Hopitutuqaiki

The Hopi School

PO Box 56
Hotevilla, Arizona 86030

928-734-2433
www.hopischool.net

Scholar’s Library


Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Test

Title: A Crowned Queen - The Romance of a Minister of State
Author: Grier, Sydney C.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Crowned Queen - The Romance of a Minister of State" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



 A CROWNED QUEEN

 THE ROMANCE OF A MINISTER OF STATE

 By
 SYDNEY C. GRIER
 AUTHOR OF
 ‘AN UNCROWNED KING,’ ‘IN FURTHEST IND,’ ETC.


 (_Second in the Balkan Series_)


 THIRD IMPRESSION

 WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
 EDINBURGH AND LONDON
 MCMVII
 _All Rights reserved_



 CONTENTS.

 I. AN INTERRUPTED HOLIDAY
 II. IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH
 III. THE BATTLE OF THE CREEDS
 IV. AN AMATEUR DIPLOMATIST
 V. HEAVILY HANDICAPPED
 VI. A DAUGHTER’S DUTY
 VII. TWO KINGS OF BRENTFORD
 VIII. A FAMILY COMPACT
 IX. “WAYS THAT ARE DARK, AND TRICKS THAT ARE VAIN”
 X. A NEW RELATIONSHIP
 XI. WAYFARING
 XII. METAMORPHOSES
 XIII. IN THE GREENWOOD
 XIV. THE _JUDENHETZE_
 XV. “WE TWO STOOD THERE WITH NEVER A THIRD”
 XVI. THIS WORKING-DAY WORLD
 XVII. “THE MAN WHOM THE QUEEN DELIGHTETH TO HONOUR”
 XVIII. FRIENDLY INTERVENTION
 XIX. A LITTLE TOO FAR
 XX. IN QUEST OF THE WHEREWITHAL
 XXI. PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE
 XXII. THE EDUCATION QUESTION
 XXIII. IN SIGHT OF THE GOAL
 XXIV. A COMBAT _À OUTRANCE_
 XXV. TO THE VICTOR THE SPOILS



 A CROWNED QUEEN.

 CHAPTER I.
 AN INTERRUPTED HOLIDAY.

The carriage from Llandiarmid Castle had been waiting for a quarter
of an hour at the little country station, and the horses were
beginning to toss their heads and paw the ground restlessly, to the
great scandal of the coachman.

“This ’ere train of yours is late again, Mr Prodger,” he grumbled to
the station-master, who was combining business with pleasure by
perusing a grimy copy of a Welsh newspaper at the same time that he
kept an eye on the porter who was engaged in weeding the platform
flower-beds. Mr Prodger took up the challenge promptly.

“I wass sooner believe you do be early nor the train late, Mr Wright,”
he responded. “’Deed and I wass.”

“Me early!” was the wrathful answer; “when ’er ladyship come round to
the stables ’erself, and tell me to ’urry, because there wasn’t but
barely time to meet the train, the notice was that short! No, Mr
Prodger, it’s my belief as there’s been a haccident somewhere on this
bloomin’ line, and a nice tale I’ll ’ave to go back and tell the
Markiss and my lady.”

“There goes the signals,” put in the footman. “The train’ll be ’ere in
a minute.”

“Iss, sure,” said the station-master, “the train do be oll right. She
wass not have you for driver, Mr Wright, see you?”

Chuckling over this Parthian shot, Mr Prodger retired to his own
domains, and Wright turned upon the footman, who had interfered so
unwarrantably in the discussion.

“What are you a-doin’ of ’ere, Robert? Why ain’t you on the platform
waitin’ to take ’is lordship’s things?”

“I ain’t never seen ’is lordship,” pleaded Robert. “I was waitin’ to
arst you what ’e was like.”

“Oh, yes, there’s so many passengers stops ’ere,” returned his
superior, with a terrific sneer. “’E’ll be lost in the crowd, ’e
will.”

“But do ’e favour the Markiss?” persisted the footman.

“Well, they both ’as fair ’air and blue eyes, if you go for to call
that a likeness. But you look out for a under-sized gentleman, with a
’aughty voice, and a slave-driver kind of a way with ’im. That’s Lord
Cyril.”

With this graphic description to guide him, Robert ventured upon the
platform, and succeeded in identifying the traveller of whom he was in
search. Wright’s lips settled themselves into a peculiarly grim smile
when his subordinate returned escorting a small fair man enveloped in
a fur-lined overcoat--a garment which excited the somewhat derisive
wonder of the loiterers around. They touched their caps as Lord Cyril
passed, it is true--it was an attention they were bound to pay to the
brother of “the Markiss,” but behind his back they asked one another
with ill-concealed grins whether “oll the chentlemen wass wear ladies’
clooks in the furrin parts he did come from?” If Lord Cyril noticed
their amusement, he heeded it no more than did the stolid German valet
who followed with his bag, and it was with a pleasant smile that he
looked up at Wright.

“Glad to see you again, Wright. You look as fit as ever. So you are
coachman now, are you?”

“Yes, my lord--this five year.”

“Your shadow has not grown less, I see?” remarked Lord Cyril lazily.

“Well, my lord, we ain’t none of us no younger nor we used to be,” was
the somewhat aggressive answer, for Wright had caught sight of a faint
smile on Robert’s face. Discipline must be maintained, even in social
intercourse of this kind, and the coachman bethought himself hastily
of his duties. “Beg your pardon, my lord, but ’er ladyship bid me tell
you as she ’ad some ladies comin’ as she couldn’t put off, and ’is
lordship and Lady Philippa was gone out ridin’ before your telegram
come, so she ’oped you wouldn’t take it unkind not bein’ met by none
of the family.”

“Not at all. I quite understand,” said the visitor cheerfully, with
his foot on the carriage-step. “It’s a pleasure to see your friendly
face again, Wright. I must come and have a talk with you about old
times in the harness-room one of these days.”

“Much honnered, my lord, I’m sure,” was Wright’s response, but his
face betrayed small appreciation of the prospective pleasure. Robert
looked at him with some timidity as he climbed to his place, and it
was not until they were fairly on the road to the Castle that the
question he was burning to ask escaped the footman’s lips.

“I say, Mr Wright, was that true as they was all sayin’ in the
servants’-’all the night I come--about the Markiss ’avin’ been a king
once, somewhere in furrin parts, I mean?”

“It’s as true as you’re settin’ there,” responded Wright solemnly,
“that seven year back or thereabouts ’is lordship was as much a king
as Queen Victorier is queen.” This was stretching the truth a little,
but Wright paused to allow the information to sink in before he added,
“I was ’is Majesty’s--I mean ’is lordship’s--’ead groom then, so I
know.”

“You ain’t jokin’?” asked the bewildered Robert.

“Jokin’? Look ’ere, my lad--you ’ave cool cheek enough for the
job--you ask ’is lordship ’imself whether ’e wasn’t King of Thracia
for three months, and if ’e didn’t set on a throne and ’ave all the
swells a-bowin’ down to ’im. ’E might ’ave married a real Princess if
’e’d liked, but she were a bad lot, and ’e knew it. Oh, there ain’t no
doubt about ’is ’avin’ been King, though you mayn’t choose to believe
it.”

“I ain’t a-goin’ for to contradick you, Mr Wright,” said Robert
penitently. “And did Lord Cyril take on the kingdom after ’im?”

Wright snorted. “No; Lord Cyril ain’t never been King, nor won’t be,”
he said. “’E was in Thracia with the Markiss, and made ’imself useful
about the place--sort of general ’andy man, as you might say. Then
when me and the Markiss gave up the job and come ’ome, ’e stayed on
and done the same sort of business for the new King--Hotter George ’is
name is.”

“But why did ’is lordship give up the job?” asked Robert, deeply
interested. Wright looked mysterious.

“That were about the time as ’is lordship got married, my lad; and
when there’s a lady concerned it ain’t for you nor yet for me to say
why or wherefore in such a case.” This explanation did not explain
much, and the impression it was calculated to convey was not by any
means the correct one; but wild horses could not have dragged from
Wright the confession that Lord Caerleon had left his Balkan kingdom
as a prisoner, dethroned by a counterrevolution to that which had
resulted in his being offered the crown. While Robert was meditating
on his oracular utterance, Wright was looking ahead, and, just in time
to prevent a further question which was trembling on the footman’s
lips, he exclaimed--

“Why, there’s ’is lordship and Lady Phil comin’ along! You get down
and ask Lord Cyril if ’e’d like to stop for them, Robert. They’ll be
up with us before we get past the lodge.”

Robert obeyed, and Lord Cyril ordered him at once to wait. Stepping
out of the carriage, the visitor stood watching the approaching
riders, a tall man on a large chestnut horse, and a fair-haired little
girl on a Shetland pony. They quickened their pace when they saw him.

“Why, Cyril, old man!” cried Lord Caerleon, “how did you get here? I
thought we were not to expect you for a month or so yet?”

“I was able to get off earlier, after all. I’ll explain presently.
Just now I should like to be introduced to my niece.”

“That won’t take very long. Phil, this is your uncle Cyril.”

“Do you think I’m like father, Uncle Cyril?” inquired Lady Philippa
breathlessly, after bestowing a kiss on her newly found relative.

“His very image,” responded her uncle.

“Oh, I am _so_ glad. Usk is just like mother, and it’s so much nicer
to be different. Nurse is always saying we shall grow out of it, but I
don’t believe we ever shall.”

“Let us walk up to the house together, Cyril,” said Lord Caerleon. “I
want to ask you any number of things. Robert can lead my horse. Phil,
you might ride on and tell your mother we are all right, in case she
should be worrying about us.”

“Oh yes, we mustn’t let mother get worried,” said Philippa sedately,
trotting her pony through the lodge-gate as she spoke.

“Has Nadia started nerves?” asked Cyril of his brother.

“Not exactly, but she gets fearfully anxious about the children and me
when we are out of her sight. She does her best to hide it, but even
Phil has found it out, as you see. Do you know that when that child
was thrown one day when she was out riding with me, she mounted again
and we rode on to Aberkerran to get her head plastered up by the
doctor there, rather than frighten her mother by coming in with blood
on her face? Plucky, wasn’t it?”

“Phil is a chip of the old block, I see. You look pretty flourishing,
Caerleon. Any regrets for the lost kingdom?”

“None!” responded Caerleon emphatically. “If I only knew that you were
safely out of it too, I should feel perfectly happy.”

“Then Otto Georg would abdicate, which would be a European calamity.”

“He certainly keeps you with him most persistently. I don’t know how
he made up his mind to let you take a holiday now.”

“Well, the fact is--this mustn’t be mentioned, of course--that the
domestic horizon at the Palace has been somewhat clouded of late
years, and I have often thought it might conduce to peace and
happiness if I took myself off for a little while; but Otto Georg has
never consented to let me go before.”

“Yes, I was afraid from what the papers said that you two didn’t
exactly hit it off with the Queen and her relations. What’s all the
fuss about?”

“I’ll tell you about it when we have a smoke to-night. We’re too close
to the Castle now.”

“Yes, and there’s Nadia waiting for us on the steps,” said Caerleon,
quickening his pace.

“So she is. Why, Caerleon, your wife looks younger than when you
married her! And though I never used to be able to see it, she is
certainly wonderfully handsome.”

“Thanks,” said Caerleon drily. “I knew that all along.”

It seemed almost incredible to Cyril that the queenly woman who came
down the steps to meet him could ever have been the girl against whose
marriage with his brother he had once waged a bitter and by no means
scrupulous war. Nadia Caerleon would never be one of those who take
life easily; but she had lost the half-startled, half-suspicious look
which had set Cyril against her at the beginning of their
acquaintance, and to her natural dignity there was now added something
of the repose and assurance of manner which mark the _grande dame_.

“I was so sorry not to be able to meet you, Cyril,” she said, as she
shook hands with him, “but the Needlework Guild were holding a
committee meeting here, and I could not forsake them.”

“Certainly not,” said Cyril. “I know of old that if there are two
courses before you, you always make a point of choosing the one you
like least.”

“I see that you have not changed at all in these seven years,” she
said, smiling, as she led the way into the hall.

“Perhaps not,” said Cyril in his own mind, “but you have; or you would
have hastened to assure me that I was much mistaken, and that you
preferred the committee meeting.”

“You won’t be long, Carlino?” Nadia was saying to her husband. “I told
the children that they might have tea with us in the hall, and they
will be down very soon.”

Almost before Caerleon and Cyril had laid aside their hats and coats,
the children were upon them, Philippa looking very demure in her pink
dress, and holding the hand of her brother, who was a year younger
than herself. Yet that the interval which had elapsed since her father
had sent her on in advance had not been altogether devoted to personal
adornment was evidenced when she looked up from her cake and
remarked--

“What a funny man your servant is, Uncle Cyril!”

“Oh, you have discovered the taciturn Dietrich, then?” said Cyril.

“Oh yes,” put in Usk. “We went to see him unpacking your things. Nurse
came to see him too, because he is a foreigner.”

“You must be rather hard up for sights here, I should imagine. Well,
did you find him communicative?”

“I don’t know what that word means, Uncle Cyril.”

“Could you get him to talk to you?”

“Not very much,” said Philippa thoughtfully. “We wanted him to tell us
why you had a different kind of crown on your brushes and things from
what father has, and he said it was because you were a different kind
of gentleman. And we knew that before.”

“Dietrich is always cautious,” said Cyril; “but his most useful
characteristic is his extreme truthfulness.”

“Gratifying, no doubt,” said Caerleon; “but in what way useful?”

“Because he is the most stolid person I know. Every one who sees him
jumps to the conclusion that no one could possibly be as stupid as
Dietrich looks, and hence, when he tells the exact truth about my
movements, they always suspect him of trying to put them off the scent
for some reason or other, and they go off in the wrong direction,
which is sometimes a very good thing for me.”

“Why?” asked Usk, gazing at his uncle with astonished grey eyes which
were exactly like his mother’s.

“Because I don’t particularly want them to follow me about everywhere,
that’s all.”

The two children meditated upon this answer for a minute or two, and
then, apparently failing to arrive at any satisfactory solution, gave
it up, and dragged their father to the side-table to show him a
picture in one of the illustrated papers. Cyril looked after them with
a smile.

“It strikes one as queer that if things had fallen out differently
that little fellow would be Crown Prince of Thracia to-day, instead of
Otto Georg’s son,” he remarked to his sister-in-law.

“Yes,” said Nadia, with a slight shiver. “Tell me,” she added
suddenly, “do you think Carlino looks well--happy?”

“Couldn’t look better or happier, I should say,” was the reassuring
answer.

“It is not about the kingdom--I know he is glad to have got rid of
that--but do you think he looks like other Englishmen in his
position?”

“Yes, exactly; only perhaps rather more thoroughly contented than most
of them. But why do you ask?”

“It is because I am always afraid that I keep him back from the things
he would naturally like to do. When he brought me here first, whenever
the ladies of the neighbourhood came to call, and did not find
everything just as they expected, they always said to me, ‘Oh, you are
a foreigner, Lady Caerleon. _Of course_ you would not understand.’ And
I have always tried to understand, but I can’t make myself really
English, and it is a comfort to know that you think I have not done
him harm.”

Her face was so anxious that Cyril felt inclined to tease her by
inventing some imaginary alteration in Caerleon for which to blame
her, but he resisted the temptation, and remarked--

“I don’t wonder at your having felt strange at first, but no one would
call you a foreigner now. You seem to have taken to your new country
much more kindly than the Queen of Thracia has to hers.”

“Ah, your Queen!” said Nadia. “I wanted to ask you about her. Is she
very beautiful? One cannot trust the papers.”

“Well, she has dark hair, which looks copper-coloured in the sun, and
very peculiar eyes. They may be either brown or green or grey, and I
have seen them appear quite blue. As for being beautiful, she might
possibly be pretty if she looked pleasant, but since her marriage I
have never seen her anything but decidedly cross.”

“Oh, then she is not happy, poor thing!” said Nadia pityingly. “And
every one said it was a love-match!”

“Surely you didn’t believe that stereotyped lie? You must have noticed
that the papers trot it out whenever a royal wedding is announced. It
is simply put in as a sort of salve to the consciences of the readers.
If they were told there was a ghastly tragedy going on behind all the
pageantry they are admiring, it might make them feel uncomfortable for
a moment, and therefore they jump joyfully at the notion that an
unfortunate child of sixteen is madly in love with a _blasé_ and
unromantic German just upon fifty!”

“But you are the King’s friend, are you not? Was the poor Queen really
married at sixteen?”

“She was seventeen about a month after her marriage. She is not
twenty-two yet. Yes, I am the King’s friend, and I have no particular
reason to like the Queen; but for all that, I can see that their
marriage was a hideous mistake. It’s quite clear to any one that she
is not happy, but I own that my pity is chiefly for Otto Georg. He was
driven into it as much as she was; but he is not such a picturesque
figure, and therefore he gets no sympathy.”

“And yet you helped to bring this marriage about!” said Nadia, looking
at him in astonishment. Before he could answer, he felt a light touch
on his arm, and found Philippa beside him.

“Oh, Uncle Cyril, father says if you aren’t tired we might have a game
in the picture-gallery. Please, please, don’t be tired!”

“I am afraid you are bringing up your daughter to be a tyrant, Nadia,”
said Cyril, as he rose, perhaps not altogether sorry to break off the
conversation at this point, and no more was said on the subject of
Balkan politics or of the domestic troubles of the Court of Bellaviste
until the two brothers settled themselves in Caerleon’s den for a talk
late at night.

“Then you like your present berth well enough to stick to it still?”
said Caerleon suddenly, without leading up to the subject in any way.

“Most certainly I do; or at any rate I am not quite such a cad as to
chuck it and leave poor old Otto Georg to face things alone. The first
two years I was at Bellaviste we were like brothers. Everything went
swimmingly, and it might be doing so still if that old owl Drakovics
had not got it into his sapient head that it was time seriously to set
about securing the succession to the throne.”

“But the King’s marriage was talked of from the very first,” objected
Caerleon, ignoring his brother’s disrespectful reference to the great
Thracian Prime Minister.

“Yes; but so long as it was only talk it didn’t matter. When Otto
Georg became nervous about it, I used to comfort him with the
reflection that threatened men live long. But when I caught Drakovics
one day with a lot of photographs of unmarried princesses spread out
on the table in front of him, I knew that he meant business.”

“And you promptly demanded to have a finger in the pie?”

“I don’t know about demanding, but I had one, naturally. It happened
just then that Drakovics was nursing a grudge against the Three
Powers. He was supposed to have looked with a friendly eye on the
agitation which was being fomented against Roumi rule in the territory
of Rhodope, and Hercynia had stirred up Pannonia and Magnagrecia to
put pressure on him to disavow it. Therefore he had an idea that it
would be a good thing--convey a salutary warning and so on--to score
off the Three Powers by marrying Otto Georg to a princess whose
sympathies were somewhat Scythian, without being dangerously so. The
only difficulty was to find the lady. The most suitable of the rival
beauties appeared to be the Princess Ernestine of Weldart, but he was
afraid that the fortunes of her father’s family were altogether bound
up with those of Scythia.”

“And then came your innings?”

“Well, I did happen to remark that the lady’s mother, who was
originally a Hercynian princess, aunt or cousin or something of the
Emperor, had been for years on bad terms with her husband, and would
undoubtedly have brought up her daughter as a German rather than a
Slav. That was one of the many useful pieces of information I picked
up in that fortnight which you and I spent at Schloss Herzensruh. The
Queen of Mœsia is a sister of the Prince of Weldart, you remember?”

“I really don’t; I had other things to think of at that time. You seem
to have these wretched Germans at your fingers’ ends.”

“It’s my business, you see. Well, that settled matters. I undertook to
bring Otto Georg up to the scratch, while Drakovics managed the
necessary ceremonial details. And you know what the end was--a big
wedding at Molzau, with two Emperors present and a Grand-Duke to
represent the third, and royal and serene highnesses without number.”

“I know that you got into some sort of trouble on the occasion which I
never could make out.”

“Not exactly trouble--just a little bother. The fact was that I found
myself a fish out of water in that gorgeous company. Otto Georg
insisted on my accompanying him, and tried to get me a precedence to
which, being merely his secretary, I was certainly not entitled. You
know the awful fuss those smaller Courts make about things of the
kind. Then the Weldarts treated me with marked coldness--I have to
thank the Queen of Mœsia for that, I believe--and it spread to the
Hercynian people. Their attendants imitated their behaviour, and when
I resented that sort of second-hand contumely, one of the Hercynian
officers sent me a challenge. If I am a bit of a dab at anything, it
is at fencing, as you know, and I was not surprised when I wounded
him. Every one else was, though, and Sigismund of Hercynia was nearly
wild on hearing that one of his officers had been beaten in sword-play
by a civilian. The rest of the Hercynians got together and laid a
little plot, the principal feature of which was that they should all
challenge me in turn, so as to make pretty sure of finishing me off at
last. Somehow it got to Otto Georg’s ears--he must have felt
suspicious about my absence on the day of the duel, for we had to
settle matters at a decent distance from the Court and from the
festivities, and then I imagine he questioned Dietrich, who had
guessed the whole affair, and disapproved of it vigorously;--and he
laid it before his brother-in-law, the Emperor of Pannonia. They put
their heads together and devised a plan, which they sprang on the
illustrious assemblage. Otto Georg took a leaf out of the books of the
Scythian Court, and invented a new portfolio for me as Minister of the
Household, and the Emperor--I don’t know how he managed it--created me
a Count. That settled the question of precedence for the future.”

“I am sorry you should have discarded your own English title for a
Pannonian Countship,” said Caerleon.

“It is only when I am abroad. I should never dream of sporting a
foreign title at home; but the courtesy designation caused endless
difficulties over there, although the Germans have so many of them.”

“And after that all went merrily?”

“Well, we heard no more of the duels. But there is a black mark down
against my name in Sigismund of Hercynia’s books, and when we got back
to Thracia there was the piper to pay in quite a different matter.
Drakovics always persists that it was my fault; but I never professed
to be either a thought-reader or a prophet, and how in the world was I
to guess that as soon as the wedding festivities were over, the
Princess of Weldart would definitely break with her husband, and come
and quarter herself upon us at Bellaviste? She said that she had kept
up appearances hitherto for her daughter’s sake, but that it wasn’t
necessary any longer, now that Princess Ernestine was safely married.
Even granting that, Otto Georg and I couldn’t quite see why we were to
be victimised instead of the Prince of Weldart; but there she was, and
we had to make the best of her. She is a terrific woman--ought to have
been abbess of some convent, or perhaps the head of a band of
canonesses, as she is a Lutheran. At any rate, she did away with the
slight hope there was that the marriage might turn out a success. The
little Queen had been in abject terror of her husband at first, but
she seemed to be beginning to believe that he meant to be kind to her,
and then her mother arrived. It was unfortunate, too, that she arrived
with a strong prejudice against your humble servant--derived from the
Queen of Mœsia, of course. I should have thought that I was too lowly
an individual to be honoured with such persistent enmity; but she
persuaded Queen Ernestine that I was Otto Georg’s evil genius, and
made her frantically jealous of my influence over him. She did not
care a straw for him herself, and let him know it; but she could not
bear to see that he made a friend of me.”

“But surely,” suggested Caerleon, “in such a delicate matter, the
obvious thing was for you to retire?”

“That was how it struck me; but as often as I broached the subject,
Otto Georg swore that if I forsook him he would abdicate. He said that
Thracia would be intolerable if he was left to the tender mercies of
the Queen and her mother on one side and Drakovics on the other. So I
stayed on, and the Palace has been divided between two opposing
parties ever since. I don’t mean to say that it’s all the Queen’s
fault. Otto Georg is neither a saint nor an angel, and he has declared
more than once that his wife must take the first steps in the most
unmistakable way if he is ever to be reconciled with her again. She
won’t do that; but once or twice she has seemed to soften a little,
and I believe he might have gone in and won if it hadn’t been for that
pig-headed obstinacy of his. I daren’t say much to him, for it’s a
ticklish thing interfering between man and wife at the best of times;
but I believe a workable compromise might have been arranged on the
basis of his getting rid of me, and the Queen’s getting rid of her
mother.”

“But surely the Princess is not at Bellaviste now?”

“No; she went too far when she began to interfere with Drakovics. Some
time ago she took it into her head that Milénovics, our Public Works
Minister, had insulted her by not turning up at a visit of inspection
she made to the bridge of boats which is being constructed across the
river above Bellaviste. She hadn’t given him any notice, but that
didn’t signify. At any rate, she demanded of Otto Georg that he should
be dismissed. I went to see Drakovics about it on the King’s behalf,
and I can tell you that old man was ‘riz’ to some purpose. He refused
to send any message through me, and went to the King at once with an
ultimatum--either the Princess must go or the Ministry would. Otto
Georg was quite satisfied to get rid of his mother-in-law; but we
should have found the Queen and her mother very hard to persuade if
the Powers had not stepped in. Pannonia knew that there was a good
deal of discontent in Thracia already, owing to the number of Germans
who have been imported to fill various offices, and that if Drakovics
went, another revolution was only a matter of time. So she gave a
gentle hint to Hercynia, and Sigismund brought pretty strong pressure
to bear upon his aunt. He sent her an invitation to visit his Court,
which was virtually a command, and she had to go. Of course she and
the Queen put it all down to me, but I really can’t plead guilty in
this case. One must not risk needless revolutions with a young dynasty
like this of Otto Georg’s. By the bye, Caerleon, do you ever have any
communication with that precious father-in-law of yours?”

“I can’t say that I have,” returned Caerleon, with some constraint in
his tone. The fugitive Irish rebel of 1848, who was spending his old
age as a spy in the employ of Scythia, was not a relative of whom he
could reasonably be expected to be proud.

“He doesn’t apply to you for money? I had an idea--you have no house
in town, and you don’t make much show here--that he might be living
upon you all this time.”

“Oh no, quite the contrary. I wrote to him soon after we were married,
suggesting, as delicately as I could, that he should accept a suitable
income from me, and retire from the Scythian service. Nadia was
extremely anxious that he should have the chance of leading a decent
life for his few remaining years. But my letter was returned--not
unopened, but unanswered--and since then we have heard no more of
him.”

“Then he is at his old tricks again--I thought so. He has been in
Thracia for some time, avowedly drinking the waters at Tatarjé. I
told you that there was a good deal of discontent about, and no doubt
he is doing his best to suck some advantage out of it for his
employers. But I don’t believe that any section of the people would
join in a plot the object of which was merely to restore Scythian
supremacy, though it would not surprise me if there was another
revolution the first day that they found any one to rally round. If
you came to Thracia, now----”

“But how is it that the O’Malachy ventures to set foot in the country?
I should have thought Drakovics would have had something to say to
that.”

“Oh, he was included in the amnesty in honour of the birth of the
Crown Prince. I wanted to except him, but Drakovics was particularly
anxious not to give any offence to Scythia just then, and chose to
think that he had probably reformed. I knew there wasn’t much chance
of his having done that unless he had a comfortable livelihood secured
to him, and you say you have not been permitted to be his banker.”

“No, my savings were intended for quite another purpose. Look here,
Cyril, I want you to chuck this Thracian job, and settle down at home,
or go abroad in the Diplomatic Service, if you prefer it. I can’t bear
your being mixed up with all this shady political business, and Nadia
fully agrees with me. It’s not easy to put by much in these bad times,
but we have never quite lived up to our income, and I can let you have
ten or fifteen thousand pounds to start on to-morrow, if you’ll only
become an Englishman again instead of a hybrid cosmopolitan.”

“Do you really think me capable of sponging on you in this way?”

“Well, let us call it a loan, then. It’s all the same to me.”

“With the certainty that neither principal nor interest would ever be
repaid? No, old man. I’m awfully obliged both to you and Nadia, but I
won’t take your money. You will need it all in a few years, when the
children’s education has to be thought of. And besides, I am spoilt
for England by this time. After the life I have led these eight years,
do you seriously imagine I could take a subordinate post, even in
Diplomacy? You know that a good appointment would be just about as
accessible as the moon to me.”

“I thought of your standing for the Aberkerran Division.”

“And getting in, of course; and spending how many years as a private
member?”

“Nonsense, Cyril! With your experience, you would be a man to be
reckoned with by any Government. We should see you Under-Secretary for
Foreign Affairs in no time.”

“_Under_-Secretary? And with that pompous old brute the Duke spoiling
everything I had on hand, and taking the credit of anything that
succeeded in spite of him? Thanks, Caerleon; the House of Commons is
all very well in its own little way, but it’s not big enough for me.”

“But what are you aiming at?”

“At having a hand on the reins, that’s all--but then, Europe is the
coach. There’s not much show about my ambitions, but a remarkable
amount of solid reality. I don’t ask for the things other people
covet--money or love or pleasure--but I must be behind the scenes and
pull the wires. It doesn’t matter to me whether my power is recognised
by the man in the street or not, so long as I know that I have it, and
can make the puppets dance.”

“And Otto Georg?” asked Caerleon drily.

“Otto Georg is a puppet for whom I have a foolish weakness. To give
him and the silly little Queen a chance of composing their
differences, I have sacrificed myself so far as to quit the stage for
three months, in spite of his entreaties and my own better judgment.
For his sake I hope he won’t command my return before the time is up,
but for my own I trust he will.”



“Then you will take care of Uncle Cyril, Phil, and amuse him?”

“Oh yes, mother,” and Philippa climbed into the carriage for another
kiss. “I’m going to take him all round, and explain _everything_.”

“Poor Uncle Cyril!” said Caerleon. “Haven’t you forgotten that he knew
his way about the place a good many years before you were born, Phil?”

“Oh dear!” gasped Philippa in dismay, as she returned to the doorstep.
“Did you really, Uncle Cyril?”

“I’m afraid I did once, but very likely I have forgotten half of it.
We’ll see which of us remembers the stories best.”

This was a proposal entirely to Philippa’s taste, and she led her
obedient uncle away as soon as the carriage had driven off. To her
great distress, however, his reminiscences proved invariably to be
incorrect, and frequently also to be humorous in character, a trait
which jarred on her sense of fitness.

“I don’t believe you were really here when you were a little boy,
Uncle Cyril,” she remarked at last, as he found her a comfortable seat
on the safest portion of the wall of the ruined Abbey.

“But your father was, and we were always together until he went to
school.”

“Then I can’t think,” meditatively, “why it is that you aren’t the
least little bit like father. Father is so splendid and good.”

“And I am not good? Poor me!”

“I----I didn’t mean that exactly, Uncle Cyril. I meant perhaps you
were good in a different way--perhaps it’s a London way. Nurse always
says London is a very wicked place.”

“Thank you again, Phil! Or am I to understand that you are labouring
to express the difference between the Absolute and the Relative?”

“Oh no, you don’t understand one bit. It is like the children where
nurse was last, when she lived at General Clarendon’s. His
grandchildren were so dreadfully good you can’t think! They never
quarrelled, or did anything they liked, or wanted to do anything they
were told not to, or forgot to come to have their hands washed and put
on clean pinafores. Well, one day when nurse had been telling us a lot
about them, Usk said all at once, ‘I don’t believe they were always as
good as that. I expect you’ll tell the children where you go next how
good we were.’ Wasn’t it _dreadful_? And nurse was so angry! She put
on her spectacles and looked at Usk and said, ‘Well, my lord, at any
rate I’ll take my oath that never in all my experience did I know a
young gentleman stand up to me before and call me a liar to my face.’”

“We seem to be wandering a little from the point of the argument,”
suggested Cyril mildly.

“Oh, but don’t you see it shows--no, I don’t mean that--I can’t think
what I meant---- Oh, Uncle Cyril, there’s a telegraph-boy! Let us race
and catch him before he gets to the house.”

Before Cyril could even rise from his seat, she was at the foot of the
wall and running across the park at a pace which the boy, who was
lounging comfortably along the drive, and displaying his interest in
the natural objects on either side to the extent of throwing stones at
them, made no attempt to excel or even to emulate. When Cyril came up,
Philippa was in possession of the telegram, and was ordering the boy
to go on to the Castle and get some bread and cheese and lemonade from
the cook.

“That was a nice boy,” she remarked with much gratification, as the
boy departed. “He touched his cap, and said, ‘Thank you, my lady.’
Sometimes they just race off without saying anything. But mother says
we mustn’t be cross, because they haven’t had any one to teach them
better.”

