“What rubies?” asked Nadia.

“A set of rubies which a certain lady of whom you may have heard (she
is now the Princess of Dardania) presented to Caerleon with the
request that he would hand them on to you,” answered Cyril, promptly.

“I am glad they are lost. I would never have worn them,” said Nadia,
with decision. “Come,” she said to Caerleon, “let us walk up and down
the deck a little, Carlino. It is cold here.”

Caerleon rose immediately, and when they were gone Cyril turned and
looked benignly at the Princess. “Do you feel guilty?” he inquired. “I
ask because I am morally certain that while I took occasion to speak
to Caerleon last night for his good, you addressed a slight
remonstrance to Miss Nadia. This is the result. Do you not feel
appalled at the risk?”

“All marriages are risks,” returned the Princess; “but I hope there
will be less danger than usual about this one. In the first place,
they cannot be married for six months at least, for it is not a year
until August since your father’s death, and they will learn to know
each other very thoroughly during this tour of ours.”

“There’s a good deal in that,” assented Cyril. “If people can keep the
peace on board ship, they are pretty safe anywhere.”

“Then,” went on the Princess, “your brother is singularly calm and
reasonable----”

“And therefore well fitted to cope with an unreasonable woman, you
would say?” suggested Cyril.

“No,” said the Princess, taking up the cudgels on behalf of her
god-daughter, “Nadia is not unreasonable. She is very downright, and
she sees only one thing at a time. I think you have a word for this
characteristic of hers, but I forget it.”

“One-idea’d?” said Cyril.

“Yes; that is it. And she will never do what she thinks is wrong.”

“And she is always ready to be a martyr, and to make martyrs of other
people. Would it be rude to ask you, Princess, to suggest to her that
she has cultivated heroism long enough, and that the softer virtues of
daily life might have a turn with advantage?”

“Our life in Scythia may not have been the best school for her,” said
the Princess, thoughtfully. “We Evangelicals have always been set
apart--laughed at even when we were not persecuted, and such an
experience fortifies one strongly against thinking too much of the
opinion of others. It also develops, as you imply, one set of
qualities rather at the expense of another set. And then she has that
Irish faculty of concentration--blind devotion to an idea I have heard
it called; but it need not necessarily be blind.”

“Irish?” Cyril raised his eyebrows. “I should have said that I never
met any one more unlike the typical Irish girl than Miss O’Malachy.
Her brother, too, was extremely un-Hibernian.”

“Ah, that is because you are thinking of the ordinary Irish
type--Colonel O’Malachy’s, for instance. Gay, what you call a ‘good
fellow,’ always ready for a frolic, possessing a keen sense of the
ridiculous. But there is also another kind of Irishmen altogether.
They have no sense of humour, or they would not preach under the
protection of the police to howling mobs, or sacrifice their lives and
their honour to some wrong-headed or hopeless cause. Nadia and her
brother belong to this type, so do many conspirators, and not a few
martyrs.”

“This is rather a poor look-out for Caerleon,” said Cyril.

“I don’t think so. Nadia has learnt a lesson from the past month; she
is humbled, and she will have less confidence in her own judgment from
henceforth. She has seen to-day something of your brother’s true
character, and the better she knows him, the more she will trust him.
Then, they will not have the trial and temptation of idleness, for
both of them are born workers. I look to see them do great things for
God and His poor on your brother’s estates in the provinces. They will
strengthen each other’s hands in the good work, and the opposition
which they will encounter from the world will bind them more closely
together at home.”

“I suppose they will go in for closing all the public-houses on the
estate, and that sort of thing,” groaned Cyril. “By the bye, there was
part of Stefanovics’s letter that I didn’t read. I didn’t want to cast
a damp over their first evening. King Otto Georg has repealed
Caerleon’s liquor law.”

“Oh, no!” cried the Princess.