“As the boy is going up to the house after all, he might as well have
taken the telegram,” observed her uncle.

“Oh, but Usk and I always get father’s telegrams and give them to him.
Besides, it’s for you.”

“For me? Give it me at once, Phil.”

“Oh, Uncle Cyril, but you must pay the postman!” cried Philippa, in
bitter reproach, holding the missive behind her. “Father always does.
It’s one kiss for each letter, and two for a paper, and three for a
telegram.”

Cyril made the required payment, rather perfunctorily, it must be
confessed, and tore open the envelope. His face changed as he read the
message, and he crumpled the paper in his hand, and thrust it into his
pocket.

“Come, Phil,” he said, “we must go back to the Castle, and tell the
ingenuous Teuton to pack up my things.”

“Oh, that means Dietrich!” cried Philippa delightedly. “You do call
him such funny names, Uncle Cyril. But is it from the House? Father
lets Usk and me have his telegrams to play post-office with when he
has done with them, and they always say, ‘Division comes on to-morrow
night. Expect you by morning mail.’ Is yours that kind?”

“Not quite,” said Cyril, walking on so fast that the child could
scarcely keep pace with him, “but it brings me my marching orders,
Phil. I must start for Thracia to-night.”



 CHAPTER II.
 IN THE PRESENCE OF DEATH.

“Why, Cyril, what’s the matter?” cried Caerleon, as he jumped out of
the carriage to find his brother standing on the doorstep, equipped
for a journey. Cyril answered by another question.

“Can you let me have the dogcart to drive into Aberkerran at once? I
must catch the mail to-night for town, and get the Flushing boat in
the morning.”

“But are you going back to Thracia so soon?” asked Nadia in
astonishment. “Have they sent for you?”

“Yes; I have had a telegram. The King is dangerously ill, and wants
me. I have sent Dietrich on with the luggage, Caerleon; but I thought
that if I just stayed to say good-bye to you all, the dogcart would
take me into Aberkerran in time to save the train.”

“I’ll drive you myself,” said Caerleon. “Send round the dogcart at
once, Wright,” he added to the coachman.

“But have you really been able to get everything packed?” asked Nadia.
“Can’t we help you at all?”

“Oh, mother, I helped!” cried Philippa. “Uncle Cyril got his things
out, and I folded them up, and Dietrich put them in. They’re all done,
and Uncle Cyril said I was a great help.”

Clearly there was nothing left to do, and Philippa relieved the
tension of the situation by spinning round wildly on one foot, while
her father changed his coat, and her uncle, dissembling his impatience
admirably, thanked his sister-in-law for her hospitality. There was
little time for farewells when the dogcart came round; but the
children did their best to make up for this by standing at the door
and waving their hands until the traveller was out of sight. When he
was at length released from looking back and answering their signals,
Cyril turned to his brother.

“We shall do it all right at this pace, old man.”

“Yes; the roads are capital this evening. Have you any idea as to
what’s wrong with Otto Georg?”

“I should fear it is an old trouble from which he has suffered more
than once. It began with some injury he received in the
Franco-Prussian war, and they say that each time it recurs there is
less hope of his getting over it.”

“Was the telegram from the Queen?”

“You don’t imagine she would send for me, even though he was dying?
No; it is from his valet.”

“How are things settled in case anything happens to him?”

“By the Constitution the Queen is appointed regent, until the Crown
Prince is sixteen. She loses the position if she remarries, and her
second husband is debarred from holding any public office whatever in
the kingdom. Of course the provision was intended to prevent her
marrying a foreign prince and investing him with sovereign power.”

“Of course; very good idea. I’m glad the Constitution recognises the
Queen’s rights so far as it does. One would have thought Drakovics
might kick against taking orders from a woman.”

“Well, naturally he never expected anything of this kind to happen, at
any rate so soon. The Constitution had to contain provisions in view
of all emergencies, and he borrowed from somewhere or other what
seemed the most equitable and prudent course in such a case. But if
things go badly with Otto Georg, I am afraid we have hard times before
us.”

“In view of the Queen’s youth and inexperience, you mean?”

“Not that merely. The worst thing is that she is so desperately
unpopular.”

“Unpopular? A pretty woman, who has given the Thracians an heir to the
throne?”

“That is the sole redeeming feature about her, and she has spoiled the
effect of it by insisting that the child shall be brought up as a
Lutheran. When Drakovics first thought of her as a wife for the King,
his hope was that, being partly of Scythian blood, she would be
willing to acquiesce in her children’s growing up in the Orthodox
Church. But he had to give it up, for she insisted on a special
protective clause in the marriage-contract. Otto Georg didn’t care a
rap about it either way, and I daresay she wouldn’t have thought of
the matter if her mother had not put her up to it.”

“But you don’t blame the unfortunate girl for wishing her children to
be of the same faith as herself?” asked Caerleon warmly.

“I don’t blame her, if she feels strongly on the subject; but I do say
that it’s a pity, for such a concession would have conciliated the
people and attached them to the dynasty more than anything. Then the
Queen shares in the unpopularity of her mother, who considered the
Thracians a set of savages when she came among them, and let them see
it. Together they have done their best to make the Court a third-rate
copy of the minor German ones. The national costume, which is
distinctly fetching, and very dear to the people, was tabooed
altogether, and the use of the Thracian language frowned upon. No one
need expect to enjoy the Queen’s favour, or rather the Princess’s, for
that was more important, unless they got their clothes from Vienna,
and their conversation from Berlin. The mountain chiefs wouldn’t stand
it. They didn’t want to learn German, and the new etiquette disgusted
them, and they were very angry at the slights cast upon their
nationality. The result is that they never come near the Court unless
they are absolutely obliged.”

“The Queen must be mad,” said Caerleon. “She is alienating the very
men who keep Otto Georg on the throne.”

“Just so; and she has alienated the lower classes long ago by her lack
of the _bourgeois_ virtues. They see that she and Otto Georg don’t get
on, and they put it all down to her. Then, at the time of the
marriage, some wiseacre made researches into the Weldart family
history, and put it about that some remote ancestress of Princess
Ernestine’s had at one time or another been a Jewess. Our people
detest the Jews, as you know, and now that the Queen is unpopular,
their favourite nickname for her is ‘the Jewess.’”

“The poor little woman seems to have a fine stock of blunders and
other crimes to live down,” said Caerleon meditatively. “Can’t say I
think your prospects in Thracia are roseate, Cyril; but I daresay
there’s good stuff in her, and trouble may bring it out. After all,
you must acknowledge that she has had rather a bad time of it since
her marriage.”

“Her own fault altogether. She should have accepted her destiny like a
sensible girl, and Otto Georg would have made her an excellent
husband. Princesses are born merely to be married to foreign
potentates, and feelings don’t come into the matter at all. Hearts are
almost as much of a nuisance in politics as consciences are. Both have
a detestable habit of upsetting a statesman’s calculations.”

“Stuff!” said Caerleon. “Wait until it’s your turn.”

“I have escaped it a good long time at present. I don’t think,
Caerleon, that you ever yet saw me rush into a foolish thing
blindfold, and I have no intention whatever of walking into one with
my eyes open. If I ever fall in love, it will be in such a quarter as
to advance my material interests very largely.”

“All right; we shall see. I shall be satisfied if it only brings you
home from Thracia. But in any case you know that there is always a
welcome for you at Llandiarmid.”

“Thanks, old man. I’m sorry I can’t say the same to you about Thracia.
The farther you keep from Bellaviste for the present the wiser it will
be for your own sake, and the better I shall be pleased.”

They were rattling down Aberkerran High Street as Cyril said this, and
as the dogcart drew up outside the station the impassive Dietrich
advanced to meet his master.

“Excellency,” he said, with a military salute, for he had served in
the Hercynian army, and could not succeed in emancipating himself from
the methods of address thus learned, “the train is on the point of
departure, and although I have warned the officials that it must not
start without your lordship, they are swearing that they will not
delay it longer for the Queen Victoria herself.”

“Then I haven’t a moment!” cried Cyril, breaking into the valet’s
deliberate German phrases. “Good-bye, Caerleon; give my love to Nadia
and the children. I’ll come back soon, and finish my visit properly.”

He grasped his brother’s hand, and rushed into the station, followed
by Dietrich, who had already secured his ticket, reaching the platform
just in time to enter a carriage as the train was moving off. Settling
himself comfortably in a corner seat, he tried hard to banish thought
and devote himself to his cigar; but even the best-trained mind will
sometimes revolt against a policy of abstraction, and Cyril’s was by
no means proof against the excitement of the crisis which he foresaw
to be imminent. From the evening papers, which he obtained as the
train approached London, he learned that King Otto Georg had been
thrown from his horse during a review, and that the fall had brought
on a return of the old malady. A specialist had been summoned from
Vienna, and M. Drakovics was in constant attendance at the Palace,
since a change for the worse in the King’s condition might occur at
any moment. On reaching London, Cyril received a telegram from M.
Drakovics himself, which had been addressed in the first instance to
Llandiarmid, and was forwarded thence by Caerleon, mentioning merely
the fact of the King’s illness, and entreating him to hasten back to
Thracia. Since he was already travelling as fast as express trains
could carry him, he was unable to make any further effort in this
direction; and although he found a certain amount of satisfaction
during the earlier stages of his journey in planning to save time by
means of short cuts and curtailed halts, this resource was exhausted
before very long. He was conscious of a disinclination, very unusual
with him, to distract his thoughts by reading, or by entering into
conversation with his fellow-passengers, and he found himself,
therefore, reduced to considering in all possible lights a prospect
which was far from being a pleasing one. The papers, Belgian, German,
and Austrian, which he obtained in the course of his journey, all told
the same tale, that the King was still alive, but could not be
expected to recover, while his sufferings were so great that he was
kept almost continuously under the influence of opiates. The future
looked very black, and Cyril could not decide whether it was blacker
in his own case or in that of the kingdom. When the Queen found
herself in possession of the reins of power, there was little hope
that she would accept the assistance either of M. Drakovics or of
himself in the duties of government, and he began to wonder whether it
would not be the more dignified course to resign office immediately on
the King’s death, instead of waiting to be dismissed. But if Thracia
were deprived at once of King and Premier, and handed over to the
tender mercies of an incapable and unpopular regent, she would
scarcely succeed in weathering the political storm which would ensue,
and another revolution would mean almost certainly the outbreak of a
European war. To forsake his post now was not to be thought of.

“Otto Georg may have been able to leave some message for me,” said
Cyril to himself, as he left the train at Bellaviste, “giving an idea
of his views under the circumstances; but if he hasn’t, I’ll stick to
office for his sake until I’m turned out, and try to keep baby Michael
on the throne. We are bound to fail, I suppose, and I shall risk my
reputation as a statesman, but one must be ready to run some risks for
a friend.”

Learning from the railway officials, who greeted him respectfully,
that the King was still living, he drove straight to the Palace,
intending to go to his own rooms and don his Ministerial uniform at
once, so as to be ready in case of a summons to the sick-room. Passing
along the corridor, however, he found himself suddenly face to face
with the little Crown Prince and his English nurse. Mrs Jones was a
sister of Wright, the Llandiarmid coachman, although she had enjoyed
greater educational advantages, and she owed her position to the
recommendation of Lady Caerleon, for which reason she regarded Cyril
with marked favour and deference, while waging a chronic warfare with
the other officials belonging to the Palace. On this occasion she
stopped him to inquire after the health of the family at Llandiarmid,
while the little Prince, his face still wet with tears, made
unavailing efforts to climb into his arms.

“It is the Herr Graf!” he cried, in his baby German, burying his face
in Cyril’s fur cuff. “Come and play wild beasts, Herr Graf. Papa is
ill, and can’t walk about, but you can put that fur thing over your
head, and roar.”

“Not now, Prinzchen,” said Cyril, dexterously disencumbering himself
of the coat, in which Prince Michael proceeded immediately to envelop
his own small person. “We might disturb the poor papa.”

“Bless his little heart!” said Mrs Jones, wiping her eyes; “how should
he understand that his poor pa is struck for death?”

“The King is dying, then,” asked Cyril anxiously.

“I wouldn’t go for to speak not positively, my lord, which ain’t my
place; but if ever I see death written upon a gentleman’s face, I see
it upon the King’s just now. And there wasn’t scarcely a dry eye in
the room, to see this pore lamb a-strokin’ his father’s forehead, and
cryin’ because he wasn’t able to play with him.”

“Has Count Mortimer arrived yet?” asked another voice, and the King’s
valet, mounting the stairs, uttered an exclamation of relief as he
caught sight of Cyril. “His Majesty begged that your Excellency would
come to him as soon as you reached the Palace,” he added.

“I will merely change my clothes, and wait upon his Majesty in a few
minutes,” said Cyril, turning into a side-corridor, but the man
stopped him.

“His Majesty entreated that you would lose no time, but come to him at
once, Excellency. His Excellency the Premier is not in attendance upon
his Majesty at this moment.”

“I see,” said Cyril. “I will come.”

Before he could do more than make a hasty attempt to remove from his
attire some portion of the dust of his long journey, they were in the
King’s anteroom, and pausing before the inner door, he had a momentary
glimpse of the doctors gathered round the bed on which his friend lay.
The Queen was sitting beside her husband, the stony pallor of her
tired young face thrown into relief by the rich brocade of the
curtains behind her, and Cyril wondered whether it was merely a sense
of duty, or the workings of a late remorse, which kept her at her
post.

“Will your Majesty graciously drink this?” one of the doctors was
saying, as he held a glass to the King’s lips; “it will ease the
pain.”

“Narcotics again!” groaned the dying man wearily, “and I have told you
that I wish to keep my brain clear for the present. I think I heard
some one come in. Has Count Mortimer arrived yet?”

“His Excellency is here, sir,” said one of the attendants.

“Then tell him to come to me at once. And leave the room, all of you.
I will not take the dose at present, doctor.”

“Your Majesty will permit me to remain with you?” asked the Vienna
doctor, noticing the sudden strength in the King’s voice, and
anticipating a reaction.

“In the anteroom, doctor, if you please. I wish to be alone with Count
Mortimer. What! must I command twice?”

“You certainly need not command twice,” said the Queen, rising from
her seat with tears of mortification in her eyes, and following the
discomfited doctors. “I regret to have trespassed upon the privacy of
your Majesty and Count Mortimer.”

“Stay, madame!” cried the King. “Ernestine, remain where you are, I
entreat you. You must know with what anxiety I have watched for Count
Mortimer’s arrival; surely you cannot object to my making known to him
in your presence my dying wishes?”

“Forgive me,” said the Queen, returning to her place, her voice
softening. “I thought you wished me to leave you. It was a mistake.”

“It has all been a series of mistakes, I fear,” said the King, laying
his hand on that of his wife. “I have not made you happy, Nestchen.”

“I wish I had been a better wife to you,” the Queen whispered
painfully, and Cyril bent forward to examine with extreme care some
minute detail of the painting he had been contemplating since his
entrance into the room.

“It was not your fault,” the King went on. “You should be a child
still--and now I must leave you to guard our son’s throne for him. You
are very young--very inexperienced--to undertake such a heavy charge.”

“Don’t let that trouble you,” she said, trying to comfort him. “Is he
not my son? His kingdom must be my constant care.”

“But how will you take care of it, poor child? What do you know of
pitting Pannonia against Hercynia, and playing them both off against
Scythia and Neustria? Can you hide your personal feelings under a veil
of official friendliness? Why, Nestchen, you will be at enmity with
half Europe in a week!”

“I will do my best,” she said in a low voice; “and there is M.
Drakovics to help----”

“Drakovics lives for Thracia. The country is safe enough under his
guardianship; but he would sacrifice Michael and his interests without
a moment’s compunction if he thought another form of government would
be more for the benefit of the kingdom.”

“But what are we to do, then?” asked the Queen, with keen anxiety in
her voice.

“I cannot tell, unless you will accept as an adviser the man who has
been a friend and counsellor to me since I first came to Thracia.”

“You mean Count Mortimer?” asked the Queen, with a gasp.

“I mean my friend Mortimer, to whose honour I could leave you and the
child without a fear. But if you will not trust him, Ernestine, I
cannot ask him to expose himself to insult by remaining here.”

“I--I will listen to his advice,” she said at last.

“But will you take it when it is given? I cannot die happy unless you
and Michael are confided to his care. I should know then that you were
safe as long as he was--and there is no man in Europe who is more
successful in getting out of difficulties,” and the King laughed
faintly as he gazed at his wife. She had released herself from his
grasp, and her hands were clasped on her breast as though she were
forcing down the feelings which rose within her. Cyril could read in
her tear-filled eyes the story of her contest with herself. “You have
come between my husband and me,” they seemed to say to him; “you have
tried to turn his heart against me,--and now he expects me to trust
you.” Unjust as the silent accusation was, the Queen’s agony forbade
him to defend himself, and he stood mute, while she, with quivering
lips and heaving breast, struggled to speak.

“Can I trust you?” burst from her at last, as her glance met his.

“Before God you can,” he answered. “Bad I may be, but I am not the man
to deceive a dying friend, or to injure that friend’s wife and child.”

“Otto, I will trust him,” said the Queen hoarsely, laying her hand in
her husband’s. He held it out to Cyril, who stooped and kissed it. He
felt her draw back suddenly with an involuntary shudder as his fingers
touched hers, then her hand lay cold and nerveless in his. She might
overlook the past, but she was not likely to forget it.

“You have removed my chief anxiety, Mortimer,” said the dying King,
grasping Cyril’s hand feebly. “I know now that you will watch over my
boy and advise his mother, and that so far as it is in your power, you
will be his friend as you have been mine.”

“I will,” said Cyril.

“I will thank you with my dying breath,” said the King, with fresh
vigour. “You have outdone to-day all your previous kindness to me.
Faithful friend that you have been, I can never reward you--all that I
can do is to load you with fresh burdens. But I am keeping you
standing here, although you are overcome with fatigue. We grow
inconsiderate when our friends serve us too well. Go and rest,
Mortimer. Send those doctors back as you pass through the anteroom,
and they shall try whether they can ease this wretched pain a little.
I am tired as well as you. We will both rest, and I will send for you
when I wake.”

“_Auf wiedersehen_, sir!” said Cyril, touching the King’s hand with
his lips. He bowed to the Queen as he went out, but she took no notice
of him. When he entered, he had seen her give a little start of
contemptuous disgust at the sight of his tweed suit and travel-stained
appearance, but now she was sitting with her dark eyes staring into
the distance, and her hands lying loosely clasped on her lap. Her face
was that of a proud woman whose pride had been utterly and forcibly
broken, and who was wondering dumbly what further blows fate could
have in store for her.

“What can one do with her?” he asked himself in despair. “She will
never forgive the humiliation of to-day.”

He passed out, giving the King’s message to the doctors as he went,
and they returned into the sick-room, much incensed by their long
exclusion. Cyril went on to his own rooms, where Dietrich had prepared
a meal for him, and where he took a bath and donned his uniform, so as
to be ready in case of a sudden summons from the King. He had intended
to sit up and read; but he was worn out by the hurry and anxiety of
his long journey, and lay down on a couch for a few minutes’ sleep.
The sleep lasted for some hours instead of a few minutes, and Cyril
only woke to find M. Drakovics standing beside him with a lugubrious
face.

“How is the King?” he asked, starting up.

“The King is well,” was the answer; “but his name is Michael.”

“Otto Georg dead!--and I was never summoned?”

“He was not conscious at the end. When he passed away he was still
under the influence of the opiate. I hear you saw him?”

“Yes; he had several charges to give me. I am glad I arrived in time.
But here is the beginning of our troubles, Drakovics, since little
Michael is King and the Queen is regent.”

“And not only that. See here. This is from our agent in the duchy of
Lucernebourg.” He handed Cyril a telegram, partly written in cipher,
but easily read by any one who knew the secret.

“‘The Princess of Weldart was ordered last week by her physicians to
spend the winter in the South of France. She bade farewell two days
ago to the Hercynian Imperial family, and arrived here yesterday _en
route_ for the Riviera; but instead of continuing her journey thither,
left almost immediately for Switzerland. I discovered through one of
her attendants that she is travelling _incognito_ to Thracia by way of
Switzerland and Vienna.’”

“Then we shall have her here--how soon?” asked Cyril.

“The telegram was despatched yesterday, but for some reason or other
only reached Bellaviste this morning. I was here, and it was not
delivered to me until I returned to my office. I should say that she
would arrive on the frontier early to-morrow morning.”

“She must be met,” said Cyril, standing up. “I had better go, I
suppose. There is a fearful amount to arrange, of course; but I can
put things in train before I start, and anything is better than
allowing her to begin with a moral victory.”

“You think that she will gain a further grievance if she is permitted
to reach the capital unescorted?”

“I don’t care about that, but I can see that she thinks she will catch
us napping. A little object-lesson at once will make our task easier
in future.”

“Good,” said M. Drakovics; “but you cannot go alone. A military escort
would be out of the question under the mournful circumstances, and
also in view of the fact that the Princess is travelling _incognito_.
One of the ladies must go, of course, but we cannot trouble the Queen
to choose her. You had better apply to Baroness von Hilfenstein.”

“I shall take Stefanovics, and the Baroness had better send Madame
Stefanovics as the lady-in-waiting. Then she can watch for a good
opportunity for telling the Queen of the arrangements.”

Baroness von Hilfenstein, the Queen’s mistress of the robes, was a
lady of vast experience and great resolution, but the news which Cyril
had to communicate struck her as little less than appalling. She knew
something already of the difficulties by which the Ministers would
find themselves confronted under the new _régime_, and she foresaw
that these would be intensified tenfold by the arrival of the Queen’s
mother. The Baroness was herself a native of Weldart, and felt towards
the Princess not merely the dislike entertained by the subjects of the
smaller German States towards the Hercynian Imperial house, but also a
lively disgust and contempt of a more personal nature, as for a woman
who had taken all Europe into her confidence in her domestic
squabbles, thus causing a fierce light, which it could ill bear, to
beat upon the throne of Weldart. In spite of her dislike, however, she
acquiesced heartily in Cyril’s proposal as to the expediency of
greeting the Princess with such ceremonial observances as would be
best calculated to disarm her hostility, and requested Madame
Stefanovics, the wife of the Grand Chamberlain, to hold herself in
readiness to proceed to the frontier that evening in company with her
husband and Count Mortimer. In the meantime, she obtained the Queen’s
assent to the arrangements, together with a letter to her mother, of
which Cyril was to be the bearer, and armed with which he joined his
travelling companions when the hour came for their departure. Their
special train accomplished the journey to the frontier station of
Witska in good time, and they reached their destination some two hours
before the Princess’s train was due. Madame Stefanovics was made
comfortable in the waiting-room for a short rest, with all the rugs
belonging to the party, while her husband and Cyril walked up and down
the platform in the twilight, keeping a bright look-out for the train
and smoking busily to keep themselves warm.

So convinced were the two watchers that the Princess would outwit them
if she could, that they did not dare to rest, lest she should become
aware of their presence and contrive to slip past without giving them
a chance of joining her party; and they felt it wise to keep a strict
watch on the telegraph office, lest an attempt should be made to send
her a message which might enable her to give orders that the train
should pass through the station without stopping. But their efforts
were crowned with success, and after all their anxious forebodings it
was with a grim satisfaction that they beheld the astonishment of the
Princess’s equerry, whom they confronted suddenly when he was
preparing to stretch his legs by a hurried walk up and down while the
train waited.

“What in the world are you doing here?” he asked, with difficulty
composing his face into a decorously mournful expression. “We are
_incog._, you know.”

“I know you would like to be,” said Cyril, “but you are not. Is her
Highness awake yet?” glancing towards the Princess’s saloon.

“Sure to be. You had better come and be presented, I suppose. Don’t
blame me if her Highness is not exactly pleased to see you.”

They went towards the royal saloon, but the Princess was ready for
them. As they approached, the door was flung open, and she appeared on
the step.

“Are you here to stop me, Count?” she demanded of Cyril. “If that is
your intention, let me tell you that no power on earth will keep a
mother from her daughter’s side at such a time of sorrow.”

“On the contrary, madame,” said Cyril, bowing, “I am here to greet
your Royal Highness in the Queen’s name, and to hand you a letter from
her Majesty,” and he presented it as he spoke.

“I think I scored there,” he said to himself, when the Princess had
accepted the letter, and invited Madame Stefanovics into the saloon
with her, leaving the chamberlain and Cyril to travel with the
equerry, “and it’s always well to begin a war with a small victory;
but if I had the honour of the personal acquaintance of an Anarchist
or two, I fear some accident would have happened to this train between
Lucernebourg and Witska.”



 CHAPTER III.
 THE BATTLE OF THE CREEDS.

The whole of the next fortnight was occupied by the mournful and
protracted ceremonies accompanying the funeral of King Otto Georg.
Cyril and M. Drakovics lived in a perpetual whirl. The royal and noble
personages who came from the different Courts of Europe to represent
their respective sovereigns on the occasion must be received, lodged,
and entertained, and the deputations of country people and citizens of
provincial towns must find their duties mapped out and a programme
arranged for them. There were jealousies, and disputes about
precedence, and squabbles between grandees of different nationalities
to be settled or concealed, just as though the illustrious throng had
come together with the view of deciding the social status of its
various members, and not to deplore the fact that the sceptre of
Thracia had passed into the uncertain grasp of a child of three.

All was over at length. The crowds of peasants who thronged into
Bellaviste had taken their last look at the face of Otto Georg as he
lay in state in the cathedral, and the splendid coffin had been
conveyed to the vaults in which the bodies of the first two Kings of
Thracia, Alexander Franza the Patriot, and his son Peter I., were
already resting. The royal and noble personages were taking their
leave, escorted to the station or to the frontier by military officers
or Court officials according to their degree, and the country-people
were returning to their villages, full of vague memories of vast
crowds surging along the steep streets and into the cathedral, of
black draperies everywhere, of great wax candles and much holy water,
and of the dead King lying cold and still on the tall catafalque with
its velvet hangings.

The two Ministers on whom had rested the chief anxiety and
responsibility for the whole ceremonial were now able to take time to
breathe once more, and to turn their thoughts to political matters,
which had not stood still in other countries, in spite of the Truce of
God in Thracia itself. Since the day of the King’s death, they had
been compelled to act entirely on their own judgment, for no
opportunity of seeing the Queen had been vouchsafed to them. It was
true that she and her mother, shrouded from head to foot in long veils
of crape, had taken part in some of the ceremonies connected with the
funeral; but if the Ministers ventured to approach the royal
apartments with the view of obtaining an audience, they were always
received either by the Princess of Weldart or by Baroness von
Hilfenstein, who procured the Queen’s signature to documents which
were absolutely indispensable, and consulted her as to alterations in
the programme drawn up and submitted by Cyril. It was not to be
expected that this seclusion could be maintained now that the funeral
ceremonies were over, and Cyril and M. Drakovics accepted with
satisfaction an intimation that the Queen would receive them on the
following morning.

“This is a critical moment,” said the Premier to his colleague, as
they stood waiting in the room which had served as the late King’s
study. “The whole future history of Thracia may be said to depend upon
the course of this interview.”

“That sounds terrifically solemn,” returned Cyril, with the levity
which M. Drakovics always found very trying in him. “What has
precipitated matters to such an extent this morning?”

“It will be necessary,” said M. Drakovics slowly, “to make the Queen
understand that in spite of her position as regent, the country is to
be governed by the advice of her Ministers.”

“Which means you,” said Cyril. “But doesn’t it strike you that you are
showing your hand a little too plainly? Surely an announcement of that
kind is likely to make the Queen look out for a more complaisant set
of Ministers?”

“I think not,” said M. Drakovics. “The Queen will not--I might say
cannot--dismiss me. I am indispensable.”

“It must be very gratifying for you to feel assured of that; but
suppose the Queen decides to try the experiment?”

“In that case,” replied the Premier darkly, “I should still do my
best--within certain limits, of course--to preserve the throne to Otto
Georg’s son, but there would inevitably be a change in the regency.”

“And in ceasing to be Premier you would merely become regent?”

“I do not say so. I remark simply that Thracia would part with a dozen
queens before seeing me dismissed. No; the Queen can do me no harm,
but unless she understands that fact at once, she may give me a good
deal of trouble. Therefore she must be made to understand it.”

“You never pretended to be a knight-errant, did you?” asked Cyril
lazily. “A business-like statesman with somewhat oriental ideas about
women--that’s more like you, isn’t it?”

M. Drakovics glanced sharply at his subordinate; but the entrance of
the Queen at the moment prevented his offering any answer to the
question. Ernestine looked very small and pale in her deep mourning,
with the heavy crape veil, which it was _de rigueur_ for her to wear,
falling to the ground behind her. Her aspect stirred in Cyril
something of indignation, a very unwonted feeling with him, against M.
Drakovics, who could talk so calmly of bullying this poor little woman
into submission to himself. But this was not a time for indulging in
sentiment, and as the Queen and M. Drakovics plunged into the
neglected business of the past fortnight, he began to hope that the
interview might end without any actual awkwardness. But when the Queen
had given the necessary authorisation to the steps which the Premier
had been obliged to take, and the list of matters to be discussed at
the meeting of the Privy Council on the morrow had been agreed to, and
it was Cyril’s turn to present his report and request directions for
the future, M. Drakovics seized his opportunity.

“Her Highness will remain with your Majesty for the present?” he asked
suddenly, when Cyril was detailing the arrangements made in connection
with the visit of the Princess of Weldart. The Queen’s face flushed.

“My mother is good enough to promise to stay here with me until her
physicians refuse to allow her to remain longer,” she replied, with a
touch of defiance in her tone. “Is there anything extraordinary in
that?”

“What could be more natural, madame?”

“My mother is endangering her own health by coming to Thracia at this
season,” the Queen went on warmly; “but she refuses to forsake me in
my bereavement.”

“Her Royal Highness’s visit is entirely of a personal and private
character, madame, if I may presume to ask?”

“Entirely. May I inquire your reason for asking?”

“It is immaterial, madame. Your Majesty’s statement is altogether
satisfactory.”

“I must insist on your answering me, monsieur.” The Queen’s tone was
imperious, and her eyes shone angrily.

“Since your Majesty insists--If her Royal Highness’s visit were of a
political character, I should be compelled to entreat your Majesty to
seek another Premier.”

“What! you threaten me, M. le Ministre?”

“Pardon me, madame. I spoke only by your Majesty’s command.”

This was undeniably true, and the Queen turned again to her papers
with a good deal of impatience. Presently she looked up once more--

“I believe, monsieur, that my husband intrusted to his valet a letter
addressed to you, engaging your care for his son?”

“It is true that his Majesty honoured me so far, madame.”

“I regret that his Majesty did not see fit to ask me to hand it to
you. I can assure you I should not have destroyed it.”

“Little fool!” thought Cyril. “If she is trying to irritate Drakovics
by a display of petulance, she ought to know that nothing could please
him better.” But the Premier was equal to the occasion.

“Madame,” he said, in the tone of one who deals gently with a froward
child, “I could not have valued such a proof of his Majesty’s
confidence more highly than I do; but my pleasure in it would have
been enhanced had I received it from your hands.”

The Queen crimsoned again under the ironical compliment, and M.
Drakovics heightened its effect by humbly asking permission to retire,
leaving Cyril to finish his business with her. When the door had
closed behind the Premier, Cyril took a bold step--

“If your Majesty would allow me to offer a word of advice----”

“You would say, ‘Do not quarrel with M. Drakovics,’” put in the Queen
quickly. “Is not that so?”

“I see that there is no need for me to volunteer advice, madame.”

“But tell me, why does he hate my mother so much?”

“Will not your Majesty make some allowance for the natural anxiety of
a Minister who sees his country threatened on all sides by insidious
foes? Our only hope of preserving Thracia as an independent kingdom
lies in our maintaining an equilibrium in the influence of the Powers
surrounding us. If we allow one to gain an advantage, we not only
encourage that Power to further encroachments, but we stimulate the
opposing Powers to demand similar advantages. Not to refer too
particularly to past difficulties, need I do more than remind your
Majesty that in the past her Royal Highness has not exactly proved
herself a successful politician, as we in Thracia consider it? M.
Drakovics is doubtless afraid that in the kindness of her heart the
Princess might possibly be induced to use her influence with your
Majesty in favour of the commercial concessions, say, which Pannonia
is now seeking to obtain, and this would complicate his task very
much. Of course, the case I have suggested is merely an illustration.”

“Then what is your advice on this point, Count?”

“It is neither brilliant nor particularly agreeable, madame--simply to
take no step, enter into no agreement, without the knowledge and
hearty assent of your responsible Ministers,--that is to say, of M.
Drakovics.”

“Ah, you are the friend of M. Drakovics?”

“I was the friend of your husband, madame, and I promised him to do my
best for his son.”

Her face cleared. “Ah, that is it,” she said. “I must not risk
Michael’s kingdom for my caprice, nor even to please my mother. You
are right to remind me of this, Count. If my child were to lose a
single village, or the smallest fraction of the power which he ought
to possess in Europe, through any measure of mine, I could never
forgive myself. I could not face him when he grew up.”

“His Majesty is to be congratulated on possessing so conscientious a
guardian of his interests, madame.”

“But it is not only that. It is not merely a question of preserving
the kingdom for him, but of fitting him for the kingdom. During this
last dreadful fortnight I have become very anxious about his
education. Do you not think he ought to be taught something?”

“For his sake and yours, madame, I trust your Majesty will not teach
him to dislike his advisers,” said Cyril drily.

“I think that if he learns that from any one, it will be from the
advisers themselves,” said the Queen, an angry flush rising to her
forehead; but as Cyril merely bowed in answer to the taunt, her face
changed. “I am doing you an injustice, Count. You are thinking of what
my husband said that day. But it was not fair.”

As she guessed, Cyril’s thoughts had gone back, like her own, to a day
shortly before his visit to England, when Otto Georg and he, catching
sight of the little Prince marching solemnly up and down the terrace
in charge of Mrs Jones, had sallied out and carried off the child in
triumph to the King’s study, where they indulged in a glorious romp.
When the fun was at its height the Queen had entered, and without
taking any notice of her husband or of Cyril, had led away Prince
Michael to his nurse, telling him in her iciest voice that it was the
hour for his walk, and that she never allowed it to be interfered
with. As she reached the door, dragging with her the unwilling child,
puzzled to find himself scolded for what his father had done, the
King’s wrath blazed forth--

“Take care, madame! The child is in your hands for the present, but in
a year or two it will be a different matter. You had better not teach
him to hate his father, for I might return the compliment.”

Cyril could recall now the way in which the Queen had departed without
deigning to reply, her head held a little higher as she passed through
the door, while Otto Georg, angry that he had forgotten himself so far
as to use threats to his wife in the presence of a third party,
relieved his feelings by a burst of hearty vituperation as soon as she
was out of hearing. This had happened only two months ago.

“His Majesty spoke in a moment of irritation, madame.”

“Naturally; but should I have been likely to teach the child to hate
his father? If he perceived that we were not--not on good terms, that
I could not help, but the other----”

“Your Majesty wished to say something about the King’s education?”

“Yes,” said the Queen, returning hastily from her attempt at
self-justification, “it was an idea of my mother’s. No; she has not
been taking part in politics--it is quite a domestic matter. We both
feel that the King ought to begin to learn something, and I had looked
forward to teaching him myself; but my mother thinks I should not have
time to give him regular lessons, and I suppose that is quite true.
She suggests that I should appoint as his governess a certain
Fräulein von Staubach, who has been lectrice to my aunt the Queen of
Mœsia until quite lately. She is a very highly cultivated and
excellent woman, besides being very fond of children--But do you know
her?”

“And a bitter enemy of Drakovics’s and of mine!” Cyril had added
mentally to the list of Fräulein von Staubach’s good qualities. He
had no difficulty in fathoming the Princess’s motives when he
remembered an occasion on which Fräulein von Staubach had been a
passive, if not an active, participant in carrying out a practical
joke of which he had been the victim. The mystification had had
important political consequences, and Cyril nourished feelings which
were the reverse of friendly towards all those who had taken part in
it--feelings which he had no doubt were fully reciprocated. But it was
unnecessary to explain all this to the Queen.

“I had the honour of meeting the lady some years ago, when I spent a
short time in Mœsia, madame,” he answered.

“Ah, then you must know how suitable a person she is for the post. She
is devoted to my aunt and to our house, and that is what I want. I
could not bear that any one should come between my boy and me.”

“A most natural sentiment, madame.”

“Then you will try and bring M. Drakovics to see it in the same light?
Of course, under present circumstances, he will expect to be
consulted. But I may depend upon you to smooth the way?”

“So that is what all this frankness comes to!” was Cyril’s mental
exclamation. “I might have guessed that she wanted me to do her a
favour. Why didn’t the little schemer try some of her wiles upon poor
old Otto Georg instead of slanging him? It would have made things
pleasanter even if it meant nothing. I will do my utmost to further
your Majesty’s wishes,” he said aloud.

“But you are not satisfied,” said the Queen mournfully. “You think I
am devising some plot against yourself and your dear friend M.
Drakovics. Cannot you understand that my boy is everything to me? If
we were parted--if he were turned against me--it would kill me.”

Cyril was saved the embarrassment of a reply by a violent fumbling at
the door. At a sign from the Queen he opened it, and admitted the
little King, who ran up to his mother with a headless tin soldier in
one hand and a picture-book in the other.

“Little mother, there’s no one to play with me,” he wailed, dropping
his toys and climbing into her lap. She gathered him up in her arms,
and looked across him at Cyril.

“He is all I have left,” she said reproachfully, “and I am all that he
has. You see that he cannot do without me. I rely on you to help me in
appointing Fräulein von Staubach. She will not try to separate him
from me. You were his father’s friend.”

With another assurance of his full intention of furthering her wishes,
Cyril took his departure, laughing silently at the effective _tableau_
which had crowned so opportunely the Queen’s argument.

“Either she is a different creature since Otto Georg’s death,” he said
to himself, “or she is the finest actress I know. She used to be
simply a jealous wife; at her husband’s death-bed she was a heroine of
tragedy; and now she is nothing but a scheming little woman, who
hasn’t art enough to conceal the fact that she is a schemer. What a
creature of moods she must be! I could have sworn that she would never
forgive me that death-bed reconciliation; but though it is
disappointing, artistically speaking, that she has stepped down from
her tragic pedestal, it will make her much easier to work with if only
the phase lasts. But it really is much less interesting. Can it
possibly be all acting? Was she merely wearing a mask to-day? But no,
it was too clumsy. The transition from hatred to friendliness was not
gradual enough to be artistic. No! I see what it is. The Princess,
finding her daughter in a state of hot indignation against me on her
arrival, has talked at me industriously for the fortnight. At first
the Queen agreed with her, then she got bored, and lastly she became
indignant. She determined to prove her mother in the wrong by
converting the enemy into a friend. If she could succeed, it would
justify her for being so weak as to promise she would trust me. Ah,
Madame la Princesse! you have done me a service you little intended,
simply through not seeing when you had said enough. And as for you,
Queen Ernestine, I shall know how to manage you in future. When you
are intending to play a very deep game, you shouldn’t show your cards
quite so openly.”

But in spite of Cyril’s lack of illusions, the picture of the Queen as
he had last seen her recurred to him. Her dark eyes looked tearfully
at him over the child’s golden curls and white frock, and her
reproachful voice said, “He is all that I have left.” He could only
succeed in banishing the impression from his mind by assuring himself
that she had arranged for the little King’s appearance at the moment,
with a view to the effect to be produced on himself, and even then it
was apt to return to him unbidden. This was especially the case one
afternoon about a week later, when, looking in at the Premier’s
office, he found M. Drakovics sitting idle, gazing into futurity with
knitted brows and folded arms.

“Sorry to see that you have something on your mind, monsieur!” was the
irreverent greeting which roused the Premier from his brown study. He
sat up suddenly, and tried to look as though the shot had not told.

“You are wiser than I am, Count. I am not aware that there is anything
special on my mind at present.”

“No?” asked Cyril, with a note of concern in his voice. “And yet such
sudden lapses of memory as this are a bad sign, surely?” and he met M.
Drakovics’s frown with a gaze of bland unconsciousness.

“Allow me to remind you, Count,” said the Premier severely, “that you
have not now his late Majesty to deal with. Wit and humour--even the
most brilliant jokes--are wasted upon me.”

“But not in this case, when the jokes are your own?” was the prompt
reply. “Surely you can’t imagine that I should venture to joke with
you?”

M. Drakovics gave up the attempt at concealment. “I will not deny,” he
said slowly, “that my mind has been much exercised of late by certain
remarks which fell from Prince Soudaroff when he paid me his farewell
visit.”

“Ah, now we are coming to it!” said Cyril to himself. A good deal of
comment had been excited in the political world by the fact that the
Emperor of Scythia had selected as his representative at the funeral
of King Otto Georg a diplomatist of such European celebrity as Prince
Soudaroff, and the opinion had been freely expressed that some change
of policy was in the air. “Were the Prince’s remarks of a reassuring
character?” he asked aloud.

“Very much so, on one condition. Prince Soudaroff emphasised the
goodwill by which his master was actuated towards Thracia, and
mentioned, casually, that that goodwill might be testified in a
substantial form if only an Orthodox prince sat on the Thracian
throne.”

“So that’s it, is it? Very pretty, of course; but it can’t be done.”

“That is your opinion, then?”

“Most certainly it is, if you mean to ask me whether the Queen will
ever consent to King Michael’s conversion to the Orthodox faith.”

“And yet,” pursued M. Drakovics, “why should it be impossible? A
change which would be humiliating or even disgraceful in the case of a
grown-up man, such as our late King, or--or your brother, would be
quite simple and natural in the case of a child. He knows nothing as
yet of religion, and it means merely that he would be brought up in
one form of faith instead of another. Popa instead of pastor, that is
all.”

“And Bellaviste _vaut bien une messe_?” said Cyril. “When do you
intend to lay your views before the Queen?”

“I do not intend to broach the matter to her unless I can do so with
some prospect of success. What is your opinion?”

“That you will see her Majesty shaking the dust of Thracia from her
feet, and retiring to Germany with her son, before she will compromise
his spiritual welfare by such a step.”

“You forget that I am a member of the Orthodox Church, Count.”

“True, monsieur. I had forgotten that you were anything but a
statesman.”

“You flatter me. But consider the enormous advantages to be gained by
the sacrifice. The cost is ludicrously small. Could we not convince
her Majesty by means of an object-lesson?”

“By some one else’s conversion, I suppose? Will you try the British
Minister or Lady Stratford to begin with?”

“We will start nearer home, I think. An excellent impression would be
produced by your reception into the Orthodox Church, my dear Count.”

“And what sort of impression on the Queen?” was Cyril’s mental
comment. “This is a little dodge to get me shunted out of your way, my
good Drakovics.” Aloud he replied, “You do me too much honour,
monsieur; I really cannot pretend to be a personage of so much
importance as you kindly hint. Besides, my creed is too valuable for
me to sacrifice it merely as an object-lesson. Who knows whether I may
not be able to barter it for a crown some day?”

M. Drakovics bit his bushy grey moustache angrily, for the hit galled
him. “We will turn to considerations of policy rather than of
commerce, Count, if you please. Surely you cannot be blind to the
advantages of such an event as the King’s conversion?”

“I see that you would be exhibited to all Europe as implicitly
following the dictation of Scythia, if that’s what you’re aiming at.”

“Not at all,” said the Premier quickly. “To have a king of their own
faith is the great desire of the Thracians. They would rally round the
throne to an extraordinary degree if the conversion took place. It
would be simply and wholly in response to their wishes, and the Queen
would gain enormously in popularity.”

“Quite so,” said Cyril. “Explain that to Pannonia and Hercynia, and
see how they will look at it. Sigismund of Hercynia might be brought
to acquiesce if he were allowed to exhibit his powers as a theologian
by conducting the conversion himself, but otherwise he is more likely
to preach a crusade against you. Do you really believe that they would
not see the finger of Scythia in the event?”

“I suppose you are right. Nevertheless----”

“And Queen Ernestine would pose as a Christian martyr for the benefit
of all Europe. She would take her stand on the marriage settlement, as
she has every right to do, and all the men with the faintest spark of
chivalry about them, and all women with children of their own, would
adopt her cause.” He spoke strongly, with a vivid recollection of the
picture which he persuaded himself had been devised for his benefit.
“Statecraft is a good thing, my dear Drakovics, but sentiment
occasionally goes one better.”

“You are right; I give up the plan. For a week I have been trying to
find a way of working it out, but I feared it would prove insuperable.
Happily I had not adopted it as one of my measures.”

“Or you would have felt bound to carry it out by fair means or foul?
You broached it to no one, I suppose?”

“To no one. I disregarded studiously Prince Soudaroff’s remarks during
our interview, in order to gain time for thought.”

“Ah, he expected that, of course. He may be trusted to have said
nothing to any one else, you think?”

“He paid private visits to no one but the Metropolitan, besides
myself, and he would scarcely enter upon the subject with him.”

“I wish we could be sure of that, for the Metropolitan is just the
sort of weak man to be persuaded into believing that he has a mission
to bring the conversion about. However, it’s quite certain that we
can’t arrest him on suspicion, although I shouldn’t wonder if we have
to do it after he has preached to-morrow. It would be his business to
try to stir the people’s curiosity by vague hints, and he is fanatic
enough to rejoice in running the risk. One would do one’s best to
secure his silence beforehand, if one didn’t know that it would be the
safest way of setting him talking. If only Prince Soudaroff had been a
Catholic or a Mohammedan, and had not paid him more than a formal
visit!”

“One could prohibit the Metropolitan from preaching to-morrow.”

“And convince him that there’s something in the wind if Prince
Soudaroff said nothing to him, and give him a glorious handle against
us if he has been tampered with. He is yearning already for an
opportunity of denouncing us as oppressors of the Church, and I
believe he and his clergy are the hottest pro-Scythians in Thracia.”

“Then you would do nothing?”

“Far from it. Hope for the best, and keep the police ready for
action.”

And with this shameless parody of the Puritan leader’s charge to his
troops Cyril took his leave. The misgivings which assailed him caused
him to take a very unusual step on the morrow, which happened to be
the festival of a holy man of local celebrity, known as St Gabriel of
Tatarjé. St Gabriel was supposed to have been martyred by the Roumis
about the end of the fourteenth century (the chronology of his life
and times was somewhat uncertain), and the traditions of the country
required that on the anniversary of his death the Metropolitan should
preach a sermon in his honour at the cathedral of Bellaviste. On this
occasion Cyril was one of those who attended the service. He had no
wish to obtrude his presence on the Thracian portion of the
congregation, and as a good many foreigners, either tourists or
members of the various legations, had seized the opportunity of
witnessing informally the solemn pageantry of the Greek saint’s-day
celebration, he was able to obtain a place behind one of the pillars
without attracting attention. The earlier portion of the service
passed off quietly; but when the Metropolitan began his sermon Cyril
perceived at once that his fears had been only too well founded.
Without the slightest attempt at disguise the preacher went straight
to the point, denouncing the royal house as heretics, and M. Drakovics
as their supporter, with great vigour. Through the Premier it had come
about that Thracia had accepted a monarch and a code of laws from the
ungodly and schismatical nations of the West, instead of finding a
peaceful shelter under the protecting wings of the great Orthodox
Empire, at whose head stood the heir of the Eastern Cæsars. It was a
just retribution that the late King had been removed in his prime, and
the kingdom left as the battle-ground of the western heretics. Another
opportunity was providentially granted to the Thracians by reason of
the youth of their present sovereign, and it was not too late to
accept with gratitude the overtures of peace newly made to them by the
long-suffering head of their faith. What did the Queen’s inevitable
objections signify? Her son did not belong to her, but to Thracia. She
was a German--a Jewess--who had filled the Court and the city with her
creatures, and had set herself deliberately to frustrate the hopes of
the nation from the day of her first entrance into Thracia. Was she to
be allowed to come between the kingdom and its manifest destiny, the
fulfilment of its burning desire for reunion with the race to which it
really belonged, and to which it owed its freedom? Let her be given
the choice between preserving her heresy and her son’s throne. If she
was obdurate, she must be set aside and another regent appointed, with
the concurrence of the Orthodox Emperor, who would see that the King
was brought up in the true faith.

Cyril dared not delay longer. The conclusion of the sermon would no
doubt be interesting, but to wait for it would mean that there would
be no hope of anticipating its effect on the crowded congregation,
belonging chiefly to the peasant and artisan classes, which filled the
cathedral. Holding his handkerchief to his face, both as a disguise
and as an excuse for departing, he slipped from his place and made his
way to the door. Once outside the cathedral, he thought for a moment
of the possibility of bringing up a sufficient force of police to
overawe the congregation as they came out, and ensure their dispersing
quietly. But the idea was negatived as soon as it arose, for the
police-barracks were on the other side of the town, and it might cause
a fatal loss of time to go thither, or even to turn aside and
telephone to the chief of police. The Palace was Cyril’s charge, and
until the Palace was safe, he could not think of anything else. Even
before he had brought his train of reasoning to this conclusion, he
was climbing the steep street which led to the Palace, and only just
in time, for, turning as he entered the gate, he saw the congregation
beginning to pour out of the cathedral. It was the work of a moment to
call out the guard and close the gates, and then Cyril hurried to his
office in order to telephone to the barracks a request for a strong
force of police, and to M. Drakovics the news of the situation. He had
little fear that any mob would be able to break into the Palace before
the arrival of the police, for the guards were all drawn from the
famous Carlino regiment, the best in the Thracian army, to which this
honour had been committed since the disbandment of the untrustworthy
Palace Guard of earlier years. It could not be doubted that with the
advantages of position and discipline they would be able to keep the
mob at bay at the gates; but the extent of wall to be defended was so
large, and so easily to be scaled by one man climbing on the shoulders
of another, that to avoid any risk from isolated intruders he sent a
message to the Queen by M. Stefanovics, entreating her to remain with
the King in her own apartments for the present.

No sooner had the message been sent than Cyril, from his commanding
position at the head of the great flight of steps leading to the door
of the Palace, caught sight of the advance-guard of an excited crowd
debouching from the street he had just traversed. He could see the mob
pressing up to the iron gates and shaking them in vain efforts to
enter, then brandishing sticks and fists at the guards, and demanding
with imprecations that the gates should be opened. Loud shouts were
raised for the Queen and the little King, but not by any means as
demonstrations of loyalty. Rather they were frantic demands that the
Queen should at once yield to the wishes of her subjects, and agree to
the King’s conversion, on pain either of being separated from him, or
driven from Thracia with him. Cyril congratulated himself on his
foresight in keeping the inmates of the Palace from coming in contact
with the rioters, but it was not long before he became aware that he
had rejoiced too soon. Hearing Stefanovics coming back, he turned to
speak to him, and perceived to his dismay that the chamberlain was
escorting Queen Ernestine, who held the little King by the hand, while
a lady-in-waiting followed.

“I do not understand your message, Count,” said the Queen, pausing as
Cyril confronted her. “My son’s subjects are anxious to see him on
their festival-day, and you take it upon yourself to exclude them from
the Palace. Have the goodness to throw open the gates and admit the
people, so that the King may receive their loyal congratulations from
the steps.”

“Allow me to entreat you, madame, to return to your apartments with
his Majesty,” said Cyril. “This gathering is not what you think.”

She looked at him with disdainful displeasure. “Do you think I am
deaf?” she asked scornfully. “They are crying, ‘The King! the Queen!
let us see the Queen!’ You are afraid that this demonstration may
embarrass M. Drakovics and his Government, and therefore you try to
prevent the people from seeing their King.”

“If your Majesty is not deaf, and will listen for a moment,” said
Cyril, exasperated, “you will find that the shouts are by no means of
a gratifying nature. Does that, for instance, commend itself to you,
madame?” as a long-drawn howl of execration forced itself on the
Queen’s reluctant ears, making her start and turn pale.

“It is a riot? they are in revolt?” she asked, with trembling lips.
“What is the reason?”

“They have just been excited by an inflammatory sermon from the
Metropolitan on the subject of their religion, madame. It is possible
that your Majesty can guess the direction their thoughts have taken.”

“They threaten my son’s faith? Never! Admit the insolents immediately,
Count. They shall hear my answer from my own lips. With my child in my
arms I will defy them.”

“Pardon me, madame; the mob of Bellaviste has not even the chivalry of
that of Paris, and--you are not a Marie Antoinette. At the risk of
incurring your displeasure, I must decline to obey you in this.”

He uttered the last sentence in a lowered voice, to avoid the
appearance of wishing to humiliate her in the hearing of Stefanovics.
For a moment her angry eyes looked defiantly into his, then they fell.

“I am a prisoner in my own Palace, it seems!” she said wrathfully.
“When your wife returns from the cathedral, M. Stefanovics, be so good
as to send her to me immediately. I must know all about this affair.”

And she turned her back on Cyril, and retired.

“There come the police at last!” said Stefanovics.



 CHAPTER IV.
 AN AMATEUR DIPLOMATIST.

The mob had been dispersed by the police, and Cyril found himself
able to breathe freely once more. The Metropolitan, arrested by the
order of M. Drakovics as soon as the news of the sermon and the
consequent outbreak had reached him, was under police supervision in
his own palace, and bodies of cavalry were patrolling the streets. The
Queen had not shown herself outside her own apartments after the rude
awakening she had experienced, but Cyril was kept informed by
Stefanovics of all that passed behind the closed doors. It seemed that
Madame Stefanovics, on her return from the service, had been required
to relate to her royal mistress all that she could remember of the
sermon, and that her powers of accuracy and memory were stimulated by
a severe cross-examination. The Princess of Weldart was much moved,
the lady-in-waiting told her husband, who passed on the fact promptly
to Cyril, but the Queen was almost out of her mind. She walked up and
down the room in feverish excitement and anger, and broke at last into
a flood of passionate tears. Now that her feelings had found this
relief, she was more calm, and had spent the afternoon closeted with
her secretary, who was kept hard at work drafting and writing letters.
This piece of information served in a measure to reassure Cyril.

“She will work it off in that way,” he said to himself. “Writing
letters and drawing up proclamations will keep her busy without doing
any harm. To-morrow she will be cooler, and we can think about
business.”

He remained at the Palace during the whole of the afternoon and
evening, expecting to be summoned to assist the Queen in her labours,
or at any rate to receive some communication from her relating to the
punishment of the rioters who had been arrested. He would not have
objected to this. It would be unconstitutional, no doubt, but it might
keep her from doing anything worse. As time passed on, and no summons
reached him, he became a little uneasy as to what this continued
silence might portend; but on hearing from Stefanovics that the Queen
appeared much calmer and even happier after her long afternoon’s work,
he felt it safe to retire to his own house, which stood just outside
the Palace grounds. As he passed out of the gate, and the guards
presented arms, he noticed a man slinking through in the shadow, and
recognised the Queen’s secretary, a young German. It was late for any
one employed at the Palace to be going out, and the uncharitable
conclusion at which Cyril arrived instantly was that the secretary was
on his way to join some disreputable associates in the town. There was
a half-furtive, half-triumphant look about him which seemed to accord
with this suspicion, and as the Minister of the Household walked home
he indulged in a little moralising on the ease with which young men
fall into mischief when away from the control of their parents and
guardians. His mind was sufficiently at ease to allow of this, for
although earlier in the day he had been conscious of some curiosity,
and even a slight degree of apprehension, as to the effect the events
of the morning were likely to have on his own position in the Court,
he had no intention of allowing himself to be worried by unnecessary
fears, and after wrestling with the intricacies of the Palace accounts
for an hour or two, went to bed and slept peacefully. At an unwonted
hour in the morning, however, he was awakened in a sufficiently
startling way.

“Excellency, his Excellency the Premier!” panted Dietrich, throwing
the bedroom door open, and as it were flinging the announcement into
the room. Apparently he had only managed to keep ahead of the visitor
by climbing the stairs at a record pace, for M. Drakovics was inside
the door before the words were out of his mouth.

“You are early, my dear Drakovics,” remarked Cyril, sitting up in bed,
and rejoicing, not for the first time, that he possessed the faculty
of awaking instantaneously with all his wits at work.

“I am early,” shouted M. Drakovics, “and I may well be! Tell that
idiot of yours to go to Jericho, and give me your attention.”

“Politeness is never wasted,” returned Cyril. “Dietrich, you may go.
Now, monsieur, to what am I indebted for this honour?”

M. Drakovics was literally unable to speak, but he glared furiously at
Cyril as he brandished a bundle of papers in his face. Supposing that
he was intended to read them, Cyril laid hold of the bundle.

“No, not all!” gasped M. Drakovics. “I--I will break the news to you
gently,” with a ghastly smile. “Read that first,” and he selected from
the bundle and handed to Cyril a letter in the handwriting of the
Queen’s secretary.

“Take a seat,” said Cyril, nodding towards a chair; “you seem somewhat
agitated,” and with another mirthless smile the Premier obeyed,
choosing a place from which he could watch every change in the
expression of his host’s face.

“A letter addressed by the Queen to the Emperor of Scythia!” said
Cyril. “H’m, that’s bad. Has it been sent off?”

“Unfortunately it has. The secretary took it to the Scythian Legation
last night, and placed it, I believe, in the hands of the Minister
himself.”

“What a way of doing business!” groaned Cyril in disgust. “Well,
that’s bad too--worse, in fact. Now to read this precious epistle.”

He applied himself to the task, while M. Drakovics ejaculated with a
hollow laugh, “Wait a little. You have not heard the worst yet,” and
watched him again.

“It’s pretty strong,” remarked Cyril, reassuringly, “but it’s not
badly put together--would make a magnificent stage letter. Yes, this
bit would certainly bring down the house: ‘It is less than a month
since I was deprived of the protection of my husband, and left to
battle with the world for my son’s rights. Your Majesty chooses this
moment to attack a lonely woman in her tenderest point. This is the
chivalry of Scythia!’ And the pit would shout itself hoarse over the
conclusion: ‘But it is possible to pay too high a price even for the
favour of an Emperor. To save my son’s kingdom, I would sacrifice
much--wealth, comfort, happiness, life itself; but my child’s faith
and honour--never! Your Majesty may regard it as an excellent piece of
diplomacy to send your representative to stir up the fanaticism of a
nation which, thanks to the intrigues of your agents in the past, has
as yet scarcely emerged from barbarism; but rather than yield to such
dictation, I will quit Thracia with my child, knowing that when he
grows up he will thank me for thus depriving him of his inheritance.
Europe shall judge--Heaven shall judge between us--you seeking to turn
a little child from the faith of his parents for the sake of a paltry
political advantage, I preferring to see my son reduced to the
position of a mere cadet of his father’s house, but with a stainless
name, rather than the pervert King of a nation sunk in subservience to
you.’ Good gracious! this must be stopped at any cost,” cried Cyril.
“We shall have the Scythian Legation withdrawn, and the choice given
us of fighting or knuckling under--and how we are to fight, when
Scythia makes public, as she is safe to do, the Queen’s unflattering
opinion of the Thracians, as expressed in this letter, I don’t know.”

“And have you any measure to propose?”

“Has the letter, of which this is the draft, left the Legation yet?”

“No; I think we may be sure that it has not.”

“Then there is a hope. We must get at Baron Natarin, and have the
letter back. What excuses precisely are to be offered we can consider
later; but I think we can make him see that the choice lies between
his surrendering the document and our justifying the charges contained
in it, which we can do at the trial of the Metropolitan. Soudaroff is
sure not to have gone beyond his instructions, though it’s pretty
clear that he mistook his man, and we shall have some interesting
revelations to make, which will prove that Scythia has been
interfering most unwarrantably in our internal affairs. Yes; I think
they will prefer to hush it up.”

“That is now scarcely possible, unfortunately,” said M. Drakovics,
with a kind of sombre triumph in his tones, “for look here.”

He spread out on the bed copies of that morning’s issues of the three
daily newspapers published in Bellaviste, in each of which Cyril, to
his utter horror, saw the fateful letter facing him in all the
boldness and clearness of the largest print.

“The woman must be mad!” he said, scarcely able to believe his eyes as
he turned mechanically from one reproduction of the “Letter addressed
by her Majesty the Queen-Regent to the Emperor of Scythia” to another.
M. Drakovics sat regarding him in stony silence, and, after a moment’s
stupefaction he pulled himself together.

“Have you discovered how the letter got to the newspaper-offices?”

“Yes; the secretary took them each a copy.”

“Ah! a copy signed by the Queen?”

“No; merely one in his own writing.”

“Good; then we may conclude that he was not authorised to do so.”

“Probably not, since he sold the letter to the editor for a
considerable sum in each case.”

“Better and better! I was almost afraid to hope for such a thing. And
what measures have you taken with regard to the papers?”

“Naturally I have seized all the copies printed, broken up the plates,
and placed every one employed in the offices under arrest.”

“And you think that will be effectual?”

“It is the best we can do. The editors and printers know of the
letter, of course, and we cannot silence them all.”

“No; but we can square them. Set them at liberty on condition of their
printing the account of the matter with which you will furnish them,
and let them bring out their papers as soon as they can, so as to
attract as little notice as possible by the delay. I am sorry you
broke up the type, for it would have come in useful, with merely this
precious letter and the comments on it struck out. However, you must
do the best you can.”

“And if the editors refuse, or persist in giving their own version?”

“Surely you have your editors in better order than that? But send a
censor to examine the papers before they are allowed to be
distributed, and if there is any difficulty, suppress the paper at
once, and proceed against all concerned for conspiracy. They would
stand convicted of being partakers in a plot to embroil us with
Scythia.”

“Excellent! That is to be our idea, then?”

“Of course. Put it all on the secretary, and sack him promptly. We may
thank our stars that the notion of feathering his own nest out of the
affair occurred to him. Otherwise we should have found it extremely
difficult to make him the scapegoat, but now he has put himself beyond
the pale of mercy.”

“I have already ordered his arrest; but I am expecting every moment to
receive an angry message from the Queen, demanding that he should be
released. Are we to keep up the conspiracy idea with her, or not?”

“By no means. It wouldn’t be any use. We must have it out with her,
and come to an understanding. This sort of thing must not occur again.
If you will be good enough to go down-stairs, Drakovics, and tell my
people to get you some breakfast, I will come with you to the Palace
as soon as I am dressed. Then after that I will go and interview
Natarin, and get the original letter back by hook or by crook. I
suppose you have the Legation under surveillance?”

“Yes; and any one who leaves it is to be followed. Of course, we can
take no steps openly.”

“Rather not; but I am of opinion that Natarin is too old a bird to
allow that letter to go out of his hands before hearing from you. We
must replace it, of course, with a dignified message of protest. The
fact that some such letter was written must have got about; but if we
allow it to become known that the secretary, with a view to his own
aggrandisement, despatched and published an early draft without
authority, and that the real epistle contains nothing that could
offend the Emperor, while it defines politely the Queen’s position, it
seems to me that we shall not score so badly.”

M. Drakovics departed with a sigh of polite incredulity; but the
resourcefulness of his host had cheered him to such an extent that he
succeeded in partaking of a remarkably good breakfast while waiting
for Cyril to accompany him to the Palace. By virtue of their office,
both Ministers possessed the right of requesting an audience of the
Queen at any time, and the chamberlain to whom they stated their
desire to be received by her Majesty expressed no surprise, in spite
of the early hour. He led them to the apartment in which the Queen was
accustomed to spend her mornings, and requested the lady-in-waiting in
the anteroom to inquire her Majesty’s pleasure. As the door was opened
they had a glimpse into the room, and M. Drakovics turned to Cyril
behind the chamberlain’s back with a glance that expressed unutterable
things. The day was a cool one in early autumn, and a small fire was
burning in the English grate, before which the Queen was sitting on
the hearthrug, playing with the little King, while her mother looked
on benignantly.

“At any rate,” observed Cyril in a low voice, for the comfort of his
chief, “we serve a sovereign whom age can never wither, nor custom
stale her infinite variety. We expected to find an outraged mother
defying the world----”

“And we see a thoughtless child!” burst from M. Drakovics; but by this
time the chamberlain had received his orders, and bowing as he held
the door open, invited them to enter. A sudden transformation had been
effected in the appearance of the room. King Michael had been
relegated to his high chair and a picture-book; the Princess of
Weldart had withdrawn into a corner, and was exclusively occupied with
her embroidery; while the Queen, her face a little flushed, and her
hair under the peaked edge of the black cap slightly awry, was sitting
at the table.

“Your Excellency finds us _en famille_,” she remarked to M. Drakovics,
somewhat too airily for the tone to be quite natural. “She means to
brazen it out,” said Cyril to himself.