“He has, indeed. It seems that when the people found out that Caerleon
wasn’t killed, they wanted to have him back again, and there were
riots in several places. The King and Drakovics were concerting
measures for the maintenance of peace, when Drakovics was seized with
a bright idea. ‘Repeal the liquor law,’ he said. ‘That will please the
people, and release a sum of money, which you can apply to the relief
of taxation.’ They were in a pretty tight place, so the King jumped at
the idea, and the law was repealed just a week ago. Stefanovics says
that the Carlinists were all going about in austere dignity, like so
many Girondins, each man wearing his temperance medal with Caerleon’s
head on it at his button-hole, and lamenting the virtues of the late
reign, but the mass of the people accepted the bribe like a shot.
There were no more Carlinist riots, and now any one can get drunk that
likes.”

“It is a sad step backwards,” murmured the Princess.

“It is strange, isn’t it,” said Cyril, “that Miss O’Malachy should
have failed to keep Caerleon on the throne, after all her trying, and
that the one piece of his work which he hoped would last should be
undone six weeks after he leaves Thracia? They have both failed
utterly.”

“Some people’s failures are better than other people’s successes,”
said the Princess, with unwonted sharpness. “I must say that I prefer
your brother’s failure to the success which would have been yours had
you been able to secure his remaining on the throne.”

“Well, I can congratulate myself that I did what I could to keep him
there,” said Cyril, a little uncomfortably.

“Can you indeed congratulate yourself?” asked the Princess. “I do not
know what your methods were, but I remember that you did not appear to
look back upon them with complacency when you thought yourself dying.”

“Well, you know, I felt that I had played it rather low down on
Caerleon, and that isn’t a thing one cares to think of.”

“You schemed to separate your brother and his bride,” said the
Princess. “Whether you actually went beyond the truth in anything that
you said I do not know; but it seems to me that you would not have
called your conduct honourable in a private matter.”

“That’s just it. Public business is conducted on different
principles.”

“Is it? But why? Public considerations required, as you thought, that
Carlino should not marry Nadia. Accordingly, you sought to separate
them, and you succeeded for a time. Happily, you were not permanently
successful, and your efforts were overruled for good. But of what use
were your attempts? God did not intend your brother to be King of
Thracia, and you could not keep him on the throne.”

“But would you have one simply let things slide?”

“I would have you leave things to God. When you find that you can go
no further in your chosen path without breaking His laws, is it not a
sign that you are to stop there?”

“I don’t wonder that you Evangelicals get yourselves banished as you
do,” said Cyril, smiling. “The ordinary Scythian view of diplomacy
would certainly not agree with yours.”

“You imply that ours is the English view? Then may I hope that you
will act on English and not on Scythian principles when you return to
Thracia?”

“Would you have me bind myself by a pledge, Princess?”

“Not unless you wish it. I only ask you to look back on the time you
spent at Bellaviste, and the means you used to force your brother to
remain there, and to ask yourself, Was it worth while?”

“Considering that the result was failure, I think it was not,” said
Cyril, meditatively. “But I do not say that it would not have been
worth while if I had succeeded.”

“And what would your success have been worth?” asked the Princess. “If
I were you, Lord Cyril, I would thank God night and morning that the
end of your enterprise was failure.”

 THE END.



 TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES.

Sydney C. Grier was the pseudonym of Hilda Caroline Gregg.

This book is part of the author’s “Balkan Series.” The full series, in
order, being:

  An Uncrowned King
  A Crowned Queen
  The Kings of the East
  The Prince of the Captivity

Alterations to the text:

Punctuation corrections--mostly quotation mark pairing.

Note: minor spelling and hyphenization inconsistencies (_e.g._
warships/war-ships, Grand-Duke/Grand Duke, etc.) have been left as is.

[Title Page]

Add brief note indicating this novel’s position in the series. See
above.

[Chapter XII]

“Congrats. and all that sort of thing, old man” change period to a
comma.

[Chapter XVIII]

Change “which passed _though_ the station this morning” to _through_.

[End of Text]





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