“It is possible that you might prefer to receive Count Mortimer and
myself in private, madame,” said M. Drakovics pointedly.

“I have no secrets from my mother,” returned the Queen. “This is not a
Council of State, I think?”

“Technically speaking, it is not,” M. Drakovics agreed, “but I think
your Majesty can scarcely be ignorant that the object of our visit is
to discuss a very grave matter of State.”

“It is not hard to guess,” said the Queen, “that you refer to the
Metropolitan’s sermon yesterday, and the events that followed it.”

“And to a slight--pardon me--a slight indiscretion on your own part,
madame, which followed the events,” said M. Drakovics, irritated by
what seemed to him her prevarication.

“I am at a loss to understand your Excellency,” said the Queen
angrily, darting a lightning glance of wrath at Cyril.

“I allude to the letter which your Majesty has thought fit to address
to the Emperor of Scythia without consulting your advisers.”

“And may I ask how long my advisers have considered it a part of their
duty to supervise my private correspondence?”

“A correspondence which appears in the public prints is scarcely to be
called private, madame.”

“In the papers? I fear that your Excellency has been imposed upon by
some forgery. The letter which I drew up yesterday and dictated to
Herr Christophle has never left my possession.”

“I am inexpressibly relieved to hear it, madame.”

“But you do not believe me? Must I show you the letter itself?” And
with one of her impulsive movements, she sprang up and crossed the
room to an escritoire. Unlocking a drawer, she pressed a spring and
drew out a smaller drawer, in which, with a sudden change of
countenance, she began to search anxiously.

“It is gone!” she said, looking round with a frightened face.
“Christophle and my mother thought it would be well to send it last
night, but I said I would sleep over it before despatching it.”

“Had the secretary Christophle access to your Majesty’s escritoire?”
inquired M. Drakovics drily; for it had not escaped either Cyril or
himself that the Princess of Weldart had sat up suddenly, as though
about to speak, when the Queen had first risen from her chair, but had
relapsed again immediately into an ostentatious indifference to all
that was going on.

“No, certainly not. What should he want with the letter? Besides, the
key is on my watch-chain.”

“I do not know what his business with the letter was, madame, nor will
I offer an opinion as to the means by which he obtained possession of
it. All I can say is, that late last night Herr Christophle not only
delivered your Majesty’s signed letter to Baron Natarin at the
Scythian Legation, but also sold copies on his own account to all the
papers of the capital.”

“Impossible!” cried the Queen. “How could he sell copies of my letter
to the papers? And how did he obtain possession of the letter itself?”

“I see nothing to make all this commotion about,” put in the Princess
of Weldart briskly. “When a letter is written, why should it not be
delivered?”

The Queen glanced sharply at her, then turned to the Ministers with a
stunned look on her face. “I fear that Christophle must have made use
of that argument,” she said falteringly. “In any case, I shall rebuke
him sharply for his officiousness.”

“Pardon me, madame, but that is not enough,” said M. Drakovics.

“Not enough? You tell me to my face that I am not competent to control
my own servants? I say that it is enough, M. le Ministre!”

“My regret at being compelled to differ from your Majesty is only
enhanced by the consequent necessity of placing my resignation in your
hands, madame.”

“What! your Excellency does not dream of retiring from office for the
sake of such a trifle?” Her tone was one of genuine alarm.

“When your advisers have the misfortune to lose your confidence,
madame, it is undoubtedly their duty, as well as your pleasure, that
they should yield their places to more favoured individuals.”

“Is this the way in which you fulfil your friend’s dying charge,
Count?” she asked bitterly of Cyril, while the Princess of Weldart,
who had dropped her work, looked up with gleaming eyes.

“Madame, no one can accuse me of neglecting his Majesty’s dying
command so long as I could carry it out with honour; but I cannot
stand by and see you plunge Thracia into a ruinous war in which your
son’s kingdom will be irretrievably swallowed up.” He had given M.
Drakovics no authority to include his resignation with his own, but
this was a case in which unity was all-important.

“Oh, you are a true friend!” said the Queen ironically; but her mother
rose and stood in front of her, waving the Ministers away.

“This is enough, my daughter. I will not see you lowered by appealing
any longer to the patriotism or natural piety of these gentlemen. They
have insulted you grossly in your own palace, in their anxiety to
serve the interests of Scythia--an anxiety for which they will
doubtless receive a suitable reward. I believe that the Emperor is
extremely generous towards his foreign pensioners. M. Drakovics, Count
Mortimer, you may retire. Her Majesty the Queen-Regent dispenses with
your services.”

But the Princess, in her eagerness to clinch matters, had gone too
far. Queen Ernestine was not to be superseded in the exercise of her
prerogative, even by her mother. She rose from her chair a second
time, with her lips tightened ominously.

“I am afraid that our discussions have disturbed you, mamma. His
Excellency the Premier,” she laid a stress on the word, “was right
when he suggested that this was scarcely the place for them.
Messieurs,” she turned to the two Ministers with her most winning
manner, “will you be so good as to accompany me into the next room?
There we can discuss things without fear of interrupting any one.”

“Am I to understand that your Majesty endorses the remarks of her
Royal Highness?” inquired M. Drakovics, without offering to move.

The Queen shot a glance of reproach at her mother. “See in what a
position you have placed me!” it seemed to say. “Your Excellency,” she
said, “I must apologise unreservedly for my mother’s words, which can
only be excused by her ignorance of Thracia and its statesmen. If she
knew you and Count Mortimer as I do, she would recognise the absurdity
of her accusation.”

To Cyril’s intense amusement, M. Drakovics fell on his knees, and
kissed the Queen’s hand.

“Madame,” he said, “I am overwhelmed. The pain I experienced on
hearing the words of her Royal Highness is only equalled by the shame
I feel for having appeared to demand an apology from yourself. I am
your Majesty’s servant to command.”

“The little witch has won a triumph indeed!” reflected Cyril, as he
and M. Drakovics, bowing to the Princess, followed the Queen into the
next room. “It is quite worth while her stooping to conquer Drakovics.
And he has taken a leaf out of her book, which shows that the lesson
has not been lost upon him.”

“It will please me, messieurs,” said the Queen, when Cyril had shut
the door, “if you will have the goodness to regard the incident which
has just occurred as though it had not taken place. Will your
Excellency,” she turned to M. Drakovics, “be kind enough to explain to
me the words which fell from Count Mortimer a few minutes ago as to
plunging Thracia into a hopeless war?”

“It is my duty to inform your Majesty,” returned the Premier, with
great solemnity, “that the letter so mysteriously abstracted and so
iniquitously published would infallibly plunge us into a war with
Scythia, into which other nations would certainly be drawn. Whatever
the result of the whole contest, it can scarcely be doubted that
Thracia would be swallowed up by one of the victorious Powers.”

The Queen grew paler and paler. “And is there any measure you can
propose to avert this disaster?” she asked, in a voice that was almost
a whisper.

“In the confidence that I was honoured with your Majesty’s favour, I
have already, with Count Mortimer’s assistance, taken steps which we
hope may ensure that object, madame.”

“You rejoice me, monsieur. Pray unfold them to me. But,” her voice
took a firmer tone, “I must desire that no inquiry be made into the
abstraction of the letter from my escritoire. I propose to deal with
that myself.”

“Your Majesty shall be obeyed. The measures I would venture to suggest
are briefly these: that your Majesty should write another letter to
replace that now in the hands of Baron Natarin, if we can by any means
obtain its restoration; that the secretary Christophle be instantly
dismissed in disgrace----”

“Oh no, not dismissed!” cried the Queen. “He was wrong, but he erred
from excess of zeal. I dictated and signed the letter; the writing
alone was his. He must not be punished for--for my fault.”

“Am I to understand that your Majesty commissioned Herr Christophle to
sell your letter to the daily newspapers?”

“Certainly not. Why should I wish it to appear in them?”

“I cannot tell, madame; but it did appear there. The issues of the
papers in which it appeared are now suppressed, but that cannot excuse
the secretary. He has rendered himself liable to very heavy punishment
for betraying State secrets, and we shall be able to deal with him
effectively in that way.”

“After a trial?” asked the Queen, alarmed. “That must not be. Your
Excellency will see that after his long employment here he must be in
a position to reveal--to reveal many things of importance if he is
hard pressed.”

“Your Majesty would prefer that he should be sent back to Hercynia
with the warning that the law will be set in motion against him if he
tells anything he knows? Dismissed and disgraced he must be, for the
sake of the moral effect on Europe.”

“Of course--I suppose so. And about this letter--do you wish me to
write it now?”

“If your Majesty pleases. It might be well if Count Mortimer would be
good enough to act as secretary, in order to avoid any further
treachery.”

“Your advice is excellent, monsieur. You will lend us the assistance
of your pen on this occasion, Count?”

“My pen, like myself, is always at your Majesty’s service,” Cyril
answered, grimly enough, all unmoved by the dazzling smile with which
she turned to him. He noted her heaving breast and trembling hands,
and knew that her unaccustomed graciousness was merely the outcome of
her desperate eagerness to shield her mother from being identified as
a sharer in the secretary’s treachery. She read his thoughts, and cast
a piteous glance at him as he sat down and dipped a pen in the ink. “I
have conquered even Drakovics, but you will not allow yourself to be
won over!” it seemed to say; but Cyril was not to be touched. His eyes
met hers unmoved when he looked towards her, and she gave a frightened
little sigh as she turned to M. Drakovics to consult him as to the
opening words of the letter. Nothing could well have been more unlike
the fateful missive which might have plunged Europe into war than the
epistle which left Cyril’s hands at last. There was no reproach, no
defiance in it from beginning to end. The Queen was made merely to
insist on the sorrow and astonishment with which she had heard that
the Metropolitan claimed the support of the Emperor for his
extraordinary conduct. It was altogether beyond the bounds of
possibility to suppose that anything said by Prince Soudaroff could
bear the meaning placed upon it by the Archbishop’s distorted brain,
for no one knew better than the Queen that the Emperor would be the
last person to wish to disturb a settlement approved by Europe, and
confirmed by the most solemn engagements. (Cyril and M. Drakovics
could not resist stealing a glance at one another at this point, and
the Queen laughed drearily.) The letter concluded by remarking that
the Metropolitan’s mind was without doubt temporarily unhinged, and
assuring the Emperor that a sufficient period of rest and seclusion
would be granted him to ensure that he should no longer entertain, or
at any rate promulgate, such delusions as those under the influence of
which he was now labouring.

“We have come off better than I expected,” said M. Drakovics to Cyril,
as they retired in triumph with the letter; “but I foresee that we
shall be obliged to get rid of the old lady, or she will get rid of
us.”

“You may well say so,” returned Cyril. “In fact, if she had had a
little more tact, she would have succeeded in doing it already.”

In the morning-room, at the moment, the Queen was locking her
escritoire and fastening the key to her watch-chain without saying a
word. When she had finished, she turned to her mother.

“One must be careful after what one has heard to-day,” she said. “It
is evident that there is some one in the household who cannot be
trusted. I never thought it necessary to put my keys under my pillow
before; but this one, at any rate, shall never be left in my
jewel-case at night again.”

Under her hostile, accusing eyes the Princess of Weldart blenched. She
knew perfectly well the hidden meaning of the words, and felt grateful
that the charge which she would have found it difficult to rebut was
not framed more definitely. The best policy was to say nothing, and
she adopted it.

In the meantime Cyril, armed with the newly written letter as a
guarantee of good faith, had paid the all-important visit to the
Scythian Minister. As he had expected, he found Baron Natarin by no
means averse from accepting his view of the case. In any
circumstances, it would have been difficult to decline to surrender a
missive which had been surreptitiously obtained and presented without
the knowledge of the Queen, probably in order to gratify the spite or
vanity of the man who had stolen it; but there was a failure in
Scythian diplomacy to be covered as well. Prince Soudaroff had not
gone beyond his instructions, but, as Cyril had divined, he had
mistaken his man. The words which had been intended to initiate a long
and persistent agitation, extending throughout the country, had
kindled in the Archbishop’s breast an enthusiasm which had wasted
itself in stirring up the short and abortive riot at the capital, and
fanaticism had undone what policy had hoped to effect. The Scythian
Minister returned the letter, expressing a hope that it would be found
possible to allow the Metropolitan to escape lightly, and Cyril
retired, retaining the second letter, which was to be forwarded to the
Thracian Minister at Pavelsburg, and presented by him to the Emperor
in due course.

Baron Natarin’s pious aspiration, which was in reality a request,
almost a warning, as to the fate of the Metropolitan, was not allowed
to remain unfulfilled, although it required a good deal of ingenuity
to bring it to pass. The Archbishop was tried privately, and sentenced
to a year’s residence in a monastery remote from the capital, and now
the difficulty presented itself--how was he to be released? It had
been absolutely necessary that he should be brought to trial, in order
to vindicate the prestige both of the law and of the reigning house,
and also to prevent similar outbreaks in future; but to enforce the
sentence would raise awkward questions as to the necessity of
depriving the prisoner of his important post, whether permanently or
merely for the year. The Queen could not pardon him, since her doing
so would seem an insult to the Emperor of Scythia, of whose name,
according to the now accepted view, the Metropolitan had made such an
unwarrantable use. At the same time, the Emperor could not ask for his
pardon without appearing to identify himself with the disloyal views
to which he had given utterance. In this dilemma, it was necessary to
arrange a little plot in order to effect the desired end, and the
details were left in Cyril’s hands.

It so happened that the police barracks at Bellaviste had lately been
enlarged, and that, as had been previously settled, the Queen paid an
informal visit to the new buildings one morning, accompanied by the
little King, who was deeply interested in all that he saw. The cells
struck him most, and he catechised his guides about them during his
visit, and talked about them all day after it, the horrors of
prison-life appearing to be deeply impressed upon his youthful mind.
The next afternoon, when his mother and he were driving along the New
Road, which is the Bois de Boulogne of Bellaviste, they met a closed
carriage surrounded by an armed escort. Inside the carriage sat the
Metropolitan, with his chaplain and a secretary, on the way to the
distant monastery appointed for his residence.

“Mamma, a prisoner!” cried the little King, jumping up in the
carriage. “Oh, poor man, are they taking him to jail?”

“I am afraid so, my little son.”

The tears gathered in the child’s eyes. “Poor, poor man!--Oh, mamma,
it is the nice old gentleman who gave me the funny picture!” The
picture in question was not intentionally comic. It was a jewelled
_icon_ representing St Gabriel of Tatarjé, which the Metropolitan had
presented to Prince Michael upon his last birthday.

“Yes, dear, it is.”

“But has he done anything wicked? Will they put him in one of those
dreadful places? Oh, mamma, must he go?”

“Ask Count Mortimer, little son. He will be able to tell you.”

“Oh, Herr Graf,” cried the child, as Cyril rode up to the side of the
carriage, “is he very bad? Must he go to prison?”

“He has been very bad, but I think he is sorry, Majestät,” responded
Cyril, with perfect gravity; “and he need not go to prison if you can
get the Queen to forgive him.”

“Mamma, _you_ aren’t sending him to prison?” cried King Michael; “you
won’t make him go? Oh, do let him off, please do. It is your own
little son who asks you,” and he buried his tear-stained face in his
mother’s dress.

“Darling, I should be delighted to let him go,” said the Queen,
blushing, and somewhat confused by the presence of the deeply
interested crowd which had gathered round the two vehicles, and was
listening with the utmost attention to all that passed; “but I am
afraid----”

“Will you promise that he shall be good in future, Majestät?”
interposed Cyril. “A King’s word must be kept, you know.”

“Oh yes!” cried the child joyfully. “Prisoner, please come out.” The
Metropolitan descended from his own carriage, and approaching that of
the Queen, kissed the hand which King Michael, talking all the time,
held out to him. “I know I ought to call you something else, but I
can’t remember it; and you are a prisoner now, aren’t you? Mamma is
going to let you off, and not send you to prison, but you must be good
now, because I have said you will be, and a King’s word must be kept.”

“Madame,” began the Metropolitan, “I owe your Majesty many thanks,”
but she interrupted him.

“No, your Beatitude must not thank me. Thank my son, who thus repays
the injury you sought to do him.”

“You are right, madame,” replied the old man. “I thank his Majesty.”



 CHAPTER V.
 HEAVILY HANDICAPPED.

For some time after these exciting events, there was peace in the
Palace at Bellaviste, until the near approach of the date fixed for
the Princess of Weldart’s departure for the South of France brought
about another difference of opinion between the Regent and her
Ministers. The breach caused by the Queen’s discovery of the part her
mother had played with reference to the letter to the Emperor had soon
been bridged over, for the young widow in her loneliness could not
keep up a quarrel with the only person in whom her position and
circumstances permitted her to confide. Indeed, it was the friendly
relations existing between the mother and daughter which led to the
fresh difficulty already mentioned, for Queen Ernestine, dreading the
solitude of the long winter, and finding her life very monotonous and
the cares of State uncomfortably heavy, conceived a desire that she
and the little King should accompany the Princess to the Riviera. Full
of enthusiasm for her new idea, she broached the subject to M.
Drakovics and Cyril one morning, when the business on which they had
come to consult her was ended. To her surprise and annoyance, the
Premier showed no disposition to further her wishes.

“It is impossible, madame,” he said bluntly.

“Impossible? But I wish it!” she exclaimed, with the childishness
which occasionally made Cyril long to put her in the corner.

“Impossible, madame,” repeated M. Drakovics, “if only from the point
of view of propriety. To leave your kingdom, so lately bereaved of its
head, for the gaieties of the Riviera, would be an unheard-of slight
to the memory of your husband, and produce a most deplorable
impression in the country.”

“That may be perfectly true,” thought Cyril, “but it was not your
business to say it, at any rate in that way.” The Queen turned
crimson, and cast a fiery glance at the Premier.

“I can assure your Excellency that the memory of my husband is quite
safe in my hands. You are evidently unaware that my mother’s villa is
situated in a most secluded spot, and that she sees no society, with
the exception of members of her own family. Your Excellency’s
insinuation is unpardonable.”

“I think, madame,” Cyril ventured to say, “that the Premier has not
stated the chief objection to the journey your Majesty was proposing,
but I am sure it is in his mind. In the present state of public
affairs, it would be highly inexpedient, if not positively dangerous,
for your Majesty and the King to be both absent from Thracia at the
same time. His Excellency was unwilling to suggest the possibility of
your accompanying her Royal Highness and leaving his Majesty behind,
but that is the only alternative.”

“Ah yes, it is likely that I shall leave my child, is it not?” she
asked with superb scorn, while her fingers beat a tattoo on the table
with the inlaid paperknife. “One would have thought it would be
perfectly clear to you, gentlemen, that it is on account of the King’s
health I am anxious not to spend the winter at Bellaviste.”

“I trust, madame, that you have no reason for anxiety on his Majesty’s
behalf? The Court physician’s reports are most reassuring.”

“Oh, naturally--there is nothing absolutely the matter with him, but
he is growing too fast and becoming thin and pale. It is the fault of
this town air, and the confined life here at the Palace. I want him to
be in the country, where he can live simply and play with other
children, and be merely a boy among boys.”

“The plan is an excellent one, madame,” said M. Drakovics, finding his
tongue for the first time since the severe rebuke he had received;
“but I must agree with Count Mortimer that it would be in the highest
degree unwise for your Majesty and the King to quit the country at
present.” The Queen frowned, but he went on valiantly, “What does your
Majesty think of Praka as a winter residence? The climate is
extraordinarily mild, and the combination of sea air and rural life
would be excellent for his Majesty.”

“I don’t care for Praka,” returned the Queen shortly. “If we must
remain in Thracia as state prisoners, I prefer to go to Tatarjé. The
Villa Alexova, among the pine-woods, is an ideally lovely spot.”

“But, pardon me, madame--Tatarjé is a whole day’s journey from
Bellaviste, even by rail. It is most important that your Majesty
should not be far from the capital, in case of any sudden emergency.”

“You seem determined to oppose everything I suggest!” cried the Queen
petulantly. “I detest Praka. If I am satisfied to leave your
Excellency in charge of affairs, and merely to be informed by
telegraph of what happens, surely there is nothing wrong in that?”

“I could not consent to undertake such a responsibility, madame.”

“But you are content to accept the responsibility of undermining the
King’s health? Pray say no more, messieurs. We will discuss this
matter again. As for me, I am weary of it,” and she swept out of the
room, and sought refuge with her mother.

“They wish us to go to Praka,” she said, entering the morning-room.

“What did I tell you?” responded the Princess quickly. “Of course they
choose Praka. No doubt they have settled it together long ago.”

“It would not surprise me,” the Queen agreed. “They seem to work
together as though they had only one mind between them.”

“We must separate them. So long as they are united, we are powerless.
I wish I could see a little more practical wisdom in you, Ernestine.
It is all very well to pay the most exaggerated deference to these two
men one day, and quarrel with them the next; but it merely cements
their alliance instead of breaking it.”

“Why, what would you have me do?” asked the Queen listlessly.

“I would have you work on a definite plan. What is the use of your
alternate sweetness and petulance if it all leads to nothing?”

“How can it lead to anything? I am pleasant to them if things are
happening as I like, and I suppose I am petulant if I feel cross. One
cannot act on a plan when one is angry.”

“That’s the very thing. You should never exhibit anger or pleasure
unless to serve a purpose. You must learn to conceal your feelings.”

“I have never been able to do that hitherto. But what is the purpose
which this concealment is to serve?”

“The estrangement of Count Mortimer from M. Drakovics. It is a very
simple matter, and I really feel quite impatient when I see you
wasting without any result quarrels and reconciliations which might
effect so much.”

“One might think that I was in love with either or both of these
gentlemen,” said the Queen lightly. Her mother frowned.

“Remember your position, Ernestine, pray. I should be afraid to engage
you in any diplomatic intrigue worthy of the name; you are so absurdly
susceptible to outside influence, and so unable to conceal its effect
on you. Is it possible that you don’t see who is to blame for the way
in which these men continue to act together?”

“No, indeed--unless you mean the men themselves?”

“I mean you. You have persisted in treating the two Ministers as
though they were a double-faced automaton, working merely as a whole,
when the slightest glimmering of common-sense should have led you to
see that your only hope lay in considering them separately.”

“But what ought I to have done?”

“You should have treated them with the most even and impartial
courtesy when they were together, reserving all your fluctuations of
temper or spirits for the occasions on which you received either of
them alone. Suppose Count Mortimer had requested an audience--you
should have treated him with friendly kindness, deferred to his
opinion, and taken the opportunity of lamenting that M. Drakovics
never sympathised with your difficult position, nor understood your
troubles. When you received M. Drakovics, you would have used similar
measures, and complained of Count Mortimer, intimating, of course,
that he himself was the only friend you possessed in Thracia. In this
way each man, without the other’s knowing it, would grow to imagine
himself to be high in your favour and confidence, and would look on
his rival with a jealous eye, until they began to quarrel about the
right of private audience. You would remain unobservant all this time,
except when you interfered to heighten the agony a little. Jealousy
would end by leading to a quarrel in your presence, when you could at
once get rid of them both.”

“It all sounds very wicked and very mysterious,” said the Queen,
stifling a yawn; “but I could never succeed in that kind of thing. I
haven’t the brains or the tact for politics, mamma. And even if one
could deceive M. Drakovics--I can quite believe that his vanity would
lend itself to such a course--I don’t think I should be successful
with Count Mortimer. He seems to be able to see through things. I did
try to win him over once--it was about Sophie von Staubach’s
appointment--but he saw it immediately, and it made me feel so
dreadfully uncomfortable, though he did take my side.”

“Then with him you must act differently. Some men prefer to be
approached without disguise, and you can flatter his weaknesses
openly.”

“But he has none. The King used to say, ‘Mortimer has no vices except
ambition, no pleasures even--except power.’”

“Except ambition and power! But that is everything, for the love of
power can ruin a man just as surely as any other vice. This makes me
hopeful, Ernestine, for your husband was a shrewd observer of
character. We must approach Count Mortimer on his weak side. It might
be as well occasionally to hint at the possibility of his superseding
M. Drakovics as Premier. That will put his own thoughts into words.
Then, in the meantime, there are other ways. Money confers power. One
might assist him to marry an heiress. He ought to marry; but no doubt
his poverty has prevented him hitherto.”

“But, dear mamma, I have not an unlimited choice of heiresses at hand
to offer him.”

“You have one, which is quite enough. There is your maid of honour,
Anna Mirkovics--her father fully expects you to select a husband for
her, and she will be the richest woman in Thracia at her mother’s
death. It would be an excellent match.”

“But Anna is terribly plain, and has no education, according to our
ideas. Besides, even if Count Mortimer married her, how would it
detach him from M. Drakovics?”

“You are rather dense to-day, my dear child. Naturally, I do not
propose that you should give Anna to the Count without exacting any
conditions. You would, of course, agree with him that, in return for
your help in arranging the marriage, he should support you in future
against M. Drakovics. The girl is so absurdly devoted to you that her
influence would all be cast in the same direction.”

“And Anna is to be sold to him as the price of his support! I thought
it was only princesses who were treated in that way? At any rate, I
don’t intend to sacrifice her to a husband who would only marry her
for her money. Moreover, I am certain that Count Mortimer would not
consent to the bargain.”

“Not consent!” The Princess of Weldart’s eyebrows rose until they
nearly met her hair. “My dear Ernestine, only give him the chance!”

“I will,” said the Queen, unmoved. “If I were not so sure that he
would refuse, I would not risk Anna’s happiness; but I know he will.”

“I have not the slightest doubt that he will seize upon the idea with
avidity.”

“And I am sure that you misjudge him. You have scolded me so often for
yielding to the King’s dying wish, and consenting to a reconciliation
with this man, that I wish him to justify himself to you. I believe
that he is a sincere friend to Michael and myself, although he makes
himself extremely disagreeable in fulfilling the duties imposed by his
friendship. Well, you will see.”

“We shall see,” echoed the Princess; and the Queen, piqued by the
incredulity of her tone, sat down and dashed off a request to Cyril to
come to her immediately, as she wished to consult him upon a point of
importance.

“I will send it at once,” she said, ringing the bell. To the servant
who answered the summons she gave the note, desiring him to deliver it
instantly, and as soon as he was gone she turned again to her mother.

“You must sit behind the screen,” she said. “I don’t want you to be
able to say that he posed as a disinterested ally because you were
present. And you must not reveal yourself, of course. It would
scarcely do to have a ‘screen scene’--an unforeseen _dénoûment_ of a
dramatic order--in this little comedy of ours. It is quite exciting,
isn’t it? I wonder how you will feel as you sit concealed, and listen
to Count Mortimer’s noble sentiments!”

She was full of interest and animation as she hastened to arrange the
screen round the Princess as she sat beside the fire, and walked
backwards and forwards from the door to the table to assure herself
that there was no possibility of Cyril’s catching a glimpse of the
concealed auditor. Just as his footsteps were heard without, she
jumped up again to arrange one side of the screen more easily, so that
it might not look as though there was anything to hide, and only
returned to her chair as the footman opened the door.

“You were pleased to send for me, madame?” said Cyril, as he entered.

“Yes; I wanted to talk about this plan of wintering in the country.
Surely you can induce M. Drakovics to withdraw his opposition to our
going to Tatarjé? The King and I are the persons chiefly concerned,
after all.”

“The kingdom is also concerned, madame.”

“Oh, of course; but then---- Come, Count, I wish to go to the Villa
Alexova; is not that enough? It is a lady’s reason, you know.”

“It is enough for a lady’s reason, madame; but not for a Queen’s
reason.”

Queen Ernestine shrugged her shoulders. “Your definitions are too
subtle for me, Count. I think you will use your influence with M.
Drakovics, since I ask it?”

“Madame, I dare not use my influence to the injury of the kingdom.”

“The injury of the kingdom!” she cried indignantly. “You know as well
as I do that the reason why M. Drakovics wants us to winter at Praka
is that he has property there, and thinks that it will increase in
value if the place becomes fashionable.”

“Your Majesty has the power of divining motives. My abilities are not
of such a high order.”

“But surely it must make a difference when you know that?”

“I am afraid, madame, that it is not any part of my duty to inquire
into the secret motives which may have prompted M. Drakovics in the
advice he has thought fit to give your Majesty.”

“Duty, duty! All that you consider is your duty to M. Drakovics. Have
you no duty to the King and to me?”

“Undoubtedly, madame. In this instance the duties coincide.”

“Why do you trifle with me in this way, Count? You promised my husband
that you would befriend us--now I call upon you to fulfil your
promise. We need a new party in Thracia, such a party as supported
your English George III., the party of the King’s Friends, and you are
the man to lead them.”

“I did not know that your Majesty was ambitious of becoming a power in
politics,” returned Cyril, desperately puzzled as to her meaning.
Surely she must have some object in talking in this apparently random
way?

“What can I offer you to secure your allegiance, Count? We cannot
expect to obtain support without paying for it, I know. Would you care
to marry a rich wife? Prince Mirkovics’s daughter is in my charge, and
with her fortune it would be very suitable for her to marry a Minister
of State. Or would you prefer the reversion of the post which M.
Drakovics holds? or both, perhaps?”

Cyril stood listening in astonishment as she ran on, half afraid to
glance at his face, but determined to put him to the proof.
“Madame----” he began, but she interrupted him.

“Or there is money, of course. We are not very rich in Weldart, but
still, one can assist one’s friends occasionally. Would you----”

This time it was Cyril’s turn to interrupt. “Be good enough, madame,”
he said fiercely, “to leave your sentence unfinished. I can forgive
much in consideration of your youth; but it is impossible that you can
be so childish as not to appreciate the insult you have thought fit to
offer me.”

The Queen sat gazing at him helplessly, too much frightened to resent
his words. “I am very sorry----” she murmured feebly; “I never
thought---- I did not mean----”

“It is a pity that I promised your husband to remain in Thracia and do
my best for you and his son, madame,” he went on, “for otherwise your
Majesty would have succeeded by this time in driving me from your
service, as you desire to do.”

“I don’t desire it----” began the Queen, gazing at his angry face as
though the sight fascinated her; but she was interrupted suddenly.

“_Que vous jouez à merveille votre rôle, M. le Comte!_” cried the
Princess’s voice from her hiding-place, and she emerged from behind
the screen. Cyril turned upon Queen Ernestine.

“Is it possible, madame, that you have ventured to make this infamous
proposition to me in the presence of a third person? Perhaps I shall
discover that I have had the honour of furnishing a little
entertainment to the whole of your Majesty’s Court?”

“No, no; indeed you are unjust, Count.”

“Is it so, madame? At any rate your Majesty has the satisfaction of
realising that it is for the last time.”

“No, you are unjust still; you must let me speak. It was a trick,
Count--a foolish jest. My m---- some one pretended to doubt you, and I
assured them of your honour, and offered to test it in this way. I was
wrong to do it, but I felt certain of your answer.”

“As I am no longer in your Majesty’s service, it may perhaps be
permitted me to entreat you to remember your own position, madame, if
you have no care for mine.”

“Count, you must not allow this foolishness of mine to deprive my son
and Thracia of your services. I forbid it--I, your Queen.”

“There are certain insults, madame, which are so deadly as to absolve
a subject from his allegiance.”

“Nothing can absolve you from your promise to my husband. You cannot
desert my son and me when he confided us to your care.”

“Your Majesty asks too much. My friend the King would have been the
last person to wish that my promise to him should bind me to remain
exposed to such insults without having the right to resent them. To
borrow your own words to the Premier, madame, your conduct has been
unpardonable.”

“Not unpardonable, when you have been assured that the suggestion was
made only in jest, and as a means of proving your fidelity in the eyes
of others. Your Queen entreats you to retain your post, Count. Is not
that enough? Must I fetch my son to join his entreaties with mine?”

“Be quiet, you little fool!” hissed the Princess into her daughter’s
ear. Cyril caught the whisper, and it changed the current of his
thoughts in a moment. He saw the whole plot now; and where the Queen’s
pleading had failed to move him, a determination that the Princess
should not be able to boast of having effected his removal from the
Thracian scene succeeded. He turned again to Ernestine.

“I accept your explanation, madame,” he said; “but I can only beg you
to remember that others might not be so complaisant.”

“And we will go to Praka,” she cried, as he prepared to depart.

“I will convey your Majesty’s message to the Premier,” he replied,
still in the same frigid tone, with his hand on the door. It was not
his intention to let the Queen down too easily this time. She had
committed a _faux pas_, which might have been a fatal one, and she
must be made aware of the fact. Suppose she had made her offer of a
bribe to a man who had accepted it, or who, while refusing it, had
done so with the intention of publishing the matter abroad? Cyril took
a good deal of credit to himself for the tone he had maintained, and
resolved to teach his young sovereign a lesson. It was quite evident
that she had failed to realise the gravity of the insult she offered;
but she could not always expect her inexperience to procure her
immunity from the consequences of her foolish acts. The stars in their
courses cannot be relied upon to fight invariably for the same person,
even though she is young and beautiful and a Queen. Cyril had been too
forbearing hitherto, and this was his reward. Queen Ernestine must now
be made to understand that practical jokes and wayward tempers were
all very well in an irresponsible schoolgirl, but might prove
dangerous to the Regent of Thracia.

During the next few days Cyril never saw the Queen alone, and only
rarely in company with M. Drakovics. Whenever he entered her presence,
he knew that she was searching his face to see whether he had forgiven
her, and the fact gave him a keen sense of pleasure, which he was
careful to conceal, returning to the coldly deferential manner which
he had preserved towards her in her husband’s lifetime, and which he
succeeded in resuming with some difficulty, after the comparatively
friendly intercourse of the past few weeks. It was the Queen herself
who broke the ice at last, for it was not in her nature to remain
passive in face of what she chose to consider injustice. She found her
opportunity on the occasion of an official reception at the Palace,
which the Ministers and their wives were expected to attend, on the
anniversary of the declaration of Thracian independence. Cyril was
standing a little apart from the other officials when she passed round
the circle, addressing a few words to each person, and she spoke to
him in English, which scarcely any one else understood.

“I see that you have not yet forgiven me, Count?”

“There are some things, madame, which may be forgiven, but never
forgotten.”

“But surely that is a very undignified attitude of mind? If my little
son adopted it, I should tell him he was sulky.”

“I know now by sad experience, madame, that no considerations will
prevent you from treating me with the same frankness as his Majesty.”

“If that is the case, I will say at once that this change in your
manner is extremely displeasing to me, Count. I do not choose to be
reminded perpetually that I am in disgrace.”

Cyril groaned within himself. Would nothing teach this girl the most
ordinary prudence or reserve? Her delicate and responsible position
appeared to her only as a means of escaping from the shackles of
conventionality. That she was Queen-Regent of Thracia was merely
another reason for doing and saying what she chose. “Nothing could be
further from my mind than to produce such an impression, madame,” he
answered. “Your Majesty cannot doubt that?”

“Nor the impression that with respect to our wintering at Praka, you
have gained a victory over me?”

“I was of opinion that I was going to Praka to make inquiries and
arrangements on your behalf, madame, and at your wish.”

“Oh yes, you may go to Praka; but remember, Count, that when it is a
question of bearing malice or a grudge, other people can do that as
well as yourself.”

She passed on, leaving him to wonder what was meant by the implied
threat contained in her last speech. He took an early opportunity of
sounding Baroness von Hilfenstein on the subject, and found that the
mistress of the robes also entertained misgivings.

“I feel almost certain that the Queen has some plan in her head,” she
said; “but she has not communicated it to me. I fancy that she may
intend to order a sudden move to Praka before your arrangements are
complete, in order to catch you unprepared. At any rate, she has
ordered me to warn all the ladies to have their dresses for the winter
made in good time, and to be ready to travel at two hours’ notice. I
hoped we should get on better when the Princess’s influence was
removed, but she has left her tool behind. Fräulein von Staubach is
not a friend of yours, Count.”

“I fear not, although I am not aware of having injured her.”

“It is not that, but she distrusts you. She is a good woman--an
excellent, kind-hearted creature, full of sentiment--and she sees, as
she thinks, the warm heart of the young Queen chilled, and its best
impulses thwarted, by your statesmanship. Then the Princess has filled
her with doubts as to your motives, and quite unconsciously she
influences the Queen against you. She has no intention of interfering
in affairs of state, but she cannot help regarding with suspicion any
suggestion that comes from you.”

This was scarcely reassuring, and Cyril departed on his journey to
Praka in no very cheerful frame of mind. He found a travelling
companion in M. Drakovics, who was obliged to visit his Praka estate
on business, and they agreed to journey back to Bellaviste together
the next day. Cyril’s duty was merely to discover whether it was
possible to provide sufficient accommodation for the Queen and her
suite in the little village, now almost deserted for the winter, which
formed the favourite marine resort of the wealthier Thracians, but in
spite of the limited scope of the inquiry, his task was a difficult
one. M. Drakovics had not built a house on his property, an omission
which he now regretted, since it prevented his putting the Queen under
an obligation by offering to lend her his villa; but he represented
that it would be possible to accommodate one or two of the suite in
the small farmhouse occupied by his bailiff, and by taking advantage
of this offer, Cyril calculated that he should be able to find room
for the whole of the Court. To live in tents, after the manner of the
majority of the summer residents, would naturally be impossible in the
winter.

Praka was not by any means a lively place, and its natural
attractions, at any rate in the autumn, were soon exhausted, so that
Cyril found himself ready and eager to quit it as soon as his business
was done. The cooking at the little inn was bad, and the beds worse,
facts which did not tempt him to linger, and he was waiting at the
station some time before it was likely that M. Drakovics would arrive.
As he walked up and down the rickety platform, while in the background
Dietrich mounted guard over his bag, a telegram was handed to him. It
was from the Baroness von Hilfenstein, and bore the date of the
previous evening:--


 “Her Majesty has just announced that the Court leaves for the Villa
 Alexova early to-morrow. I fear this will not reach you in time for
 you to prevent the move, but pray follow as soon as possible. It
 appears that the Queen sent Batzen to Tatarjé two days ago to make
 preparations; but he cannot have been able to do much in such a short
 time. Everything will be in confusion. I depend upon you.”


“Excellent old woman!” was Cyril’s first thought as he read the
missive. “If I have the pleasure of spoiling the Queen’s pretty little
plot for making a fool of me, it is all thanks to you. So that is what
old Batzen’s mysterious mission comes to, is it? I might have guessed;
but the idea of employing the poor old parson on such an errand!”

The Herr Hofprediger Batzen was a venerable Lutheran clergyman to whom
the charge of the little King’s moral and religious education was
supposed to be intrusted; but as his Majesty was still rather young to
receive regular instruction, his tutor’s time was more or less at the
Queen’s disposal. Hence it was that his sudden departure from Court on
one of her errands had excited no surprise, and people had considered
the secrecy which enshrouded his destination as due to the desire for
importance of the good pastor himself Cyril was wiser now, and could
almost have laughed, in spite of his chagrin, when he thought of the
tutor’s unfitness for his present task, and the pitiful muddle which
would be the probable result of his attempt at housekeeping. But this
was not the time for laughing, but for action, and Cyril hurried out
to meet M. Drakovics as the Premier rode up to the station on his
rough country horse.

“Would you like to hear what is our gracious sovereign lady’s last
little game?” was the irreverent question with which the younger
Minister greeted the elder. M. Drakovics raised his eyebrows.

“If you could assure me that she had eloped to join the ex-secretary
Christophle, and had married him, I should not be heart-broken,” was
his answer, as he dismounted.

“No, no, my friend; you are not to be Regent just at present. Her
Majesty and the Court remove to-day to Tatarjé, and take up their
abode at the Villa Alexova.”

“_Mille tonnerres!_” cried M. Drakovics, stamping furiously about the
platform. “This woman will ruin in a day the kingdom I have been
building up for nine years. I ask you, is it to be endured?”

“I’m afraid it must be so, since you can scarcely propose to cure it
by superseding the Queen in the regency. But the news is certainly
most serious. It would be better if you had told the Queen the real
reasons for her not going to Tatarjé, as I advised at the time,
instead of simply making out that it was too far away.”

“Would you have had me tell her that the Villa is within a drive of
the country residence of her cousin the Princess of Dardania, and that
that woman’s Court is a perfect hotbed of intrigues of all kinds?”

“I would not have had you do anything so foolish. Our old
acquaintance, the Princess Ottilie, will no doubt do her best to
entangle her Majesty in some of her schemes for the advancement of her
husband’s dynasty; but she is not by any means the most dangerous
person in the neighbourhood of Tatarjé. That bad pre-eminence is
reserved for Colonel O’Malachy.”

“Oh, that old dotard!” said M. Drakovics contemptuously.

“Dotard if you like, but what is he doing where he is? You know that
the air of Tatarjé seems to breed rebellion; that in my brother’s
time the garrison supported the insurrection in favour of the house of
Franza; and that Otto Georg had more trouble with the town and
district than with all the rest of the kingdom.”

“It is all Bishop Philaret’s fault. He is stronger even than the
Metropolitan in his pro-Scythian sympathies. You know they say that he
threatened to get the Synod to excommunicate him for accepting a
pardon from a non-Orthodox King?”

“I know. Well, that is the kind of danger the Queen would have
recognised and appreciated. Anything that threatened her son’s faith
or throne would have put her on her guard at once; but you would not
tell her. And now, besides the Princess of Dardania, who is likely to
be troublesome, but scarcely dangerous, we have the Bishop actively
hostile, and Colonel O’Malachy biding his chance to reap a harvest for
Scythia.”

“You remarked to me once,” cried M. Drakovics, turning savagely upon
his supporter, “that in moments of crisis it was well to act, instead
of wasting time in mutual recrimination. If I concealed from the Queen
my true reasons for not wishing her to take the King to Tatarjé, it
was because I knew that she would tell them to her mother, and that
through her it would become known all over Europe that there was
disaffection in Thracia. I took what seemed to me the wisest course;
but no man’s wisdom can provide against a woman’s folly. I ask you now
what you propose to do?”

“I propose to reach Tatarjé to-night, and resume my duties in
connection with the Court.”

“To-night? but it will take us until mid-day to get back to
Bellaviste, and Tatarjé is twelve hours’ journey farther on.”

“You don’t imagine that I intend to follow the Court meekly at a
distance, giving them a twelve hours’ start, and to turn up the day
after the fair in that way? No; I shall take the cross-country route,
and so get there about midnight.”

“But the railway is not yet open all the way.”

“No; but it is sufficiently near completion to allow of the passing of
ballast-trains. Milénovics was telling me so only yesterday. My man
and I must find accommodation on the engine of one of those trains,
and my things can be sent on to me from Bellaviste.”

The Premier’s eyes glistened, but he restrained himself. “You are the
man for the present state of affairs,” he said; “for you know better
than any of us how to spoil the success of a woman’s tricks. Mind, I
rely upon you wholly as regards Tatarjé. I must get on as best I can
at the capital; but the safety of the King, and therefore of Thracia,
rests on your discretion. I may run down occasionally, of course; but
you will be obliged to act on your own judgment if any difficulty
arises. You can trust me to support you.”

A little further conversation on various important points followed,
and the two Ministers separated to seek their respective trains. The
first part of Cyril’s journey passed without discomfort, as the line
had been in use some time; but when the section still in process of
construction was reached, matters were very different. When the
passengers were all obliged to quit the train, which went no farther,
the disclosure of Cyril’s identity secured permission for himself and
Dietrich to travel in the cab of the engine attached to a line of
ballast-trucks which were just about to start; but so rough did the
way in front appear that at first even the stolid German hesitated to
follow his master. But there was no time for delay, and in response to
Cyril’s “Be quick, Dietrich; either come or stay behind!” the valet
shut his eyes, metaphorically speaking, and took the plunge. The
journey was like a peculiarly realistic nightmare, owing to the
swaying and jolting and clanking and leaping of the train, which
varied matters occasionally by running off the rails and regaining
them in some miraculous manner. It was an experience no one would wish
to repeat; but as Cyril stood at eight o’clock that evening, bruised,
dusty, and exhausted, on the platform of the country station at which
the farther end of the new line joined that running to Tatarjé, he
rejoiced. Three hours’ journey would bring him to his goal, and
deprive the Queen of her anticipated triumph over her Ministers. His
calculations were not mistaken. By midnight he had reached Tatarjé,
only an hour or so later than the Court, and selected his quarters in
the Villa, giving strict orders that the Queen was not to be informed
of his arrival. In the distracted state of affairs consequent on Herr
Batzen’s mission of preparation, the order was easy of fulfilment, and
Cyril took a good night’s rest, and bided his time.

His time was not long in coming. In the morning the Queen and Baroness
von Hilfenstein found themselves beset by a throng of tearful ladies
and loudly complaining maids, who all expatiated upon the discomforts
of the night, and the absolute lack of furniture and even food which
prevailed in all parts of the house. Finding the Queen quite at a
loss, the Baroness made the practical suggestion that Count Mortimer
should be summoned, and matters given into his hands.

“Count Mortimer!” cried the Queen in astonishment. “But he is at
Praka, or at any rate no nearer than Bellaviste.”

“Pardon me, madame; but I am almost certain I caught a glimpse of him
coming to the Villa this morning.”

The Queen turned in bewilderment to the other ladies, one of whom
hastened to assure her that she had found Count Mortimer established
in an office on the ground-floor, and had complained to him of the
state of affairs, when he had replied that he would do his best to
remedy it as soon as he had the Queen’s authority. It was evident that
the only thing to do was to send for him, and this the Queen did.

“When did you arrive, Count?” she asked, when he appeared.

“Last night, madame,” with a look of surprise.

“But how--how did you succeed in getting here?”

“It is my duty to accompany the Court, madame.”

“Yes; but--I thought you were at Praka?”

“On the contrary, madame, I am here, and ready to serve you.”

The Queen gave up the riddle with a sigh, and Cyril remained master of
the situation. He knew that she would have given anything to ask for
an explanation, which her dignity would not allow her to do, and he
enjoyed his triumph in the intervals of his multifarious labours all
day.



 CHAPTER VI.
 A DAUGHTER’S DUTY.

Lady Caerleon sat alone in the breakfast-room at Llandiarmid, with
an unopened letter lying before her on the table. Her husband was
staying with a friend in the Midlands for a few days’ shooting, and
she had sent the children away to play, for she felt reluctant, almost
afraid, to open the letter in their presence. The sight of the
Thracian stamp and post-mark, and of the writing upon the envelope,
brought back to her with unwelcome vividness the troubles of her
girlhood, which had passed out of sight--almost out of mind--during
the happy years of her married life. That writing she had last seen
some months before her marriage, when her father had written to
upbraid her for revealing his plot against Caerleon’s life to the
intended victim, and had cast her off, as he declared, for ever. “I
have no daughter now,” he had said, and she accepted his decision with
a resignation which comprised in it something of relief. “You must be
father and brother to me, as well as husband,” she had said to
Caerleon on their wedding-day, looking into his face with her great
serious eyes, “for I have no one but you;” and if she had experienced
little difficulty in choosing between father and lover, she had never
for a moment found reason to regret her choice. It was like tearing
open an old wound to return now to the trials of those earlier days;
but she shook off her reluctance after a time, and unfolded the letter
with a determination to know the worst at once. As she looked at it,
however, the apprehension faded from her face, for instead of
conveying the curse which her father had sworn that he would send her
with his dying breath, the words which met her eye were expressive of
the greatest goodwill.


 “My dear Nadia,--You will likely be surprised to receive a letter
 from me; but I feel I am growing old, and often lately I have been
 troubled to think that the one relation I have left in the wide world
 was living in enmity against me. Owing to reasons with which you are
 very well acquainted, it is not possible for me to take the step to
 which my feelings prompt me, and by paying you a visit in England,
 seek to end this sad state of things; but if you should feel moved to
 terminate it, be sure that you will find no obstacle in me. I have
 suffered of late from a painful and distressing illness, any
 recurrence of which, so the doctor informs me, would be fatal, and
 which may recur at any time. At this moment I am experiencing great
 relief from a course of the Tatarjé waters, and find my former
 strength wonderfully restored. My life has not been too happy, and
 now, lingering on the borders of a better world, I am conscious of a
 longing for that solace of family affection, from which circumstances
 have debarred me wholly of late years, and in a measure, as you know,
 all my days. I wish to blame no one, but I think your own heart will
 bear me out in this. It is not for me to sue for pity to my daughter;
 but if her filial feelings lead her to take the first steps towards a
 reconciliation, far be it from me to repulse her! You have children,
 Nadia--a son, I hear. Since your poor brother’s death and your
 disobedience I have had none; but I would like greatly to see yours
 before I die. It would afford me pleasure, also, to meet your husband
 again, for I have always entertained the highest respect for him,
 although we unfortunately differed in politics. Some years ago I
 received from him a very suitable and becoming letter, which I fear I
 may have failed to treat with the consideration it deserved. I do not
 ask his pardon; he will be able to understand something of the
 bitterness which fills a father’s heart under circumstances such as
 mine. I make no entreaties; I leave the matter with you. However you
 may decide to receive this overture of mine, I cannot forget that I am
 your father,

                                                    “/O’Malachy/.”


Nadia read the letter through again, for its tone of injured rectitude
was somewhat puzzling in view of the circumstances in which the breach
between her father and herself had taken place. To say that Caerleon
and he had “differed in politics” was a mild way of stating that the
O’Malachy had plotted not merely to depose, but to murder, his
would-be son-in-law when the latter occupied the Thracian throne.
Perhaps it would be too much to expect any expression of regret for
this unfortunate misunderstanding; but Nadia felt that her father was
scarcely entitled to imply that all the misconduct was on her side and
all the undeserved suffering on his own. Still, the fact that he had
written this letter at all was more than she could have dared to hope,
and she knew him well enough to recognise that it was only in
accordance with his character to safeguard his own dignity as far as
possible in thus making friendly overtures after his long silence,
although this rendered it all the more difficult to know how to reply
to the letter.

“I wish Carlino was at home!” she said at last. “I cannot tell what to
say by myself. Ah, yes; I will send him the letter, and he shall tell
me how I ought to answer it. How glad he will be to hear that what I
have been longing and praying for ever since we were married has come
to pass at last! We will take the children with us and go to Tatarjé,
and papa’s heart will be softened. Perhaps he will be able to come
back to England after all, and spend his old age here. If he is really
changed, he might wish to do it, and some of Carlino’s friends in the
Government would surely be able to make it safe for him. Oh, how
delightful it would be to know that he was quiet and had given up
plotting! I am certain Carlino feels it a trial to be connected with a
Scythian secret service agent, though he never allows it to appear;
and it will be a comfort to him to have him close at hand and to be
able to keep an eye on him.”

It did not occur to Nadia, as she sat down at her writing-table to
begin her letter to her husband, that the O’Malachy was scarcely
likely to be either a very desirable or a particularly contented
inhabitant of the Castle unless his character had altered very
materially of late years; but Caerleon frowned a good deal over the
proposal when it reached him the next morning. He had not bargained
for receiving his father-in-law as an inmate of his family, and it
seemed to him that it would make for the happiness of all concerned if
the gallant officer should elect to end his days at some Continental
health-resort. The annoyances which his presence at Llandiarmid was
bound to entail would press most heavily on Nadia herself, and
therefore she would be inclined to underrate them in prospect; but
Caerleon had no intention of allowing his wife to be victimised by her
father if he could possibly induce her to see that the sacrifice was
not demanded of her. He had slight opportunity, however, of laying his
views before her, for even before the time at which he was revolving
in his mind the sentences which should produce the impression he
desired without appearing to throw cold water on her schemes for her
father’s reformation, Nadia had taken a sudden and most important step
on her own account.

In the afternoon of the day on which Lady Caerleon had received her
father’s letter, and forwarded it to her husband, Wright the coachman,
returning from executing various commissions for his mistress in
Aberkerran, brought out also a telegram addressed to her, which had
been intrusted to him at the post-office, with the view of saving the
trouble and expense of a special messenger. He lingered at the door
while she opened the envelope, expecting to hear that Lord Caerleon
was returning earlier than had been anticipated, or that he had been
suddenly called to London; but to his great alarm she turned pale when
the message met her eyes, and a startled cry broke from her--

“My father is dangerously ill, Wright, and entreats me to come and see
him with the children before he dies. The telegram is from the doctor,
who warns me not to lose a moment. We must leave by to-night’s
train--the one Lord Cyril took when he was called away.”

“You and the children, my lady? and all in such a ’urry?” said Wright,
in bewilderment. “’Ow ever will you get ready?”

“We must manage. I should never forgive myself if we were too late. I
must telegraph to the Marquis to meet us in London. He is not so far
from town as we are, and will be able to do it well.”

“But you wouldn’t go for to travel alone to town with the children, my
lady?”

“Of course I shall take nurse. I think I will take you as well,
Wright. You know something about travelling, and if anything should
prevent the Marquis from meeting us, you would be most useful.”

“Yes, my lady; but what am I to say to my wife?”

“Tell her that I take you because you were with Lord Caerleon in
Eastern Europe before, of course. Have the waggonette ready at six,
and bring Stodart to take charge of the horses and drive them home.”

“Yes, my lady--but, begging your ladyship’s pardon, do you think as
’is lordship would approve of your startin’ off quite so quick without
sendin’ ’im word fust?”

“My good Wright,” returned Nadia forbearingly, “I shall telegraph to
Lord Caerleon before we get into the train. I should not think of
going to Tatarjé without him; but it is just possible that he might
not reach London quite in time for the Flushing boat, and might have
to follow us by another. That is why I am taking you. But you may be
quite sure that my husband will approve of my doing my duty.”

Wright retired, crushed, to give the necessary orders at the stables,
and then to break the news of his sudden departure to his wife, who
complained that the Marchioness was very thoughtless, and ’ad much
better take one of the young fellows as didn’t suffer with the
rheumatics, if she wanted to go trapesing about over the place, and
not lead a respectable family man on such a wild-goose chase; but
there! she never ’ad set much by them furriners. But this utterance
struck at the root of all Wright’s ideas of the respect due to the
“Family,” and he hastened to assure his grumbling spouse, while she
packed his bag and he brought out the old passport which he cherished
with a good deal of pride, that her ladyship was taking the proper
course under the circumstances, and that he considered she was
perfectly justified in what she did.

After all, in spite of Lady Caerleon’s promptness in deciding upon the
journey, and her haste in preparing for it, there was not time for her
to send off the telegram to her husband before the train started, and
she was therefore obliged to give it into the hands of Stodart the
groom, with instructions to despatch it immediately. Stodart was a
well-intentioned young man; but on the present occasion the honour and
glory of finding himself in sole command of the horses and carriage
seems to have been too much for his self-control, for after driving
through the principal streets to exhibit his grandeur to his
acquaintances, he yielded to the invitation of a friend, and accepted
a glass or two of beer at a public-house close to the post-office.
There is no reason to suspect that he went beyond the two glasses; but
the melancholy fact remains that when he reached the post-office it
was too late to send the telegram that day. The crestfallen youth took
it back to Llandiarmid, and confessed his dereliction of duty to the
housekeeper, who rebuked him sharply for not having left the missive
with some one in the town who could have despatched it as soon as the
office opened. Stodart himself rode into Aberkerran at the earliest
possible hour the next morning, and sent off the message; but by that
time a weary and shivering little group, gathered on the platform at
Victoria, had realised sadly that Lord Caerleon was not there to meet
them, and had taken the Queenborough train without him. Nor did the
misfortunes of the telegram end here. It did not reach the
country-house at which Caerleon was staying until some time after the
gentlemen had started for the distant coverts, and the hostess
considered that it might well wait until she herself joined the
sportsmen at lunch-time. Even then, she was thoughtful enough not to
present it until after the meal, in case it should contain bad news,
and then she forgot it until she and the other ladies were making
their way home, so that when Caerleon at last received it he was
forced to realise that his wife and children were already speeding
across Europe away from him as fast as steam could carry them. His own
man was on the sick-list, having been shot accidentally in the ankle
by an amateur sportsman of the party, and he was obliged to telegraph
to Llandiarmid that Robert the footman should meet him at Victoria the
next morning with his passport and other necessaries for a Continental
journey. He was already too late to catch the night-boat, and had the
mortification of knowing that his utmost haste could not result in
enabling him to be less than a day behind.

As for Nadia, she pursued her way with a timidity that was almost
fear. Since her marriage she had scarcely been further than Aberkerran
without Caerleon, and she felt worried and perplexed when Wright asked
for directions or inquired her wishes. She had been independent enough
at one time; but Caerleon had managed everything for her so long that
she hardly knew how to act on her own responsibility. Happily a gleam
of hope reached her at Cologne, where she received a telegram from her
husband to say that he was starting to follow her, and would join her
at the Hôtel du Roi Othon at Tatarjé, where the O’Malachy was
staying. She found another piece of comfort in the behaviour of the
children, who regarded the whole affair as a game of the most
delightful kind.

From the moment at which Usk and Philippa were first told that instead
of going to bed they were to take a journey to the other end of Europe
in order to see grandpapa, who was ill, they seemed to themselves to
have passed out of the regions of reality into those of romance. Their
mother’s father had always been a shadowy figure to them. They knew
all about their other grandfather, whose sword hung over the
mantelpiece in father’s study, and whose medals and decorations they
were allowed to look at as a treat on their birthdays. They could give
detailed accounts of the various engagements in which he had taken
part, and by mounting a chair in the picture-gallery they could
indicate on his portrait the exact locality of each wound that he had
received. Moreover, his monument faced them in church every Sunday,
and had served to provide matter of extraneous interest during many
long sermons. But with Grandpapa O’Malachy it was different. He was
not dead; but he was away somewhere, and he never wrote to mother.
Once Philippa, overhearing some words of gossip between her nurse and
Wright, who had returned from his travels with a very low opinion of
the O’Malachy, had asked her father point-blank whether grandpapa was
a wicked man--an inquiry which Lord Caerleon could only parry by
saying that little girls ought not to ask questions. This
unprecedented snub, following on what she had already heard, Philippa
accepted as an affirmative answer, and to her and to Usk their
grandfather became for the future a compound of Guy Fawkes and of the
wicked uncle of the Babes in the Wood. Many happy hours were spent by
the two in the Abbey ruins “playing at grandpa”; but this was not
guessed by their parents, for Philippa had issued an edict that
“grandpa was not to be talked about, because it worried mother,” and
Usk, who was her willing slave, obeyed her faithfully.

To be now actually on a journey to visit this mysterious, and
therefore terrible and delightful, relative, was in itself an
incredible joy; but it was heightened by the fact that he lived in the
country where father was once king, and when they set foot on the
Continent the children had reached a state of exaltation in which
nothing would have surprised them, from Genii to Man Friday. Their
excitement did not show itself outwardly. They ran races and played
games up and down the corridor of the train, made friends with the
other passengers, looked out on the strange people at the stations,
and came to their mother ever and anon for petting and a story; but
occasionally, when their extreme quietness prompted Nadia or their
nurse to make a raid upon them in fear of some mischief, they would be
found curled up together in the corner of a seat, Philippa telling Usk
in a whisper tales of marvel respecting the wonders to be anticipated.
When once the Thracian frontier had been crossed, they spent their
time in rushing from window to window of the carriage, so as not to
miss one scene of the enchanted land. All through the journey they had
asked at each station whether this was father’s kingdom yet, and now
they were happy. Nadia had rashly attempted to prove to them that
Thracia had now another king, and in no way belonged to their father;
but Philippa was persuaded that once a king meant always a king, and
supported her contention by the historical examples of David King of
Israel, King Alfred, and the Young Pretender.

There was abundant opportunity for the travellers to see as much of
Thracia as they wished, and even more, for this portion of the railway
had been damaged by a flood the day before, and progress was very
slow. The train was timed to reach Tatarjé at three in the afternoon,
but it did not get in until seven; and the children were roused from
an uncomfortable slumber by their nurse that they might be put tidy
before arriving. The station, so far as they could see, was very much
like other stations, and the streets were chiefly remarkable for being
narrow, badly paved, and smelly; but what did this signify? they were
situated in Arcadia. Usk and Philippa were wide awake now, and able to
notice their mother’s excitement. She was panting as she sat upright
in the carriage, and her lips trembled. If she should be too late now,
after this dreadful journey!

The loungers in the hall of the Hôtel du Roi Othon found a new
subject of interest that evening in the stately lady who entered
suddenly, followed by her children and servants, and demanded to be
taken at once to the Herr Oberst O’Malachy’s room. The German waiter
whom she had addressed looked at her in astonishment not unmixed with
suspicion. The lady spoke German without the slightest foreign accent;
but her companions were unmistakably English, and what could they want
with the Scythian officer?

“I don’t know whether the Herr Oberst will see visitors,” he said.

“He will see me. I am his daughter, and have come straight from
England because he sent for me. Take me to him immediately, if you
please.” The waiter gave way before the tone of calm command.

“Madame will know best, no doubt,” he said with a bow, and led the way
up-stairs, Nadia following him closely. Her journey was not in vain;
for at least her father was not dead.

“Mother,” suggested Philippa, pulling at her mother’s cape as they
reached the landing, “perhaps he means that grandpa is asleep.”

“I shan’t disturb him, Phil. You and Usk had better wait outside, and
I will just go in very quietly and look at him.”

But the door which the waiter flung open with the announcement, “A
lady from England to see the Herr Oberst,” was not that of a bedroom,
and the children, looking in with astonished eyes, saw their mother
pause and start as soon as she had crossed the threshold. A number of
men were sitting round a table laden with fruit and wine in a
gorgeously furnished sitting-room, and stared at the intruder in
amazement; while a white-haired man at the head of the board, who
seemed to be engaged in concocting a bowl of punch, dropped the lemon
he had been manipulating, and turned round in his chair to gaze.

“And is ut you, Nadia?” he cried heartily, after a moment of stunned
silence. “Come in, come in! My daughter, gentlemen.”

“You asked me to come. You said you were ill,” gasped Nadia, catching
at the door to steady herself.

“And sure I was ill. If I’m all right again now, thanks to the doctor
here, you’d not grudge ut me, would you?”

As she made no answer, but stood gazing at him with dilated eyes and
parted lips, he rose and came towards her, supporting himself with a
stick.

“’Twas good of you to come, Nadia, and if I’d known it would give you
pleasure, sure I’d have stayed in bed to receive you. But never so
much as a telegram to let me know you were coming; how in the world
could I even meet you at the train? Come, sit down, and don’t stand
looking at me like a voiceless banshee. What is ut, at all?”

Nadia sank down on the chair the waiter brought her; but still she
said nothing, and the children, wondering exceedingly, came and stood
beside her.

“Mother, is it grandpa?” asked Philippa in a whisper. She was mindful
of her manners, if her mother had forgotten them.

“Yes; it is your grandfather,” replied Lady Caerleon with a strange
laugh. “Go and speak to him.” The children obeyed.

“How do you do, grandpa?” asked Usk, who was the first to reach the
tall stooping form by the table. “I hope you are quite well?” But he
felt himself eclipsed at once when Philippa said pointedly in her
turn, “How do you do, grandpa? I’m so glad you’re better.”

“But it is adorable!” cried one of the gentlemen, as Philippa stood on
tiptoe to bestow a kiss on her grandfather. “Come and give me a keess
also, leetle English Meess.”

“I don’t know who you mean,” said Philippa, disliking the speaker
instinctively, but mindful of the duties of politeness. “My name is
Lady Philippa Mortimer.”

“Mortimer!” said another. “No relation of our dear Count, surely?”

“Ah, would you like to know?” said the O’Malachy, trying to remove
Philippa’s fur cap, but she withdrew herself from his hands.

“I can take off my hat myself, grandpa,” she said reprovingly, and did
so. A cry of recognition broke from the company.

“Carlino’s daughter! There cannot be a doubt.”

“Exactly,” said the O’Malachy drily. “Have I won my bet, gentlemen?”

A chorus of affirmation greeted him, and Lady Caerleon laughed
again--a hard, unmirthful laugh. Philippa looked at her anxiously.

“I’m very glad you’re better, grandpa,” she said; “but don’t you think
you might have sent mother a telegram? Then we needn’t have hurried
so, and we could have waited for father.”

“So!” cried another man; “and where then is the Herr Papa, little
Goldenlocks?”

“Father missed the train, and we couldn’t wait, but he will be here
to-morrow.”

“Aha!” said the gentleman who had wished to kiss Philippa. “There is
something wrong here, Colonel.”

“How could I help ut?” demanded the O’Malachy. “I never dreamt of her
arriving without um. However, ’tis only a day’s delay.”

“Father would never have let mother come alone,” said Philippa, up in
arms at once; “but he couldn’t help it, for he didn’t know in time.
And mother has been so dreadfully worried about him, and about you
too, grandpa. It’s very bad for her to be worried, and she oughtn’t to
be let do it.”

“Indeed! and who says that, milady?”

“Father says so, and he always keeps her from being worried, too.”

“What! the excellent Carlino is a considerate husband?” and the
gentlemen laughed as though they thought it a huge joke. “He is a
model of all the domestic virtues, is he not, milady?”

“I don’t know what that means; but if it means that father is good, of
course he is.”

The gentlemen laughed again, which made Philippa angry.

“I don’t think it’s nice to laugh about father like that when we are
there. Please, grandpa, we’re all very tired with the train, and
mother is worried, I’m sure. Oh no, it must be that she’s so glad to
know you are so much better than she expected. But I think she ought
to rest a little. Can we get rooms here, do you think?”

“Delightful English common-sense!” cried Philippa’s enemy; but the
O’Malachy interposed promptly.

“Of course you can, Phil. The waiter thought of that long ago, and has
gone to see after them. I hear um coming back now, and he has your
maid with um. I daresay you will like to see your rooms, Nadia. You
don’t look fit to talk to-night; but I’ll hope to find you fresh and
rested in the morning.”

Roused from her stunned condition by his words, Nadia rose, and,
bowing coldly to the company, left the room with the children. While
her mother was settling matters with the servants outside, Philippa
discovered that she had left her cap behind, and ordered Usk to come
back with her and fetch it. But the thought of traversing the long
room again under the eyes of the diners was too much for Usk, and
Philippa pushed the door open quietly, and went in by herself, to find
her grandfather leaning over the table and talking earnestly in
French, for the benefit, apparently, of a gentleman who had only just
joined the party. The children were accustomed to speak French almost
as regularly as English with their mother, and Philippa caught the
words--

“The Jewess and her boy have put themselves in our power by coming
here. We seize them and the Count at one blow, then proclaim our
friend king, call out our people, and march on Bellaviste.”

“But what if our friend prove restive?”

“That will probably be the case; but we must find means to quiet him,
and if all expedients fail, there is the boy. The Bishop would like
that better. By all the----! what are you doing here, Philippa?”

“I came to get my hat, grandpa. It’s on your chair.”

“Take ut, then, and be off. Did you hear---- No, I won’t put ideas
into the child’s head. Go to bed at once, like a good girl, and in the
morning I’ll take you and your brother into the town and buy you some
sweets.”

“One moment, Herr Oberst,” said the man with the German accent, before
Philippa could utter her thanks. “I wish to satisfy myself that our
friend’s daughter inherits his amiable peculiarities. Come here,
little Goldenlocks,” and he poured her out a glass of wine, “drink
this to the health of the dear Herr Grandpapa, who has recovered so
quickly from his sickness under the care of the good doctor.”

“No, thank you,” said Philippa politely, for she had refused similar
invitations before; “we are all teetotallers.”

“Excellent!” cried her new antagonist, while the rest shouted with
laughter. “You are indeed happy in your descendants, Herr Oberst. Who
could have believed that so virtuous a family existed in these
degenerate days? What could be better for our plans?”

“Don’t tease the child,” said the O’Malachy, darting an angry glance
at him. “Run away, Phil. Here’s a crystallised apricot for you. Can’t
you see that I’m busy with these gentlemen?”

If the O’Malachy had intended to stamp on Philippa’s memory the
conversation she had overheard, he could not have found better means
to that end than his evident anxiety to get her out of the room, and
his gift of the apricot. She was revolving many things in her mind as
she passed through the door, and met her brother outside.

“I’m sure grandpapa’s friends are not nice, Usk,” she said, as she
divided the apricot with him. “They laughed when I said we were
teetotallers.”

“So do some of father’s friends--often,” objected Usk, with his mouth
full of fruit. “Mr Forfar did.”

“Yes; but that was a different kind of laughing. This was horrid, like
the people in Vanity Fair when Christian and Faithful were going
through, I should think. And they said such funny things, too. But I’m
not going to worry mother. I do wish father was here!”



“Excellency,” said Dietrich, entering his master’s office in the Villa
Alexova, and standing at the salute, “I have just seen the young
Countess.”

“Nonsense, Dietrich! You must be dreaming.” Cyril knew that for some
inscrutable reason of his own--probably connected with linguistic
difficulties--the valet always alluded to Philippa as “the young
Countess.” “Lady Phil is with her parents in England.”

“Excellency, I met her in the street just now, attended by the
coachman Wright, and they both spoke to me.”

“But what did they say?”

“They expressed pleasure on seeing me, Excellency; and the young
Countess said that her lady mother had been summoned from England to
attend the death-bed of the Herr Oberst O’Malachy, but that on
arriving here they found him alive and well.”

“What devilry is the old wretch up to now?” muttered Cyril. “He has
never been seriously ill since he came here. Did you tell Lady Phil
that I was at Tatarjé, Dietrich?”

“No, Excellency; I had no orders. When the young Countess asked me why
I was here, I said that I was on the business of the Herr Hofminister.
But in case you should wish to speak to the little lady, I informed
her that persons of respectable appearance were permitted to walk in
the gardens of the Villa at this hour, and I see that she is in the
chestnut-alley now.”

“Your wisdom, Dietrich, is only equalled by your talent for silence.
You have judged correctly: I do wish to speak to the little lady;” and
Cyril rose and put away his papers, and went out into the garden. When
Philippa saw him advancing towards her, she flew to meet him with a
scream of delight.

“_Oh_, Uncle Cyril, I am so glad! How nice of Dietrich not to tell us
you were here, and give us such a lovely surprise! Mother is so
dreadfully worried, and father won’t be here till this afternoon, and
grandpapa is such a funny man. But you’ll do next best to father.
It’ll be all right now.”

“Poor Phil, what a catalogue of woes! Where is your mother?”

“At the hotel. She and grandpa have been talking and talking, and I
know mother cried, but grandpa was quite cheerful and joky. He said it
would have gone to his heart to send a telegram to say we needn’t
come, he was so counting on seeing us. He was going to take Usk and me
out to buy us some sweets; but Usk was tired, and mother said he had
better not go out until we go to meet father at the station this
afternoon, and grandpa said it wouldn’t be fair to Usk to take me out
alone. Mother wouldn’t go out; she said nothing should induce her to
let Usk out of her sight. Please stoop down, Uncle Cyril; I want to
whisper. I think mother’s frightened about something. And nurse
wouldn’t come out. She said she dursen’t trust herself in these furrin
streets, lest she should be murdered, and so I couldn’t have gone out
at all if Wright hadn’t been here. But mother made him promise never
to take his eyes off me for a second.”

Cyril looked up and met Wright’s gaze. The coachman shook his head
solemnly. “I’m afraid it’s a bad business somehow, my lord; but the
rights and the wrongs of it is quite beyond me.”

“Well, Phil,” said Cyril, “suppose I come with you and see your
mother? Perhaps I shall be able to cheer her up a little; and at any
rate it’s not long before your father will be here.”

“No; only a little more than two hours,” said Philippa, contentedly,
putting her hand in Cyril’s as they turned to leave the garden. The
sight of the Villa suggested a new topic to her mind.

“Oh, do you live in that big house, Uncle Cyril? It’s a little bit
like Llandiarmid, isn’t it? only there aren’t any ruins.”

“No; the little Prince whom I told you about lives there. His father
is dead now, and he is King.”

“But they are going to have another king as well, aren’t they?
Grandpapa and his friends were talking last night about making a
friend of theirs king.”

“Were they, indeed? They didn’t mention his name, I suppose?”

“No; they only said _notre ami_, just as they did when they were
saying nasty things about father being a teetotaller. They said he had
amiable peculiarities. Wasn’t it horrid of them? They were talking
French, you know. Oh, and who is the Jewess, Uncle Cyril?”

“Why, don’t you know what a Jewess is, Phil?” Yet Cyril’s blood
quickened, in spite of his careless tone, as he heard the cant name of
the rabble for Queen Ernestine.

“Of course I know, uncle. I have heard the Jewish children sing, in
London. Usk cried just a little, because they weren’t black; but I
knew before that they wouldn’t be. But it was ever so long ago, and he
was very little then.”

“But what made you ask about a Jewess now?” with some impatience.

“Oh, because grandpa said, ‘The Jewess and her boy are in our power.’
They talked about the Count, too, and the Bishop; but it didn’t sound
so interesting.”

“Phil, try and remember exactly what you heard, and be very careful in
telling it me. If you have the slightest recollection of any names,
tell me them just as they sounded to you.”

“But there weren’t any names, Uncle Cyril. I don’t even know who the
gentlemen were, except that one talked as if he was French, and
another as if he was German. And they only said that about making
their friend king, and that if he didn’t like it, there was the boy,
and the Bishop would like that better, and something about marching to
Bellaviste. Oh, here’s grandpa!”

They had come face to face with the O’Malachy in crossing the street
into which the gate of the Villa opened. He swept his hat off with a
flourish, and Cyril returned the salute carelessly.

“My niece has found me out, you see, O’Malachy. I hope you were not
looking for her? I am taking her back to her mother as soon as we have
done a little shopping. There was something about a doll in Thracian
costume, wasn’t there, Phil?”

“_Oh_, Uncle Cyril!” murmured Philippa, squeezing his hand
ecstatically, and Cyril passed on with a nod to the O’Malachy, and
entered the first toyshop they reached. He knew that the O’Malachy was
watching them, and the thought nerved him to remain patient and
apparently interested while Philippa discussed the merits of
innumerable dolls, and minutes of priceless value slipped away. The
old man was still looking in at a shop-window near at hand when they
came out, and Cyril was obliged to walk home with Philippa, instead of
intrusting her to Wright’s care as he had intended; but he controlled
his anxiety so well that the child did not even discover that his mind
was preoccupied. When they arrived at the porch of the hotel, he
stopped and looked at his watch.

“Why, Phil, I shan’t be able to come in and see your mother after all.
We oughtn’t to have spent so much time in choosing the doll. But tell
her that I shall be sure to look in this afternoon. Say that I beg her
particularly not to be frightened by anything she may hear--and, by
the bye, ask her from me not to go to meet your father at the station.
That’s a little treat which I want for myself, do you see?”

“Oh yes, Uncle Cyril,” said Philippa, smiling at the idea of a
grown-up person’s wanting a treat, and she waved her hand to him as he
took off his hat to her and turned away. He still walked slowly, but
his mind was strung to its highest pitch, and his plans were working
themselves out.

“Less than two hours now. First to make things safe about our friends
the enemy, and then to stop Caerleon, and prevent his coming here. You
very nearly won this time, O’Malachy; but if I beat you in this nest
of rebellion, with a disaffected garrison, I think you will have to
shut up shop for good and all.”



 CHAPTER VII.
 TWO KINGS OF BRENTFORD.

The message which Philippa brought from Cyril served in some degree
to allay her mother’s anxiety, and the continued absence of the
O’Malachy tended to the same result. He had said that he was going to
lunch with a friend or two at the Kursaal, and that he would return
afterwards and take Nadia and the children to meet Caerleon at the
station; but, innocent as this programme sounded, his daughter derived
no comfort from it. She felt that she had blundered into the midst of
a web of conspiracy, of whose extent and object alike she was
ignorant, and she was equally afraid of remaining inactive, and of
taking any step that might increase the difficulties which surrounded
her. What her father’s plans might be she could not divine; but that
they were of a perilous nature, and boded evil to Caerleon and the
children, she was convinced, while the keenest sting of her position
lay in the fact that she was helpless to find a way out of the trap
into which her own credulity had led her, and was now leading her
husband. Therefore she was devoutly thankful when there was no sign of
the O’Malachy’s return, even though she attributed his delay, quite
unjustly on this occasion, to his having imbibed at lunch, somewhat
freely, liquors more potent than the Tatarjé waters.

It was past three o’clock, and Usk and Philippa, after a little lively
squabbling, had settled themselves in the two front windows of the
hotel sitting-room “to watch for father,” while their mother flitted
about uneasily, now glancing out of one window or the other, and then
trying to occupy herself with a book. The children were just engaged
in an argument dealing with the respective probabilities of the
clock’s being fast and the train’s being late, when their attention
was suddenly distracted by the sounds of an altercation on the landing
outside the room.

“You ’old your jaw,” they heard Wright’s voice say, as the door was
violently opened and then unceremoniously shut, “and don’t come ’ere
frightenin’ ’er ladyship with your tales.”

“I must tell ’er ladyship,” was the reply, in a choked voice, which
suggested that Wright had the speaker by the collar, and the door
opened again, this time admitting Wright and Robert, the young
Llandiarmid footman, both in a somewhat ruffled condition.

“What is the meaning of this?” inquired Lady Caerleon in astonishment.
“Robert! how did you come here?”

“Please, my lady, ’is lordship brought me with ’im from ’ome, because
Mr Franks were ill and not allowed to travel.”

“What! is the Marquis here? What do you mean by forcing your way into
the room before your master, Robert?”

“Please, my lady, ’is lordship ain’t ’ere. ’E’ve been arrested.”

“Arrested!” Nadia dropped into a chair, and pressed her hand to her
side. “What do you mean? Tell me.”

“We got along all right, my lady, me and ’is lordship, until something
over ’arf a hour ago, when we come to Velisi, which is the station
next before this one, as your ladyship knows. Then ’is lordship got
out to look what they ’ad on the bookstall, seein’ as the two last
’adn’t no English books at all, and ’e didn’t come back. I was keepin’
’is place for ’im, and the train was just movin’ on, when I see ’is
lordship bein’ took away by four of them pleece they ’as ’ere, with
their big ’ats and their queer swords. I tried to jump out after ’im,
but the people in the carriage ’eld me back; and I made up my mind to
come on ’ere and tell your ladyship.”

“You were quite right,” said Nadia mechanically; but Philippa broke
in--

“But, Robert, you saw the policemen take father prisoner? Really
policemen? You’re sure it was father?”

“Certain sure, my lady. I’d give all I ’ave so I could say different,
but I can’t,” and Robert gulped down a sob.

Philippa’s valiant heart failed her. She had all a well-brought up
British child’s veneration for the law, which she looked upon as a
species of ogre, given to pouncing, by means of its instruments the
police, upon unfortunate individuals who had in some way become
obnoxious to it, quite irrespective of their guilt or innocence, and
locking them up. It never occurred to her to object that her father
had committed no crime, but she brought forward the only consolation
she could suggest.

“Don’t look like that, mother,” she urged, with broken voice. “It must
be a mistake. They couldn’t take father prisoner if they knew who he
was. They wouldn’t dare to do it. They must have thought it was some
one else. Oh, mother, they can’t put _father_ in prison?” she ended,
sobbing wildly as she caught her mother’s hand.

“Hush, Phil, my poor Phil,” said Nadia quietly, soothing the excited
child, and holding out a hand to Usk, down whose face the tears were
rolling slowly. “I want you both to be very quiet and good, while I
think what we can do for poor father. Of course it is a mistake; but
we must be very careful not to make it worse by anything we do or say.
Wright, please order a carriage at once, and tell nurse I want to
speak to her as you pass.”

Wright returned from his errand almost as soon as nurse entered the
room, and Nadia signed to him to shut the door. Philippa, exhausted by
the violence of her grief, was crying quietly in her mother’s arms,
and Usk was sobbing on the floor beside her, with his face buried in
her dress; but her own eyes were tearless, and her voice quite calm.

“I want to speak to you all before the carriage comes, so that you may
know what to do. I am afraid that the Government here, finding that
Lord Caerleon was coming to Thracia, must have jumped to the
conclusion that he was plotting to place himself on the throne again,
and thought they would make things safe by arresting him.”

“I’m afraid that’s about it, your ladyship,” said Wright hoarsely,
when she paused and looked at him. “Of course there’s Lord Cyril----”

“I fear that Lord Cyril must have been arrested as well, for he has
not come here as he said he would. Well, there is no need to be
frightened. They can’t possibly do the Marquis any harm. I am going
now to the Queen-Regent. If any one can help us she can; and I hope
that when I have explained the circumstances she will give me an order
for Lord Caerleon’s release, and let us leave for England at once.
But, of course, it is possible that she has no power without
consulting M. Drakovics, and it may even be necessary to apply to the
British Minister to bring pressure to bear, which might mean some
delay. Nurse, I want you to begin to pack everything at once. If Lord
Caerleon is sent to prison, of course I shall go with him----”

“Oh, my lady! to prison!” cried nurse tearfully.

“And then you and Robert must take the children back to England,
starting to-night. They must be kept out of danger. Wright, I must
have you here, for you know the country----”

“My lady, I wouldn’t go back now, not if you was to send me!” said
Wright, with ferocious resolution. Nadia inclined her head.

“I knew you would feel that, Wright. Now, nurse, please dress the
children to come to the Palace with me. Phil, be brave; we are going
to see what we can do to help father. Let nurse wash your face and put
on your best hat.”

With a last choking sob Philippa obeyed, calling up memories of Lady
Nithsdale, Jeanie Deans, and other heroines who had pleaded for the
lives of imprisoned relatives. Their examples so fortified her that
she was even able to rebuke Usk for asking in a doleful whisper
whether they cut people’s heads off the very moment they were taken
prisoner, and to inform him that if he frightened mother and made her
cry, it would be his fault if--if anything dreadful happened; but here
the reprover belied her own admonitions by winking away a few tears
very hastily.

A few minutes later M. Stefanovics, who was waiting in the hall of the
Villa to receive a visitor whom the Queen was expecting, hurried to
the door on hearing a carriage drive up, only to find that the lady
who mounted the steps with her children was quite a stranger to him.
One of the footmen stopped her before she reached the threshold,
saying that visitors were not at present admitted to view the Villa,
as the Queen was residing there; but she astonished him by saying that
her business was with the Queen, and passed on. The rest of the
servants were too much impressed by her manner to bar her way; but at
the door she was met by M. Stefanovics himself.

“I wish to see the Queen,” she said, barely noticing him.

“Pardon me; but has madame received her Majesty’s commands to present
herself at this hour? No?” as she shook her head; “then perhaps she is
an early friend of the Queen? In that case----”

“No; her Majesty would not know me, but I am sure she will see me if
you tell her my reason for coming. My name is----”

“Pardon me,” said M. Stefanovics again, waving away politely the card
which Nadia held out to him; “but I should be deceiving madame with
false hopes if I encouraged her to remain. Her Majesty does not
receive this afternoon.”

“Still I must ask you to be so kind as to entreat her to grant me a
short interview. My husband has been arrested under a misapprehension,
and I am relying upon the Queen for his release.”

“But it is impossible, madame! Such matters are the concern of the
Minister of the Interior or of the Premier, not of her Majesty. Let me
entreat madame to retire, and forward her request to the proper
quarter, or at least to turn into my office here, and draw up her
petition in writing for presentation to the Queen. Her Majesty is at
this moment expecting the arrival of her cousin, the Princess of----
But here is the Princess arriving!”

And the harassed chamberlain hurried out on the steps once more,
wondering what he was to do with this sad-eyed woman who could not be
brought to take No for an answer. Only an hour ago Cyril had given him
strict injunctions not to admit any strangers to the Villa that
afternoon upon any pretext, and he was torn between natural kindness
of heart and a determination to obey his orders. The children watched
him with wide-eyed awe as he escorted into the hall a dark-haired lady
magnificently dressed, leading a little girl of two or three years old
by the hand; but Nadia uttered a despairing moan as she stood aside
among the pillars of the vestibule. The sound roused Philippa to
instant action.

“Mother, _don’t_!” she cried, and running out into the hall faced the
strange lady boldly. “Oh, please, are you in a dreadful hurry to see
the Queen?” she asked. “Because, if not, would you mind letting mother
see her first, just for a minute? It is so fearfully important.”

“Who are you, little one?” asked the Princess kindly. “I have seen you
before, have I not?”

“I don’t think so,” faltered Philippa, overwhelmed with sudden
shyness, but M. Stefanovics interrupted her. “It is a lady who says
that her husband has been arrested by mistake, madame, and she is
anxious to entreat her Majesty to obtain his release. I have assured
her that it is the business of the Minister of the Interior, but I
cannot induce her to go away. I think she must be English.”

“English!” cried the Princess, as though a light had flashed upon her.
“Now I know you, my child. You are Carlino’s little daughter.”

“Carlino is what mother calls father,” said Philippa timidly, but the
Princess was already crossing the hall to her mother.

“And you are Nadia!” she said, taking her hand in both hers. “Pardon
me, dear madame, but I knew your husband long ago, and I have heard
him speak of you. The tone of his voice as he mentioned your name so
impressed itself upon my mind that I have thought of you as Nadia ever
since.”

“And you are the Princess Ottilie,” said Nadia slowly, looking into
the dark eyes which met hers with a friendly light in them. “Forgive
me, I should say the Princess of Dardania.”

“Thanks to Lord Caerleon,” was the instant answer. “Ah, madame, you
know the story--how your husband sacrificed his own feelings that he
might assist a helpless girl, driven almost desperate by the cruelty
of her circumstances. That girl stands before you now. Will you not
allow one who owes her happy married life to the magnanimity of Lord
Caerleon to help you in your trouble? Even the mouse helped the lion,
you know.”

“Madame, you are too good,” stammered Nadia.

“Good? No, I am not that, madame, but I hope I am not ungrateful. ‘Our
Princess never forgets a friend, or forgives a foe’--that is what they
say of me in Dardania, and they say it also in certain of the
chancelleries of Europe,” she laughed maliciously. “Tell me now what
it is that is troubling you? Your husband has been arrested through
some stupid mistake of the police?”

“I do not know, madame. He was to join me this afternoon; but his
servant arrived without him, bringing word that his master had been
arrested suddenly at Velisi. There was no dispute with the police, so
far as I know.”

“At Velisi?” The Princess looked thoughtful. “Lord Caerleon had not
been warned not to enter the country, or in any other way made himself
obnoxious to the Government, had he?”

“Oh no. He could not have crossed the frontier more than an hour.”

“And that would barely have allowed time for a message to be sent to
Bellaviste and answered. No; the order for the arrest must have come
from here. And the only person with authority sufficient to venture on
such a step is your husband’s brother, Count Mortimer.”

“Impossible, madame! My husband and his brother are on the best of
terms.”

“Unfortunately, madame, you must know, as I do, that no considerations
of friendship or affection would be allowed to stand in the way of
Count Mortimer’s plans. It is possible that he fears your husband’s
return to Thracia may undermine his own influence here, and that would
be quite sufficient to cause him to arrest him.”

“I can’t believe it,” Nadia repeated helplessly; but unfortunately her
memory tallied only too well with that of the Princess. If Cyril had
any scheme in view, it was not likely that he would allow Caerleon to
interfere with its success.

“In any case,” went on the Princess, “you were taking the right course
when you came to the Queen. She is the only person who would have both
the authority and the courage to demand an explanation from Count
Mortimer--with the exception of Drakovics, of course. We will go
up-stairs and see her now. Come, my Lida,” and she held out her hand
to her little girl, who had been clinging to her dress.

“Oh, mayn’t I take her?” entreated Philippa. “Usk and I will hold her
hands all the way up-stairs, and we will be so careful. She shan’t
fall, really and truly. Come, baby darling.”

“Her name is Ludmilla,” said the Princess, laughing; “Lida is her pet
name.”

“I know; just as I’m called Phil,” assented Philippa, with a beaming
smile, as she and Usk, with little Princess Ludmilla between them,
began to mount the stairs after their mother and the Princess. Just as
they reached the top, Nadia paused suddenly.

“Madame,” she said, “I cannot believe that Count Mortimer is
responsible for his brother’s arrest. I entreat your Royal Highness
not to prejudice his position with her Majesty by suggesting it.”

“If the Queen did not order the arrest, Count Mortimer must have done
so,” returned the Princess inexorably. “We shall see.”



Absurd though the idea appeared to Nadia, it was nevertheless the case
that the Princess was much nearer the truth in accusing Cyril than his
sister-in-law in defending him, and no one would have acknowledged the
acuteness of his fair opponent more readily than Cyril himself. At the
moment that the conversation was taking place in the hall of the
Villa, he was crossing the railway platform at Velisi, on his way to
the police-station, to which Caerleon had been hurried. He found the
occupants a good deal disturbed in their minds, and it needed all his
commendations for their prompt obedience to his orders to reassure
them. Oh yes, the English traveller had been arrested, and was now
detained in the parlour of the superintendent’s house, which they had
thought it advisable to place at his disposal, since it was evident he
must be a great man in his own country. He had been angry, very angry,
at his arrest, and had threatened his assailants with unheard-of
penalties--the nature of which they understood only very imperfectly,
however, since Caerleon had almost lost the small knowledge of
Thracian of which he had once been possessed. Did his Excellency
really intend to grant this very violent person an interview? Surely
he would at least allow two of the police to be present, with drawn
swords, so as to be able to repel any attempt at attack? But Cyril
refused the offered protection, and entered the parlour boldly. He
found Caerleon pacing up and down, still in his travelling ulster, and
looking absurdly large and substantial for the little room. He turned
when Cyril entered, and faced him in blank astonishment, which changed
quickly to anger as the memory of his wrongs returned upon him.

“Well, Cyril, this is a pretty state of things!” he cried. “May I ask
what it means? I am taken into custody in a public place, and when I
ask why, they tell me it is by your order.”

“I never told them to tell you so, at any rate,” said Cyril. “Now be
reasonable, Caerleon, and don’t shout the house down. I would have
given you a week’s notice if I could; but since I only had ninety
minutes myself in which to save the kingdom, I couldn’t afford to lose
time.”

“If you could make time just now to explain what you mean, you would
place me under a deep obligation to you,” said Caerleon, with bitter
irony.

“That sounds more like business. I am always delighted to explain
things away afterwards, provided I have a free hand at the critical
moment. The fact is, I didn’t want you at Tatarjé, and I don’t now.”

“Don’t you think you are really too flattering?”

“It must sound so, I suppose; and yet it is the sober truth. If this
interrupted journey of yours had turned out as it was intended to do,
my occupation would have been gone, for the simple reason that the
throne of baby Michael would have been gone too.”

“You don’t accuse me of carrying dynamite about with me, I hope?”

“Not at all. You are the dynamite yourself.”

“If these are your explanations, Cyril,” said Caerleon shortly, “all I
can say is that they are a good deal darker than your proceedings, and
they are dark enough, in all conscience.”

“Now don’t get waxy, old man. I’m afraid the lapse of years has
disturbed your faith in me a little, hasn’t it? I assure you honestly
I mean what I say. You have come to the very worst place in Thracia,
at the very worst time, and in the very worst way. Come, you can’t say
that that’s not plain speaking, can you?”

“I can’t see that it throws much light on the subject.”

“Then I must enlighten you. Neither you nor Nadia seems to have
realised that there are still a good many people in Thracia who regard
you as having a considerable right--or even the paramount right--to
the throne; and yet I told you plainly when I was with you that I
hoped you would keep away from this part of the world.”

“But I renounced all my rights of my own free will.”

“Who is to know that it was of your own free will? It might have been
done perforce, or under a misapprehension, or anything. And, in any
case, the renunciation does not ensure your never wishing--or merely
being willing if requested--to resume your rights.”

“Stuff, Cyril! Why should I wish to resume them?”

“Why should any one wish to be a king? I know, of course, that you had
quite enough of it when you were here; but then I was not afraid of
you, but of others who might make a catspaw of you.”

“Many thanks.”

“There you are again! You really should not be so touchy. Can’t you
see that although the people who have a theoretical belief in your
claims might be content to let you go with a few sighs and vain
regrets, there are others who might be glad to exploit their views and
feelings for their own purposes?”

“I don’t see what harm they could do if they were.”

“I do, unfortunately. The head and front of this offending is your
respected father-in-law, our old friend O’Malachy. He knows that you
are not likely to revisit Thracia by your own wish, and therefore he
works upon you through your wife. Guessing that you won’t let her come
alone, he brings her here by a telegram to say that he is dying, and
longs to see her. He gets her and the children into his hands, to use
either as hostages or as puppets, you see, and he is prepared to
proclaim you King as soon as you arrive. The town is notoriously
disloyal, the garrison honeycombed with disaffection, the Bishop, who
is the biggest man in these parts, hates the Queen, and the little
King is in their power. What better starting-place could you desire
for another revolution? Even if you kicked successfully, there is Usk,
whom the Bishop would prefer to you, because he could begin by
converting him to the Orthodox faith.”

“But why in the world should the O’Malachy want to make either poor
little Usk or myself King?”

“He doesn’t; that is merely a means to an end. But he does very much
want to give Scythia a pretext for interfering in our affairs. With
two Kings, and a civil war in active progress, she would be able to
send troops to enforce order, and those troops would leave the country
at the Greek Kalends. Little Michael’s conversion would be insisted
upon as the price of support. Drakovics would go under and so should
I, and the Queen would either be assisted in her duties by Bishop
Philaret and the general of the army of occupation as co-regents, or
provided with a second husband, and thus shunted.”

“But how in the world did you find all this out, and why didn’t you
take precautionary measures before?”

“I had my first inkling of it less than three hours ago, through a few
words which Phil overheard. Of course I knew that the O’Malachy wasn’t
here for any good purpose, but that’s nothing new. Since I left Phil I
have been working up the plot, and taking steps to frustrate it, at
the same time. It was clear that the soldiers and townspeople were to
rise some time to-day, probably on your arrival. It was equally clear
that they could not rise without leaders; and of course I have a list,
through the secret police, of all the suspicious characters that have
been hanging about Tatarjé of late. They are under arrest in their
own abodes at present, and are to be kept under police supervision,
without being allowed to communicate with any one, until you are
safely out of Thracia. When things are clear, they will be released
with an apology.”

“But why not punished or expelled?”

“Ah, that is the difficulty of making use of an amateur spy, and a
child at that. No tribunal would convict on the only evidence I can
produce, although it has been enough to enable me to explode the plot.
But I shall get the Court back to Bellaviste as soon as possible, and
with you and your wife and family safe in England, the plotters can’t
do much.”

“But how did my arrest come into your plans?”

“Very simply. I wanted you not to come on to Tatarjé, but to return
to the frontier, where Nadia and the children could join you. I
started to meet you; but I had run it too close, and I saw you would
have left Velisi long before I got here. I couldn’t be sure that a
telegram would stop you, and therefore I employed physical force.”

“Wasn’t it a slight oversight, if you meant your scheme to be a
secret, that you didn’t have my man arrested too?” asked Caerleon
drily. “As it is, he went on in the train to Tatarjé.”

Cyril jumped out of his chair. “No,” he said, sinking back again,
“don’t be afraid. I am not going to use strong language, but if ever a
man might be excused for doing so----! Didn’t you tell me in your very
last letter that Franks had got potted by some idiotic duffer who was
out shooting with you, and that you were servantless so long as he was
_hors de combat_?”

“What a memory you have for little things! Unfortunately it has played
you false here, though, for I brought Robert with me instead.”

“And I pictured you as rejoicing in your freedom! What possessed you
to bring a raw lad on a journey like this?”

“I had no intention whatever of taking him, so you were right there.
But I telegraphed to him to bring me some things to town, in order to
save time, and he was so broken-hearted when he found that he was not
to go with me, that I let him come.”

“And what do you expect him to do at Tatarjé?”

“Well, I should say that he would go straight to Nadia, and terrify
her out of her wits by telling her that I am gone to prison.”

“Exactly; and Nadia will proceed at once to do something heroic. Will
she come here and insist on sharing your captivity, or will she go to
the Queen and demand your release?--that is the question. There will
be a train in from Tatarjé in a few minutes, so we shall soon see
whether she is coming here.”

But the question was to be answered even before the train came in. A
deprecating knock at the door heralded the police superintendent with
“A telegram for his Excellency the Minister,” and Cyril tore it open.

“Now the fat is in the fire with a vengeance!” he said, when the man
had left the room, keeping his eyes upon Caerleon, as though he feared
an attack from behind. “Evidently Nadia has gone to the Queen.
Stefanovics says, ‘Her Majesty desires your Excellency to present
yourself at the Villa immediately. Pray do not delay.’ That is a
little warning from himself, of course. Well, I suppose we must take
the train back. Oh, you may as well come too. Nadia will suspect me of
having made away with you if I don’t produce you in the flesh, and I
hope I have provided against the rising for which your appearance was
intended to be the signal. At any rate, I have done my part. If the
Queen spoils things, it won’t be the first time, and she will suffer
as much as I shall. Come along.”

“Not until I get hold of a hat and a decent coat. You don’t expect me
to appear in a garb like this?”

“Yes, I do; it’s an excellent disguise. No one in his senses will
suspect you of coming to start a revolution in this get-up. Here, turn
the collar of that ulster up, and pull your cap well down over your
eyes. If I can get you into Tatarjé and out again without being
recognised, I will. I shall have a carriage at the station.”

“I should much prefer not to be recognised,” said Caerleon
uncomfortably, as they left the police-office. Cyril laughed.

“You must see that in a case like this it is my bounden duty to
minimise your personal advantages as far as possible. If you were not
tall and straight and fair-haired, with a beautiful wife and two fine
children, there would be no need to be afraid of you; but as it is,
what chance has a poor, wretched little woman, who has succeeded in
alienating every single person with whom she has anything to do, in
comparison with you and your family? There wouldn’t even be the
excitement of a struggle. The Queen and little Michael would go down
like ninepins. But if I smuggle you through in that venerable ulster
and a cap which may have cost you twopence-halfpenny when it was new
(but I doubt it), your worst enemy couldn’t accuse either of us of
trying to catch the public eye. So come along.”

Ensconced in the corners of a reserved carriage, they made the journey
without discovery, and at Tatarjé Cyril succeeded in transferring his
brother unnoticed to the closed landau which was in waiting. They
drove straight to the Villa, and entered by a side-door, thus gaining
Cyril’s office without meeting any one.

“Stay here till I want you,” commanded Cyril. “There are some cigars
in that drawer; but keep the door shut, for the Queen objects to
smoking, as she does to most things. When I produce you, it will be by
way of a grand _tableau_.”

He hurried up-stairs, and the servant announced him at the door of the
anteroom. The lady sitting there, who happened to be Baroness von
Hilfenstein’s daughter Paula, gave him a look full of interest and
excitement as he passed, and said in a low voice--

“The Princess of Dardania is with her Majesty.”

“This is more thrilling even than I thought,” he murmured back, with
his hand upon the door, and immediately entered, to find Nadia sitting
on the sofa between the Queen and the Princess. Before he could do
more than bow to the royal ladies, Philippa sprang up from the corner
where she had been playing with the other children, and, running to
him, caught his hand.

“Oh, Uncle Cyril, these ladies have been saying such horrid things
about you. I thought that one,” indicating the Princess, “was nice,
but,” in a perfectly audible whisper, “I don’t now. They say that it
was you who had father put in prison!”

“And you are the only one to believe in me?” said Cyril. “Brave little
girl!”

“Oh no, Cyril,” said Nadia eagerly. “It is only that the Queen and the
Princess don’t know you as we do, and so can’t see the absurdity of
the idea. If you would just assure them that you had nothing to do
with Caerleon’s arrest, they must be convinced.”

“I should be delighted to oblige you if it was in my power,” returned
Cyril. “Unfortunately it is not possible, since the arrest was
effected by my order.”

Nadia sank back speechless and horrorstruck, and Queen Ernestine and
the Princess of Dardania exchanged looks of triumph.

“What did I tell you?” asked the Princess.

“Count Mortimer,” said the Queen with energy, holding Nadia’s hand in
hers, and rising in order to give greater effect to her words, “owing
to various unfortunate circumstances, I have feared at times that I
was unable to judge you impartially; but I can say truthfully that I
should never have suspected you of such an action as this. What your
motive can have been I am at a loss to imagine----”

“Surely you need not ask the motive,” interrupted the Princess. “Count
Mortimer feared lest the lustre of his well-earned popularity should
be in the slightest degree dimmed by the appearance of a rival star in
the Thracian sky.”

“I could have hoped,” the Queen went on, “that your motive was a
worthier one than the gratification of such base jealousy; but I
grieve to be obliged to think that this is not the case.”

“No, Ernestine,” said the Princess, “you are doing Count Mortimer an
injustice. I never said that his jealousy was personal in its
character, for it is political. Lord Caerleon, like any one else who
stands in the way of his brother’s schemes, must be crushed.”

“Does that make it any better?” cried the Queen. “It is infamous! That
you should have attempted to carry out such a despicable purpose by
means of the authority with which I was induced at my husband’s dying
entreaty to invest you, is merely an additional crime, Count.”

“Oh, Uncle Cyril,” entreated Philippa, “do say something! I know it
was a mistake, or--or you did it for fun. Please do tell them.”

“You don’t understand, Phil, that when the Queen and the Princess are
pleased to accuse me, it is my duty to listen in silence, and rejoice
to find myself honoured with so much of their attention.”

“If you can possibly suggest the very smallest excuse for your
extraordinary action, Count,” said the Queen, “I beg that you will at
once bring it forward.”

“Madame, if your Majesty considers that I have no excuse, I would not
be so wanting in respect as to offer any.”

“Oh, Cyril,” cried Nadia, “won’t you explain? I know there must be
some good reason for all that has happened, but you are torturing me.”

“At least pity your sister,” said the Queen, more gently; “and offer
any explanation that may seem to you to be adequate.”

“No explanation that I can offer is likely to be satisfactory to your
Majesty,” said Cyril. “You were good enough to observe, madame, that
it was at the late King’s wish that I was intrusted with my present
office. The duties of that office I must continue to strive to fulfil
as long as I hold it. My popularity in the country signifies to me as
little as the favour of your Majesty, which I cannot flatter myself I
have ever had the honour of possessing. It was not in defence of my
own popularity that I had my brother arrested to-day, but in that of
the kingdom of my master, your son.”

“Are you trying to excuse yourself by casting suspicion upon your
brother?” cried the Princess; but Cyril did not flinch.

“Madame,” he went on, still addressing himself to the Queen, “but for
the steps I have found it necessary to take to-day, the King and
yourself would now be prisoners, and my brother proclaimed King of
Thracia once more. Unknown to him, a conspiracy had been formed with
that object in view, and this conspiracy I have foiled by the means
which have had the misfortune to displease you.”

“Oh, Cyril, I can never thank you enough!” cried Nadia. “You have
saved us from utter misery. Carlino will express our gratitude to you
himself, for the idea of reigning here again would horrify him.”

“You have reason to believe in the existence of this conspiracy, then,
madame?” asked the Queen sharply, turning to her.

“Madame, it explains many things that have terrified and perplexed me
since I have been at Tatarjé, and my brother has relieved me from a
horrible anxiety.”

“It is evident that we have misjudged you, Count,” said the Queen,
“although I cannot but say that your methods of working are open to
grave misconstruction. Pray remember that in future I wish to be kept
informed if you find it needful to take any action of the kind.”

“But, Ernestine,” said the Princess, as Cyril bowed, “is poor Lord
Caerleon to be left languishing in a dungeon while you instruct Count
Mortimer in his duties? Should he not be released?”

“If your Majesty will allow me, I will send for my brother,” said
Cyril, and on receiving permission, he left the room.

“Stefanovics,” he said, catching sight of the chamberlain in the hall,
and scenting a joke, “send the man who is in my office there to me,
will you?”

A smothered exclamation of “Your Majesty!” showed him that the
recognition had been complete, and hastily descending the stairs, he
found M. Stefanovics on his knees, kissing Caerleon’s hand, much to
the embarrassment of its owner.

“Come, this won’t do,” said Cyril. “What about your oath to King
Michael, Stefanovics? I’m sure it was a good thing I took all my
precautions, if a stalwart supporter of the reigning dynasty like
yourself can be carried away so completely. Lord Caerleon is a simple
British tourist, do you understand? Come along, Caerleon. By the bye,
could you possibly manufacture any engagement that required you to get
home at once?”

“There’s no need. The County Council meets in three days, and as
chairman----”

“Of course, the very thing--vague and sufficiently high-sounding. Now
prepare for a surprise.”

The surprise Cyril intended was the presence of the Princess of
Dardania; but Nadia met her husband in the doorway, and at first
neither of them found it possible to give a thought to the other
occupants of the room. When Nadia was calm again, Cyril led his
brother in and presented him to the Queen, excusing his very
uncourtierlike appearance by explaining that he had merely come to
Tatarjé to fetch his wife and children, and must leave again for
England that evening. He further defined the County Council as
something between a Provincial Diet and the Imperial Reichstag, for
the Queen’s benefit, and succeeded in impressing her with the idea
that for Caerleon to be late in arriving at his post would be a crime
but little removed from high treason. He had so much to say that it
was not until the visitors were taking their leave of the Queen that
the Princess of Dardania was able to address herself directly to
Caerleon.

“I trust you have not forgotten me, Lord Caerleon?” she said
graciously; “or that most interesting fortnight of your visit to
Schloss Herzensruh?”

“Madame,” responded Caerleon, with perfect truth, “it would be
absolutely impossible for me to forget either the one or the other.”

“You are too flattering,” said the Princess, making him a curtsey, as
she had done once in that far-off time; “but I can interpret your
meaning with the help of your words and actions then. Ah well, Lord
Caerleon, you piqued me not a little in that fortnight, for I could
not make you care for me, in spite of all my efforts; but now that I
have seen your wife, I can understand, and pardon.”



 CHAPTER VIII.
 A FAMILY COMPACT.

“I suppose you have met Lord Caerleon before, Ottilie?” said Queen
Ernestine to her cousin, with a shade of disapproval in her tone, when
the visitors had departed. “You seemed to know him very well.”

“I had every opportunity of knowing him,” responded the Princess, “for
he and I were once engaged--for nearly a fortnight.”

“Oh, forgive me, Ottilie,” said the Queen, blushing painfully. “I had
no idea that this was the gentleman who----I didn’t mean to recall
unpleasant memories. Lady Caerleon is a very handsome woman, is she
not?”

“Is that last remark intended to soothe my lacerated feelings?”
inquired the Princess, with a merry laugh at this sudden change of
subject. “If you only knew it, Nestchen, that is just the most painful
part of the matter. Can you conceive that Lord Caerleon had the bad
taste to prefer the lady who is now his wife to me?”

“I should prefer not to discuss the subject,” said the Queen,
frigidly, but with evident confusion. “If I had had the faintest idea
that Lord Caerleon was the person who----I should certainly not have
admitted him to my presence.”

“My sweetest Nestchen, if you must play the prude, try to do so with a
little discrimination. ‘The person who----’ twice over! Tell me, I
entreat you, what poor Lord Caerleon has done?”

“I don’t wish to recall the matter, Ottilie; and I wonder that you
should care to make a joke of it.”

“My dear Ernestine,”--there was a dangerous glitter in the Princess’s
eyes,--“I must insist on your explaining these extraordinary
insinuations. It is quite evident to me that you have picked up an
erroneous idea of Lord Caerleon’s conduct in the past, and apparently
of mine as well. As I do not choose to lie under imputations of such a
kind, I beg of you to tell me exactly what you have heard on the
subject, if you wish us to remain friends.”

“I am quite content to let the matter rest, Ottilie; but if you will
make me speak, I must say that I have heard nothing definitely, for my
mother would never permit the affair to be discussed in my hearing.
Still, I gathered from stray remarks and hints let drop by different
people that you had--well, formed an attachment for a gentleman not of
royal blood, and that when your parents expressed their disapproval
you eloped with him, but were brought back before you could reach a
place of safety, and that afterwards you were married to the Prince of
Dardania.”

“Your story is most circumstantial and most romantic, Nestchen, but
unfortunately it has got hopelessly mixed. I did run away to be
married; but it was not with Lord Caerleon, and I was not brought
back, for I was safely married, and to Alexis Alexievitch. He was the
lover of whom my parents disapproved, whereas I was engaged to Lord
Caerleon with their full knowledge and approval.”

“You ran away with the Prince of Dardania?” cried the Queen, horror
and astonishment struggling in her voice.

“I did, indeed; but you seem to think that makes things worse instead
of better.”

“Oh no; not at all---- But surely it was unnecessary? And are you in
earnest when you say that your parents approved of Lord Caerleon’s
attachment?”

“Poor Lord Caerleon can scarcely be said to have been attached to me.
As I said just now, he preferred another lady, and was determined to
marry no one else. The attachment was a political expedient, devised
by his brother and Drakovics; but my father was delighted with the
idea, and all the Schwarzwald-Molzaus honoured it with their
approval.”

“Impossible, Ottilie!”

“I am telling you the truth. Carlino was King of Thracia then, you
must remember.”

“Oh, that makes a difference, of course. A crowned and anointed
King----”

“Carlino was neither. He had not been crowned at the time, and as
matters turned out, he never was to be. If I had married him, however,
I think I may say that your husband would never have sat upon the
Thracian throne, Ernestine.”

“Why, what could you have done?”

“Do you think I would have allowed my husband to resign his rights?
Why, if he had been deprived of them, I would have set Europe in a
blaze before I would have submitted; but to resign them meekly of his
own accord----! No. _Je maintiendray_ should have been my motto.”

“But still,” urged Queen Ernestine, waiving the question, “I cannot
see how your family could have permitted Lord Caerleon to aspire to
your hand before he was crowned. Surely such an alliance would have
been subversive of all the traditions of our order?”

“My dear Ernestine, do you really believe that we belong to a separate
race of beings, with some ethereal fluid in their veins, instead of
blood like other mortals? No wonder that we in Dardania hear tales
occasionally of troubles at the Thracian Court, caused by the Queen’s
treatment of her _entourage_!”

“My dear Ottilie,”--with some resentment,--“no arguments could make me
regard such a marriage as anything but morganatic.”

“And the mere wearing of a crown would make the difference? But
suppose Carlino had been crowned, and had afterwards abdicated, what
then? Would the marriage have been regular as long as he was King, but
have become morganatic when he no longer possessed the crown?”

“The effect of the anointing would still remain, I suppose,” said the
Queen doubtfully, but her words were drowned by a peal of laughter
from her cousin.

“Nestchen, you are too delicious! Why weren’t you born before 1789?
You ought to be put into a museum, and labelled, ‘Extraordinary
survival of medieval methods of thought.’ Don’t you see that we have
given up all those ideas of a superior caste nowadays? It is merely a
matter of policy. Say that a _parvenu_ mounts a throne and seems
likely to retain it; surely the wisest thing to do is to welcome him
into your mystic circle, and hold him there by chains so strong that
your interests and his become identical? Lord Caerleon could show his
quarterings with the best of us Germans; but if M. Drakovics were to
become King of Thracia to-morrow, there are very few Courts at which
he would be refused if he came seeking a bride.”

“Do you really mean this, Ottilie--that royal marriages are now
arranged purely as matters of policy, and absolutely without regard to
the claims of blood or the traditions of a princely house?”

“Absolutely. Why, my dear child, you seem to have no idea of the
necessities of State. Surely you must see that if a young Princess
falls in love with a simple noble, it is really immoral for them to
marry; but that it is both right and eminently suitable for her to be
handed over to any _roturier_ who may succeed in winning himself a
throne? What is the use of an exclusive caste unless outsiders may be
admitted into it for a consideration? You must try to understand the
wheels within wheels a little, Nestchen.”

“All this is quite new to me,” said the Queen, slowly and sadly. “I
thought only the lower orders regarded matters in that light.”

“But why should it make you unhappy, Ernestine?”

“Because it reminds me so strongly of my own marriage. At least I have
had the comfort hitherto of feeling that there was something heroic
about the way in which I was sacrificed, but you have taken away that
consolation. I thought myself like Iphigenia, or that other poor
princess--what was her name?--whose marriage with a man whom she
detested set the seal upon a treaty; but now you make me feel that I
was merely a counter in a very sordid game.”

“Exactly. I never felt that there was anything heroic about my
engagement to Lord Caerleon, I assure you; but then, of course, I knew
the game which was being played. Surely you must have seen it in your
own case?”

“How could I? I was only sixteen, and you know what my life had been.
You know that my mother and I spent nearly all our time at our castle
in the mountains--for my mother’s health, it was said. When we came
down to Weldart for the winter, my parents would appear together on
public occasions, but they never met in private. Hitherto I have
thought that they kept up appearances to prevent my being saddened
with the knowledge of their dissensions, but I suppose you have a
different explanation of that also?”

“Well, it would naturally have looked bad if they had separated
openly, and eligible princes might have hesitated to take a bride from
such a divided household. The family prestige must be considered in
cases of this kind, of course. But tell me how the Fairy Prince came
at last.”

“If you laugh at me, Ottilie, I shall hate you.”

“My dear Nestchen, I am not laughing. Heaven forbid that I, who gained
my own way, should laugh at any one less fortunate.”

The Queen sat silent a moment, then began again, speaking hurriedly.
“We came down from the mountains that autumn a little earlier than
usual. I was very loath to leave the Castle, for I loved the free,
wild life, and when once my lessons were over, I might roam about the
hill-paths with my mother’s ladies, or--which I liked much
better--with some of the girls from the village. But when we reached
Weldart, I found that there were changes there. I was to take my place
in society, my presence was expected at all the Court entertainments.
That in itself was delightful, but there was more. The Palace was
filled with guests. They came and went, but the King of Thracia and
his suite stayed longest of all. He was the most distinguished man
present, and he paid me marked attention. The ladies-in-waiting
congratulated me continually in private. ‘Such a great soldier,’ they
said, ‘so brave, so good, so wise, and he talks to no one but our
little Princess!’ My head was turned, Ottilie. I thought him the
handsomest and most courteous man I knew. He looked old, certainly,
even for his years, but that, I thought, was due to the hardships of
war. He saw that I took pleasure in his society, and it pleased
him----”

“One moment, Ernestine. What was your mother doing while this was
going on?”

“My mother watched it all, and said nothing. Day after day I saw her
with the same unyielding face, set like a mask, but she would not
speak to me on the subject, even when I appealed to her. She would
neither encourage me in my liking for King Otto Georg, nor dissuade me
from it. It was grandmamma of Weldart who counselled me in the matter.
She called me into her room one evening when the King had danced with
me several times, and I was so happy that I could scarcely keep myself
from dancing then. Grandmamma called me to sit upon a low stool beside
her, and took my chin in her hand. ‘So!’ she said. ‘Do you know what a
little bird has just whispered to me, Nestchen? It said that the good
King wishes to take my little mountain wild-flower back to Thracia
with him. How would a crown look on this little head?’ I was
frightened at first, and said I was so happy as I was that I did not
wish to be married and go away. ‘Pschutt!’ said grandmamma, ‘little
girls must be married. Do you want to be like your Aunt Amalie?’ She
knew that I had always a dread of Aunt Amalie, and that to become a
canoness was the last thing I desired; and she went on, ‘I know
perfectly well that the very idea of making a choice is an absurdity.
Who could hesitate between the life of a canoness and that of a Queen?
Your father might have just as well presented his Majesty to you
without any fuss as your future husband, but they do things
differently nowadays. But at any rate, when the King speaks to you, be
sure to say how greatly you appreciate the honour he is offering you,
and remind him how young and inexperienced you are.’ That was all, you
see, Ottilie. It was taken for granted that I should accept the King,
and positively I did not realise that there was any alternative open
to me.”

“And he proposed to you soon after?”

“The very next day; and I did as I was told, and accepted him. They
gave me no time to regret my choice. The wedding was hurried on, and
the interval was filled with a whirl of gaiety. I was kissed, and
blessed, and praised, and congratulated, and petted until I began to
think that I was doing something great. Then there were all my new
clothes, and the jewellery, and the wedding-presents, and the
addresses of congratulation--something new and delightful offered
itself for every hour of the day. The King attended me everywhere,
brought me presents continually, gratified every wish I could express.
I had no time to think, but if I had thought, I should have decided
that I was perfectly happy.”

“But I thought you said that you regarded your marriage as a sacrifice
made for the sake of your house, or of your order, or something of the
kind?”

“That was afterwards; I am coming to it now. It was the night before
the wedding; I had been trying on my crown and jewels for the morrow.
Some of my cousins thought the crown was too heavy for my head, but I
laughed. ‘Who finds a crown too heavy?’ I said, and we gave back the
jewels to the proper official to be kept safe for the night, and then
I went to bed. In the middle of the night I was awakened by some one’s
coming into the room with a light, and I saw my mother standing with
her back to me and looking at my wedding-dress, which was spread out
upon the couch. Presently she took it up and turned it about, handling
it so roughly that I was horrified. ‘Oh, mamma, mamma, you will spoil
my dress!’ I cried out. She turned and came towards me with such a
terrible face that I crouched down among the pillows in actual fear.
‘I would tear it to shreds, or burn it to ashes, if that would have
the slightest effect in preventing this marriage!’ she said. I could
only look at her, trembling, and she went on, ‘Foolish child! do you
imagine that the King loves you? He loathes the very idea of marriage,
and is merely driven to it by his advisers for the sake of securing
the succession. He is false through and through, and as wicked as he
is false. You think it is hardship which makes him look so old? The
last war in which he served was that of 1870: it is the wicked
pleasures of the life he has led which have aged him.’ ‘Oh, mamma,
what has he done?’ I sobbed. ‘Never mind,’ she replied; ‘it is enough
for you to know that he is not fit to touch your hand.’ I got out of
bed, shivering with cold and terror. ‘You have come to save me,
mamma,’ I said; ‘you want me to run away. I am ready. You were right
in thinking that I would do anything to avoid marrying such a man.’
She looked at me in astonishment. ‘Get back into bed, Ernestine, and
don’t talk nonsense,’ she said. ‘Do you think you are living in a
romance? It is your destiny to make this marriage; all princesses go
through the same experience. I suffered it myself, but I had no one to
warn me beforehand. I had to find out everything--all the falseness
and horror of it--but at least I have spared you that pain.’ ‘You
can’t mean to say that you will sacrifice me to this man, mamma?’ I
said; ‘what have I done, that you should be so cruel?’ ‘You have been
born a princess,’ she answered; ‘that is enough. One must pay for
being great.’ ‘But what good can my misery do to any one?’ I cried.
‘None,’ she said; ‘but it is that to which you were born. You are
fulfilling your destiny, you are avoiding a scandal, you are obeying
the traditions of your house. Where a low-born girl might flinch, a
Princess of Weldart must go on to the bitter end. _Noblesse oblige_.’
She stood looking at me again as I lay and sobbed, and then said
sharply, ‘But don’t let me see you hugging your chains. You have been
warned, and there is no excuse for further blindness. It is your
husband’s place to suffer as well as yours.’ Then she went away, and
left me in the dark.”

“It was infamous!” cried the Princess hotly. “If your mother’s own
married life had been miserable, she might at least have allowed you
the chance of doing better.”

“You must not say that. I am convinced that the strain of watching the
preparations which she could not interrupt had told upon her mind for
the time, and made her persuade herself that she was doing the kindest
thing in warning me of what lay before me. I think that perhaps she
had expected me to perceive the truth by some intuition, and rebel
against my fate, and that she was disappointed by my satisfaction with
it. But you know as well as I do that she could not have been actuated
by malevolence.”

“Her kindness was most cruel, then. But tell me what followed.”

“I shuddered and sobbed myself to sleep when she was gone. In the
morning my cousins exclaimed at my looks when they came to wake me. I
told them that I had had bad dreams, and all the time they were
helping me to dress they were disputing whether it was a good or a bad
omen. My mother came in several times, and altered the draping of my
train, or suggested to the hairdresser a slight rearrangement of my
crown or my myrtle-blossoms, which would improve the general effect.
She would not allow me to speak to her, and I could scarcely believe
that her visit in the night was not a dream. I tried to catch her
eye--to give her an imploring glance--but she met me with a cold hard
look that offered me no sympathy. When I was quite ready, grandmamma
came in to see me before starting for the chapel. My cousins were
giving the finishing touches to their own dresses in another room, and
for the moment we were practically alone. I seized the opportunity.
‘Grandmamma,’ I said, clasping my hands, ‘save me, I entreat you. I do
not want to marry the King. The very thought terrifies me.’ She looked
at me keenly, and said in her hardest voice, ‘What has terrified you,
Ernestine? Who has been calumniating your bridegroom to you?’ I dared
not betray my mother, and all that I could do was to falter out that I
was frightened, and could not the ceremony be put off? Then she
laughed and pinched my cheek, and said playfully, ‘Foolish little
wild-flower! of course it is frightened at the thought of being
transplanted into the great world. I should think very poorly of you,
little one, if you could part without a tremor from a home and parents
such as yours. But remember, say nothing to any one else of this, for
they might not make allowances for you as I can.’ ‘Grandmamma!’ I
cried, springing towards her as she gathered up her train to leave the
room, ‘It is not that----’ But she turned and said, ‘Whatever it is,
Ernestine, you are too late now,’ and went out. I heard her say to
Aunt Amalie at the door, ‘It is a good thing that the King is so much
preoccupied with this affair of the Mortimer’s precedence, or he would
notice that something was wrong. The silly child looks like a ghost.’
I knew the name of the secretary Mortimer. I had seen him constantly
in attendance on the King, and heard of the difficulties as to
precedence which had sprung up between him and my cousin Sigismund’s
Hercynian officers; but I realised now that he had come between me and
my last hope of safety, and that is only an image of what he has done
ever since.”

“Good!” cried the Princess; “I also hate him. But go on.”

“What is the use? You know well enough that no miracle happened to
save me. In the chapel, when they put my hand into that of the King, I
fainted where I stood. They said that it was owing to the weight of my
dress and jewels; but it was through sheer horror. They revived me in
some way, and the service was finished. At the wedding banquet I was
so dazed by the strong restoratives they had given me, that I could
only sit silent and look straight before me; but I still remember the
dreadful smile on my mother’s face when the Emperor Sigismund, in
proposing the health of the bridal pair, said that my parents could
give me with absolute confidence and joy to the amiable and chivalrous
monarch who had been his father’s comrade on many a battlefield. I
suppose that my cousins took me up-stairs, and changed my wedding-gown
for my travelling-dress; but I don’t remember it. I only know that the
day was getting darker and darker when we started for the Lustschloss,
although it was only three in the afternoon. There was some talk of
our waiting until the storm was over; but we had only about five miles
to go, and they thought we should arrive before the rain came on; so
we drove out through the decorated streets into the gathering
blackness. The King said something kind and reassuring to me; but I
did not understand, and could only stare at him stupidly. He thought I
was overdone, or affected by the weather, and advised me to lean back
and try to sleep a little; but I could not. As I sat looking out,
there came a great flash of lightning, and almost immediately we were
in the midst of the most tremendous thunderstorm I ever saw. Presently
Count Mortimer, who had been riding with the other attendants, came to
the window of the carriage and suggested that we should take refuge in
an inn close at hand, as the horses were alarmed by the lightning. We
did as he advised; and the passing through the rain from the carriage
to the house seemed to remove the paralysis from my mind. I felt
myself awake again; and the moment I was alone with the King, I threw
myself at his feet, and implored him with tears to allow me to return
to my mother. I don’t know what I said, or what wild promises I made
him; but I know I caught at his sword and entreated him to kill me if
he would not let me go. He must have been utterly amazed, for I saw
him look round helplessly (I suppose he wished to consult Count
Mortimer), but he raised me up and led me to a chair, and entreated me
to sit down. Then he took another chair beside me, and begged me to
listen to him. He said that if he had had the faintest idea that the
marriage was disagreeable to me, he would never have proposed it; that
he felt he was far too old for me, but that my kindness to him had
encouraged him to hope that he might succeed in making me happy. He
could only ask my forgiveness for the suffering he had caused me, and
promised to do all that he could to lighten it. But (and he was very
firm in this) it was too late now to undo what had been done. To allow
me to return home would be to inflict a deadly and most undeserved
slight on my family and on all the royal personages who had been
present at the wedding, besides bringing very injurious suspicions on
myself. We were bound together now; let us both resolve to make the
best of it. He comforted me so kindly and so delicately that my terror
began to diminish, and I reflected that death would soon release me
from my troubles, since no one could live long in such misery. You see
what a baby I was, Ottilie; I thought one could die when one wished.”

“Forgive my saying so, Ernestine, but you had no excuse for
quarrelling with a husband who could speak to you so gently after the
outburst of loathing to which you had treated him.”

“One excuse you know; it was Count Mortimer. Sometimes I think I had
another, but you shall hear. I became partially reconciled to my lot
when I realised that there was no escaping it, and the King left no
effort untried to comfort me and keep me contented. We left the
Lustschloss--I was glad of it, for it was horrible to have continual
visits from all my relations, spying, remarking, criticising, trying
to find out how the slave they had just sold got on with her
master--and came to Thracia, where every one was prepared to welcome
me with the greatest delight and kindness. Not a wish that I could
express was ungratified, and new pleasures were suggested every day. I
was beginning to look back with shame upon my fears on the
wedding-day, when in some way everything went wrong once more. When we
had been married rather more than a month, I received a letter from my
mother, written evidently in great excitement. ‘At last,’ she said, ‘I
have torn off the mask which, for your sake, I have worn so long. Your
father and I have come to a definite agreement to separate, and I have
bidden farewell to Weldart for ever. I am now a wanderer, unless my
daughter will offer me a shelter for the remainder of my miserable
life.’ What could I do, Ottilie? I ran sobbing to the King and showed
him the letter, demanding that he should join his entreaties with mine
to induce my mother to come to us at once. He consented, but without
enthusiasm, as it seemed to me, and came to me about half an hour
later, when I was writing my letter in transports of grief and
indignation.”

“Ah, he had been consulting Count Mortimer, I suppose?”

“Undoubtedly. ‘You are entreating your mother to pay us a visit,
little one?’ he said. ‘Not a visit,’ I answered in astonishment; ‘I am
inviting her to make her home with us.’ ‘We must not be too
precipitate,’ he said, ‘for this climate may not suit her, or she may
not care for our ways, and yet she might feel a delicacy in telling us
that she would prefer to move. I think, _Liebchen_, that it will be
well to ask her simply on a visit at first. A visit can always be
extended, but it is not so easy to break off an established custom.’
‘But that is nothing,’ I said; ‘it is a home that I wish to offer her,
for she is homeless. She might go to any number of places on a visit.’
‘Have you thought that this will mean an absolute rupture of relations
with your father and grandmother?’ he asked. ‘I don’t care about
them!’ I cried; ‘I want my mother. We were never separated before, and
you cannot tell how lonely I have been without her. I shall die if you
will not let her come.’ The sight of my tears moved him, and he told
me to do as I pleased----”

“It was a great pity,” said the Princess.

“Ottilie!” cried the Queen resentfully, “it is evident that you do not
know that my mother has been almost my only comfort all these years.
If she disturbed the tranquillity in which we were living, it was
merely because she saw it was a fool’s paradise. On the very evening
of her arrival, when we were alone together, she said to me, ‘So you
are hugging your chains, as I foresaw you would do!’ I asked her how
this could be, and she replied, ‘It is simple enough. You are the
King’s slave, and he is the slave of the Mortimer.’ She would not say
any more, but I saw the truth of her words. It flashed upon me all at
once that Count Mortimer directed the whole course of our lives. It
was he who suggested all our plans, who encouraged the King to
accompany me on all occasions, who kept him continually up to the
mark, if I may say so. It flashed upon me also why he did this. He
knew my wretched story, knew the way in which I had been bought and
sold--nay, he had probably taken a chief part himself in making the
bargain, and he wished to see the prisoner content with her captivity.
If I could be brought to seem happy there would be the less likelihood
of scandal, and the more chance of his appearing a skilled
diplomatist. From that moment I hated him. I resolved to thwart his
schemes, and I did so. I refused to accept his suggestions; I did not
welcome the King’s company when he offered it. I made it very clear
that any plan in which Count Mortimer’s influence could be traced was
displeasing to me.”

“Foolish child!” cried her cousin; “was there no one to warn you?”

“I was frightened myself sometimes when I saw that I was alienating
the King from myself instead of from Count Mortimer, but that made me
only the more determined to succeed. I tried tears and reproaches, and
entreaties and ridicule, but my husband was not to be moved. He told
me plainly that I was seeking to banish the man who could do most to
smooth my path, and was most willing to do it. When I persisted, he
said that Count Mortimer was indispensable to him, and that he never
went wrong except when he was too lazy or too soft-hearted to follow
his advice. I knew what he meant; but I would not cease from my
attempts, although they only tended to make the King spend less time
in my society, and more in that of Count Mortimer. So the time dragged
on until Michael was born, and then I determined, as my mother advised
me, to make one great effort to oust my enemy. The King was delighted
with his son, and became once more as kind to me as he had been at
first. On the day of the christening, when he was sitting alone with
the baby and me after the ceremony, I appealed to him suddenly to
dismiss Count Mortimer. In his first astonishment he refused
point-blank, and left me in displeasure. I was determined not to
yield, for I could not bear that he should be able to comfort himself
with the society of his friend when I was angry with him. If Count
Mortimer were gone, my mother and I should find it much more easy to
deal with the King.”

“In other words, he would be at your mercy? Oh, Ernestine, I must say
it, what a little fool you were!”

“Probably. If it was so, I have been punished for my folly. My husband
came to me again the next morning, and said that he was about to make
a proposal to me which he begged me to consider calmly and without
prejudice, since he was convinced that the happiness of our married
life depended upon it. Nothing would induce him, he said, to dismiss
Count Mortimer; but Count Mortimer himself was prepared to retire from
the Court in the hope of restoring peace between us. Only, the King
said, he would not accept this sacrifice except upon one
condition--that my mother also should leave Thracia. He would not
mince matters, for he was convinced that our unhappiness was due to
her, since I had shown no dislike to Count Mortimer before her
arrival. Once rid of the two elements of discord, we would start
afresh, and try to be as happy as such an ill-assorted couple could
be. Well, you do not need to be told that I rejected the proposal with
horror. I told the King that it was an outrage and an infamy, and that
I would suffer anything rather than yield. He left me again, and we
resumed our double life, the King and Count Mortimer against my mother
and me. I would not quit Thracia, as my mother advised, for I could
not endure to let Count Mortimer triumph in the idea that he had
driven me away; but it could not be expected that I should assist in
any of his schemes. He and the King had the idea that Thracia was for
the Thracians, and should be kept as Thracian as possible, and my
mother and I did what we could to introduce German customs and habits
instead.”

“You can scarcely expect me to agree with you there,” said the
Princess, “since my husband and I have always aimed at carrying out in
Dardania the methods which the King thought best for Thracia.”

“We were not thinking of what was best for the country,” explained the
Queen innocently. “We wanted to have everything as it ought to be--as
it is in Germany--and also to make the King angry.”

“Well, it is quite evident that you were successful in that part of
your wish.”

“Yes; we were all very unhappy. Then, as you know, my mother was
forced by the intrigues of the Ministry to leave Thracia, and I was so
lonely and miserable that once or twice I even tried to make friends
with my husband; but he either pretended not to notice my attempts, or
he laughed at them, so that I left off trying. And then Count Mortimer
went to England for a holiday, and I thought there might be some
chance for me, but I saw even less of the King than before, and he
would scarcely speak to me. Then he was taken ill, and you know that
on his death-bed he made me promise not to dismiss Count Mortimer, and
so he was left to tyrannise over me still. Can you wonder that I hate
him?”

“You do hate him?” asked the Princess, with interest.

The Queen’s face flushed hotly. “You would hate him in my place,” she
said. “He thwarts all my plans, and he is always justified by the
result. He is continually putting me in the wrong, and no one who sees
it can have a doubt but that he is right. I make a great effort to
take him by surprise, and it is evident that he knew of my intention
as soon as I did. I would give anything to be able to turn the tables
on him!”

“I don’t wonder you get into trouble if that is your feeling.”

“At any rate, I can do one thing. I know that after to-day Count
Mortimer will try to make me return to Bellaviste, for neither he nor
M. Drakovics wished us to come here, but I will not go.”

“What a rebellious little person you are, Ernestine! But I do most
earnestly advise you to get rid of Count Mortimer before your boy is
old enough to marry, unless you want your own story repeated.”

“I shall take care that does not happen.”

“Well, his father’s story, then--a marriage without love or even
liking on either side, arranged purely as a matter of state. What else
can you hope for from Count Mortimer? I don’t doubt that he has a
suitable alliance in view already. There are your cousin the Emperor
Sigismund’s twin daughters, the little Princesses Hermine and
Frederike of Hercynia--either of them would be an excellent match for
Michael.”

“That I would never allow. I have always disliked Sigismund, and I
should refuse to welcome either of his children here.”

“Even if Michael fell in love with one of them?”

“Oh, that would be different, of course. But I shall take good care
that he has no chance of falling in love with them.”

“Then is he to be permitted to select his own bride? That might lead
to complications--if he preferred a pretty _bourgeoise_, for instance.
The marriage could scarcely turn out a success, and moreover, your
family and the Schwarzwald-Molzaus would not allow it to take place.”

“He could not marry below his own rank, naturally. But there must be
ways of bringing the right people together.” She paused, and her eyes
followed those of her cousin to the corner in which Princess Ludmilla
was dispensing imaginary tea in dolls’ cups to a select detachment of
the King’s tin soldiers, while the host was crawling round the table
on his hands and knees, and propping up the guests as they slipped
down. “Ottilie!” the Queen cried, with a gasp, “your little Lida! She
is just the right age, and she is dark and he is fair.”

“My dearest Nestchen! What would Count Mortimer say?”

“What does it signify what he says? And Lida is so sweet and gentle,
and Michael so masterful already! Let us make a compact, Ottilie, and
educate them for each other. They shall grow up together as much as
possible--we will come here, or you will come to Praka, once
a-year--and when the time comes they will fall in love, and all will
be well.”

“Are you really serious, Ernestine?”

“Of course I am, if you agree.”

“Is it likely that I should refuse? It is a compact, then?”

“Between us two mothers. Naturally the children must know nothing, or
it would make them self-conscious when they are older. And of course
there is no need to tell any one else for years and years yet.”

“Will you leave that to me, Nestchen? If we are to bring our scheme to
pass, I must be free to enlist allies as opportunity offers. But if
you will put the matter into my hands, I engage that we shall
succeed.”

“Yes; I will leave it to you, Ottilie. You are so clever, you never
blunder.”



“You have paid a long visit to your cousin,” said the Prince of
Dardania, as he helped his wife out of the carriage on her return to
their country-seat. “I hope it has been a pleasant one?”

The Princess made him no answer, but pointed to the little girl, who
was being carried off by her nurse. “We must take care of her,” she
said. “She will wear a crown one day.”

“What! have you betrothed her to his Majesty King Michael?” cried
Prince Alexis, with a burst of laughter.

“Exactly. Ernestine and I have agreed that they are to marry when they
grow up.”

“Poor babies! You have settled their future early. May I ask whether
our friend Count Mortimer was consulted?”

“He was not. But I have no reason to be afraid of him. I have
outwitted him once.”

“They say that there are few people who can say that, and none that
have outwitted him twice.”

“Nevertheless, I intend to do so. What can a man effect against two
determined women? Not that I depend much on Ernestine’s powers of
resistance. Her proposing the match has given me the standpoint I
want; but I foresee that I shall have to do the fighting. She would
not dare to oppose him seriously.”

“What?” the Prince raised his eyebrows interrogatively.

“Oh no; it is merely that he has a fascination for her, for he knows
how to manage her, and he is the victor in every battle that they
fight. She was eager to assure me--and herself--that she hated him,
and she seizes every opportunity of revolt; but it is because she
finds herself succumbing to his influence. She feels that she ought to
obey him, which makes it worse.”

“And you encourage her to go on resisting him?”

“Of course. It will all help towards the great object.”



 CHAPTER IX.
 “WAYS THAT ARE DARK, AND TRICKS THAT ARE VAIN.”

Although he remained unconscious of the plot which was forming
against the ultimate triumph of his policy, Cyril was not long in
discovering that his daily task was not destined to be made lighter by
any gratitude for the signal service he had been the means of
rendering to his royal mistress and her son. He had been so
short-sighted as to believe that the alarm produced by the near
approach of such extreme peril would make it easy to induce the Queen
to return to Bellaviste at once, or even to accept the despised Praka
as her residence for the remainder of the winter, but he found himself
mistaken. Queen Ernestine knew that he had averted the threatening
danger not only without her help, but in spite of her unconscious
opposition, and this was unpardonable. Moreover, although she was not
one of the people who become the deadly enemies of any one that has
the misfortune to do them a service, she knew that she had misjudged
her Minister, and she could not forgive him either for allowing
himself to be misjudged, or for failing to justify her bad opinion of
him. It seemed to her, therefore, a pleasant piece of revenge to
assure him that while he remained in attendance, she felt so safe that
she had no intention of leaving the Villa before the spring. Cyril
urged in vain that on another occasion he might not have the good
fortune to discover the existence of a conspiracy in time to prevent
its taking effect: the Queen replied that this might be a reason for
added vigilance on his part, but not for the withdrawal of her
confidence in him.

This peculiarly irritating conduct on the part of his liege lady Cyril
attributed, rather unjustly, to the influence of the Princess of
Dardania; for although Queen Ernestine saw her cousin frequently at
this time, they disagreed almost invariably when they touched upon the
subject of the Minister of the Household. As the sharp-eyed Princess
had discerned, the Queen was divided between the desire of defying
Cyril and the fear of alienating him from her son’s cause, between
dislike of his tutelage and confidence in his guidance. Her cousin
urged her to dismiss him, and thus avenge her wrongs, upon which
Ernestine brought forward immediately her husband’s wish and her own
promise. Torn in this way between willingness and reluctance, prudence
and rashness, it is not surprising that she did not succeed in
disguising all outward traces of her mental struggles. In other words,
Queen Ernestine’s temper was very bad at this time, and not only
Cyril, but the other members of the household, from Baroness von
Hilfenstein to the youngest dresser, had it forced upon their notice
that her Majesty was extremely hard to please. As it happened, one of
these fits of ill-temper was destined to have far-reaching
consequences.

It was a mild day in winter, and Cyril was leaving the Villa after his
morning’s work. As he passed along the terrace, the little King ran
out from the open French window of one of the Queen’s rooms, and
demanded a game. Cyril had scarcely seen the child for some days, and
turning at the clamorous summons, held out his hands and helped King
Michael to climb up him and seat himself triumphantly on his shoulder.
Before he had taken a single step, however, the Queen dashed out of
the house and snatched the child from his arms, her eyes blazing with
anger.

“You stole my husband from me,” she cried. “At least leave me my son!”

Answer was impossible, and Cyril was about to retire; but the little
King did not see the matter in the same light.

“Let me go, mamma!” he cried, wriggling violently. “I want to play
with the Herr Graf. I am tired of Lida and nothing but girls. Put me
down! put me down!” and he began to kick and struggle, finally
striking his mother in the face with his little fist.

“Majestät!” said Cyril reprovingly; but the Queen turned upon him
again, with the red mark on her face showing plainly where the blow
had been delivered.

“I may be forced to allow you to govern my kingdom, Count, but I do
not need your assistance in controlling my own child.”

Cyril bowed and turned away, and the Queen carried the struggling boy
back into the house. The incident had not been witnessed by any of the
Court, and Cyril found some consolation in this fact, but he was none
the less seriously disquieted. He had been much worried of late by
what seemed to be signs that the accord between himself and M.
Drakovics was less complete than it had been. When the conspirators
whom he had baffled by arresting them so unceremoniously were set at
liberty, and assured that they were the victims of a mistake in
identity, he had been anxious to reduce the O’Malachy’s power of doing
harm for the future by having him conducted to the frontier, and
warned not to re-enter Thracia. This he had suggested to the Premier,
only to receive in reply a telegram, couched in needlessly emphatic
terms, refusing him permission to do anything of the kind for fear of
offending Scythia. Moreover, there had been unnecessary delay several
times in answering his telegrams, while one or two small requests
which he had made were disregarded, and these various indications,
taken together, led him to surmise that something was wrong. He did
not actually suspect M. Drakovics of intriguing either with Scythia or
with the Queen against him; but it was quite possible that some one in
the Premier’s _entourage_ might be thus engaged, and a personal
interview was extremely desirable. He would have asked permission of
the Queen to visit Bellaviste weeks ago if it had not been that he
foresaw the delight with which she would grant him leave of absence,
for who could say to what use she might put her unaccustomed freedom
from his guidance? But now he began to think that it might be as well
to disregard this risk, since a short absence would lessen the tension
which prevailed between them, and perhaps allow the Queen to realise
how ill she could do without him. His half-formed resolution was
dissipated for the present, however, by an intimation that the Queen
could not safely be left to manage her own affairs. He was sitting in
his office on the afternoon of the day which had witnessed the scene
on the terrace, when a knock at the door announced the advent of Mrs
Jones, the little King’s nurse, who came to ask his advice as to the
best way of returning to England.

“Which I’ve give the Queen notice, my lord, and good reason, too, and
I looks to your lordship to get me my rights, and not see me cheated
out of them by no foreigners.”

“I am very sorry to hear this, Mrs Jones; and Lady Caerleon will be
very much disappointed to know that you are leaving, I am sure. If it
is any little unpleasantness with the other servants, which I could
arrange----”

“No, my lord. Not that I haven’t put up with a deal from them, knowing
they were foreigners--which they couldn’t not to say be held
responsible for--and so didn’t know no better. But when it comes to
her Majesty herself callin’ me names, and usin’ language which no lady
should use, then, I ask you, my lord, would you have me lay down at
her feet to be trampled upon?”

“Oh, come, Mrs Jones; there must be some mistake. Her Majesty is a
foreigner too, you know, and doesn’t speak English perfectly; but, as
you say, it is not her fault. You must have misunderstood her.”

“There was no misunderstandin’, my lord. It was as plain as the nose
upon your face, as they say, not intendin’ anything personal to your
lordship. And I’m sure,” here Mrs Jones looked mysterious, “as there
ain’t no call, my lord, for you to be defendin’ them as worrits your
life out with doin’ their work, and then turns round and stabs you
when you ain’t there, so to speak.”

“If I can do anything for you,” said Cyril, his curiosity not stirred
even by the complicated operation described, “I shall be glad to do
it; but I can’t listen to complaints of your mistress.”

“And who talked about complaints, my lord, may I ask? I was settin’ by
my fire, and little King Michael, as was tired after his play, on my
lap. ‘Tell me a ’tory, nursie,’ he says, and I tell him the one he
always likes best, of the time when you and the Markiss was young
gentlemen at school, and made raftses on the lake when you was home
for the holidays. I was just gettin’ to the part where your lordship
was tryin’ to smoke the old swan off of the rock you wanted for a
desert island, when I heard a rustle, and there stood the Queen, her
eyes glarin’ at me. ‘Woman!’ she says, ‘how dare you worm yourself in
here to turn my child’s heart against me?’ ‘And who may your Majesty
be callin’ wormses?’ I says, and I don’t deny, my lord, my temper was
up, to be spoke to in that way in my own nursery, and before the
child. ‘You are a creature of Count Mortimer’s,’ she says, ‘and he has
hired you to tell these tales.’ ‘Me a creature!’ I says; ‘me that’s
always lived in the best families, and kep’ myself respectable! That’s
a name I don’t allow no one to call me, not even Queen Victoria
herself, as would know better than use it to a honest widow woman, as
has always paid her way, and brought up four sons and three darters to
be a credit to the estate, and one of them dead in Egypt, and two in
service at the Castle, and one of them her ladyship’s own maid! I’ll
ask your Majesty to please suit yourself this day month, and you may
be sure that the names of their lordships shan’t never cross my lips
again in this house, as ain’t fit to be honoured with them!’ But
there, my lord, when her Majesty was gone, as she did go pretty soon
when I up and spoke my mind like that, and the child put his little
arms round my neck and says, ‘Finish the ’tory, nursie dear,’ what did
I do but finish it? But for all that, I leave this day month, if you
please.”

“I hope you will think better of it, Mrs Jones. The Queen seems rather
worried just now, and perhaps a little vexed with me. I fancy I must
have got upon her nerves. So you mustn’t think she meant all she said;
and if she asks you to stay, I hope you will. After all, you really
are a woman, you know.”

“And if I am, my lord,” returned Mrs Jones, with great dignity, “it
ain’t for any other woman, nor yet for your lordship, to cast it up to
me. Will your lordship be good enough to help me with my journey, or
must I write to Sir Egerton Stratford at Bellaviste?”

“Don’t trouble the British Minister, certainly. I will give you any
help you need. Good afternoon, and pray think better of it.”

Mrs Jones departed, with her head high in air, and Cyril rose from his
chair, and took one or two turns up and down the room.

“This won’t do,” he said to himself. “The Queen must be getting up a
perfect monomania about me, if she flies out at the servants for
merely mentioning my name, and it will grow into a scandal if it goes
on. It is quite evident that it’s no use speaking to her; I must get
at one of the people who know the ropes. Either the Princess of
Dardania or the Princess of Weldart would answer the purpose, but it
would be a long job. And then, the price to be paid for the support of
either of them would be so heavy that the game would certainly not be
worth the candle. One owes something to one’s own self-respect, and I
don’t propose to efface myself politically because an ungrateful
little termagant refuses to see when she is well served. No. I must
have a try at the nearest wire-puller. I never knew the woman yet whom
there was no way to get round, and I shall be surprised if Fräulein
von Staubach is an exception to the rule. But we must go to work
carefully. It would be no good to ask her for an interview, for
nothing would give her greater pleasure than to refuse. She must be
caught with guile. Ah!”

He touched a bell, and one of his clerks appeared.

“Have the repairs yet been put in hand which Fräulein von Staubach
asked for in her maid’s room, in which the snow came through the
roof?”

“Not yet, your Excellency. It appears that the roof is very much out
of repair, and that more work will be needed than we imagined.”

“Very good. Bring me the estimates here, and see that the repairs are
not begun until I give you orders. If Fräulein von Staubach should
inquire the cause of the delay, refer her to me.”

“At the orders of your Excellency,” and the clerk retired, after a
puzzled glance at his superior’s face to discover whether he could be
joking. But Cyril knew now a good deal more about the lady with whom
he had to deal than he had done at the time of their former
acquaintance. Then he had regarded her as a singularly uninteresting
girl, who seemed to have no tastes or interests of her own, and whose
views were coloured by those of any one who came near her. Now he
recognised her as a sentimentalist of the most pronounced German
type--and when a German is sentimental he carries his favourite
quality to such a pitch as to astonish the less impressionable
Englishman. Fräulein von Staubach lived in the joys and sorrows of
others; it would almost be correct to say that she enjoyed both
equally. Her tears and her laughter, her sympathy and her condolences,
were always at the service of her friends, or even of her enemies, if
they could once succeed in obtaining her ear. Her mood was that of her
companion at the moment, but carried to its highest degree; her hopes
were the brightest, her despair the deepest, her misery the most
uncontrolled, in any society. In the same way, she could be absurdly
credulous among trusting people; but once let a suspicion be suggested
to her, and she would speedily astonish its author by her absolute
persuasion of its truth. She called herself a “child of nature,” in
the full belief that she was laying claim to the highest possible
honour, and she hated with a bitter hatred the artificialities of
courts and of polite society generally, after the manner of the
leaders of a minor romantic reaction which had afflicted various
exalted circles in Germany twenty or thirty years before, and which
had also influenced the Princess of Weldart in the education of her
daughter.

It was no surprise to Cyril, therefore, when an imperative knock at
his office-door the next day announced the arrival of Fräulein von
Staubach, who entered the room in a state of the loftiest moral
indignation.

“I have been extremely astonished, Count,” she said severely, as Cyril
rose to receive her, “to hear that you have not only taken no steps to
remedy the inconvenience from which my servant is suffering, but have
even given orders that nothing should be done.”

“I fear you have been misinformed, Fräulein. Nothing could be further
from my mind than to wish to cause inconvenience to any member of the
household. The delay of which you complain arises from the fact that
two alternative schemes have been proposed by the Works Department,
and I am glad to have the opportunity of consulting you on the
subject. Perhaps if you have a minute or two to spare, you will sit
down and look at these estimates. The one provides merely for repairs,
as you will see; the other involves an alteration of the shape of the
roof, which would be an improvement, but would require a good deal of
work and some changing of rooms.”

“I do not wish my maid’s room changed,” said Fräulein von Staubach,
falling into the trap, and accepting the offered chair. “It is very
conveniently situated, and she can talk to the Queen’s dressers if she
feels lonely when I am busy with the King. Still, I will look at the
papers, Count.”

A very short examination of the estimates served to confirm Fräulein
von Staubach in her preference for the simple repairs, which was what
Cyril had intended; but the courtesy shown in allowing her a choice in
the matter worked a distinct change in her manner.

“I am much obliged to you for your kindness, Count,” she said, as she
handed the papers back to Cyril. “I see that I misjudged you when I
thought you had arranged this delay for the purpose of vexing me. My
maid is a faithful servant, and I could not endure to see her badly
treated.”

“No, indeed; I am only sorry that every one is not so considerate as
yourself, Fräulein. Faithful servants are hard to find, and should be
prized.” A pause, and then Cyril went on, “That is why I am so sorry
to hear that Mrs Jones intends to leave the Queen’s service almost
immediately.”

“You cannot regret it more than I do, Count. Since she saved the
King’s life in that attack of croup, one has felt it impossible to
value her too highly. Again, she has such an excellent influence over
his Majesty.”

“True, and such an influence is much needed. But what gives me even
more concern, Fräulein, is the cause of her departure. Mrs Jones is
not a tell-tale; but she is certain to be asked why she resigned her
post, and when it comes out that it was because the Queen, in a fit of
ill-temper, called her names, the impression produced cannot fail to
be a most deplorable one.”

“Count!” Fräulein von Staubach sat erect, but her tone was one of
consternation rather than anger, “You are right; that had not struck
me. Her Majesty has undoubtedly been imprudent.”

“We may find some difficulty in filling Mrs Jones’s place, I fear. But
then, of course, it is possible----;” Cyril fell into a reverie.

“Possible? what?” asked Fräulein von Staubach anxiously.

“It is possible that the nation may think it desirable that the King
should be removed from the sole care of ladies sooner than was
originally contemplated. I tell you this in confidence, of
course”--“in full confidence that the Queen will hear every word of it
at the first opportunity,” he added to himself.

“It cannot be! You would not have the heart to separate so young a
child from his mother?”

“I said nothing about separation, Fräulein. What I was thinking of
was merely the provision of a suitable household of his own for his
Majesty, and the appointment of a state governor and tutors.”

“But it would all come between them. You could not be so cruel. It
would kill the Queen.” Fräulein von Staubach’s tones thrilled with
anguish.

“I am proposing nothing, Fräulein. My duty is merely to act as a
member of the Ministry, and the duty of the Ministry is to do what is
best for the kingdom. Consider a moment. You will scarcely deny that
his Majesty is developing a very imperious and violent temper. I
myself saw him strike his mother in the face yesterday, when she
thwarted some whim of his.”

“You saw it? The Queen was cry----talking about it last night, but she
did not say you were there. But who can wonder that the King should
have an ungoverned temper, Count? Think what his mother’s life has
been!”

“I am not now discussing past history, which is unhappily beyond
mending, Fräulein. If the King’s disposition is not to be ruined, he
must be taught to control his temper and keep it in check. Since the
one person who treats him sensibly is leaving him, I fear the council
of Ministers will feel it necessary to place him under a stricter
rule.”

“Sensibly! You are using very strange language, Count.”

“It is quite possible, Fräulein; but I mean what I say. To Mrs Jones
it is all the same whether a child is a King or a beggar. If he is in
her charge, she makes him ‘mind’ her, as she calls it. Now I ask you,
as a conscientious woman, is not her method more likely to produce
good results than that of--another lady--who alternates between
humouring his most unreasonable wishes, and thwarting his most
innocent ones because she is--well, angry herself?”

“I cannot remain here to listen to such words about the Queen, Count.”

“Forgive me for wearying you, Fräulein. I am afraid I am rather an
enthusiast on the subject of education. But I won’t bore you any more
with my theories.”

“You are trying to revenge yourself upon the Queen by torturing her
through her son!” burst from Fräulein von Staubach.

“Surely, Fräulein, you must be aware that her Majesty makes my post
such a delightful one, and responds with so much alacrity to the
slightest suggestion I may venture to make for her guidance, that the
feeling at which you hint would be entirely out of place and uncalled
for?”

“She--she has not perhaps treated you as graciously as you may have
expected; but then, is it noble--is it even manly--to act in this way?
To work upon an unhappy mother’s feelings----”

“Fräulein, permit me to remind you that you are speaking of her
Majesty in terms for which there is no justification. If I had any
wish for revenge--to which you seem to consider I am entitled--I could
find no better way of wreaking it than by simply resigning my office
and returning to England. I am actuated by no feelings but those of
the greatest respect and kindness towards the Queen, who was left in
my charge under the most solemn circumstances by my dead friend. It is
not my fault, but I fear it will be her own great misfortune, that she
herself is the worst enemy of her son’s kingdom.”

“I wish I could trust you!” she cried with a gasp. “But no, you must
have some other motive. You could not endure her coldness, her
childish peevishness, her foolish little affronts, as you do, unless
you had some end in view.”

“My end is solely to see King Michael seated safely on his father’s
throne, Fräulein. I have given up my life first to Otto Georg and now
to his son, and it strikes one as a little hard that the sacrifice
should be supposed to be made for the sake of some personal advantage.
If you can suggest one, I should be glad to hear it, for I confess it
has occurred to me more than once that I am wasting my pains on an
ungrateful family.”

“I long to believe you,” said Fräulein von Staubach. “I might be able
to make your path easier, but how can I, knowing what I know? I
remember you of old--your intrigues, your deceptions, all the course
of trickery you carried on when your brother was King. I do not--I
cannot--believe that you have really changed.”

“Perhaps, Fräulein, you will believe in my disinterestedness when the
kingdom is ruined in spite of my best efforts. Pray don’t
misunderstand me. I am not uttering any threat, for I shall continue
to do my best for the King, for his father’s sake. But I cannot hope
to succeed, and you know to whom my failure will be owing.”

“I wish I could trust you!” she said again, as she passed out of the
door he held open for her, and Cyril went back to his desk well
pleased.

“Now she is divided in mind,” he said to himself. “The new light is
beating fiercely on all her preconceived notions of a martyr Queen
persecuted by a revengeful Minister. She will do all she can to
reconcile the two views, and meanwhile she will improve matters a
little.”

And Cyril turned his attention to other subjects, feeling perfect
confidence in his new agent. It was no surprise to him a few days
later to receive a visit from Mrs Jones, who entered the office with a
face wreathed in smiles.

“You’ll be pleased to hear as I’ve changed my mind about goin’ home,
my lord,” she said. “I hope as your lordship haven’t give yourself no
trouble about findin’ out trains for me?”

“I am extremely glad to hear this,” returned Cyril. “You decided that
you had been a little too hasty, I suppose?”

“No, my lord, that I never will give in to. Them as was hasty has made
amends, as was proper. Her Majesty come into my nursery this mornin’,
and I stood up very stiff-like, as my feelin’s bein’ hurt. But she
speaks to me very pleasant, and says, says she, ‘Mrs Jones, I spoke
hasty to you a short time ago, and it may be that through ignorance of
your language I said more nor I meant. I hope very much that you have
made no other arrangements, and will stay with us. I ask it as a
favour to myself, and also to the King, as will break his heart if you
leave him.’ There, my lord! I was all in a flutter to think of a
crowned Queen talkin’ to me of favours, and the little King come
runnin’ and says, ‘Nursie not goin’ away. Nursie stay and tell
stories,’ and I burst out cryin’ like any old crocodile, as they say,
and told the Queen that my heart was just about broke to think of
leavin’, and that I asked no better than to stay. And this afternoon
her Majesty have sent me a beautiful gown-piece of black silk, that
thick you might use it for a parachute if you wanted to, and so I’ve
took back my notice, my lord.”

This was extremely satisfactory so far as it went, but Cyril was not
long in discovering that the part he had played with respect to Mrs
Jones’s remaining a member of the royal household was not appreciated
by the Queen. It was tolerably clear that Fräulein von Staubach had
repeated verbatim, or, at any rate, rather in an exaggerated than a
diminished form, the conversation she had held with him, and that the
Queen had taken it to heart. She was very careful in these days to
entrench herself behind an impassable barrier of etiquette, and she
indulged in no freaks and no outbursts of temper, while yet she kept
Cyril at a distance, and made it evident that he was in disgrace. This
little exhibition of spite could do Cyril no harm, for he still held
the reins of authority and controlled the purse-strings; but it was a
very uncomfortable state of affairs for the other members of the
Court, who were obliged to do their utmost to keep in favour with both
parties. In these circumstances, Cyril thought it a suitable
opportunity to ask for a few days’ leave of absence in order to pay
his projected visit to Bellaviste, and the permission was granted with
a most unflattering readiness, which, however, only caused him
amusement.

“I don’t think she’ll be up to much in the way of tricks while I’m
gone,” he said to himself; “this last pulling-up has taken her rather
aback. She must know that I shall hear of all that goes on, and hurry
back if there is anything wrong. I don’t really like going, and yet I
must have a word or two with Drakovics. He shall learn to understand
that our partnership is not to be all on one side. If he is not going
to back me up, he may look out for some one else to pull the chestnuts
out of the fire for him. And I’m not sorry to have a little change
from this wretched place. I wonder whether there would be time to run
up to Vienna for a day or two? Oh no; my precious charge would be
getting into mischief, and, after all, Bellaviste is better than this
dull hole. Nothing much can happen in five days. The servants know
that I am master, and Stefanovics and the Baroness will keep me posted
up. If any one launches out on the strength of my being gone, I shall
be able to deal with them when I come back.”

But on the day before that fixed for his departure, he discovered that
his authority in the household was not quite so firmly rooted as he
had imagined. It happened that in the course of the morning a telegram
arrived for him, and was brought into his office by one of the royal
footmen. The telegram was of little importance, but something
unfamiliar in the aspect of the bearer struck Cyril.

“Wait a minute,” he said, as the man was leaving the room. “How is
this? You are not Alexander Sergeivics, but Peter, and you were one of
the servants left at Bellaviste to look after the Palace.”

“Yes, Excellency; but my brother’s wife is dangerously ill at
Bellaviste, and I am taking his place that he may be with her.”

“Indeed! an excellent arrangement; but you will have to learn, and so
will your brother, that servants in the royal household are not at
liberty to exchange their posts to suit their own convenience.”

“Not if they have her Majesty’s sanction, Excellency?” There was
triumph clearly visible under the man’s deferential manner.

“Her Majesty’s pleasure overrides all regulations, of course. I am to
understand that your brother obtained her consent?”

“It is so, Excellency. Having obtained leave of absence, I came to
Tatarjé to tell my brother about his wife, and her Majesty, on
hearing the news, granted him permission to return to Bellaviste
immediately. When my brother ventured to suggest that it was requisite
for him to obtain leave from your Excellency, her Majesty was pleased
to say, ‘What has Count Mortimer to do with it? I have told you to go,
I the Queen. That is enough.’”

“Quite enough,” returned Cyril genially. “Ask M. Paschics to step this
way, and to bring with him the household book. The change and the
reason for it must be entered.”

The man departed, and Cyril walked to the window.

“There’s something fishy about the business,” he said; “but the Queen
has made it next to impossible to clear it up. I am pretty sure I
remember that there was something suspicious about this man Peter.
Come in, Paschics.”

M. Paschics, who entered in response to the invitation, was ostensibly
Cyril’s most confidential clerk, and there were only a few who knew
that he was in reality a member of the Secret Police, specially
detailed to watch over the royal household. The book which he brought
with him was to all appearance merely a record of the comings, goings,
and conduct of the domestics attached to the Court; but by means of a
series of private marks, the meaning of which was known only to
himself and Cyril, it contained also an account of their political
opinions and personal histories.

“You have heard that Peter Sergeivics is at present taking his
brother’s place,” said Cyril. “Turn up his name, and let me see what
there is against him.”

“He is a member of the Golden Eagle Society for the study of Scythian
literature, your Excellency, and has been heard on several occasions
to express approval of the sentiments uttered on St Gabriel’s day by
his Beatitude the Metropolitan.”

“I knew there was something wrong. Those literary societies are
invariably political clubs in disguise. Well, Paschics, this man is to
be watched. Notice his resorts and his associates, and let me know the
result of your shadowing.”

“Yes, your Excellency. He is not on duty this afternoon and evening,
and I hear that he is going into the town. As a stranger, he wishes to
see what the place is like.”

“And very natural too. If he finds any friends here, it is as well
that we should know it. That is all for the present.”

Paschics retired, and Cyril returned to his accounts. Later in the day
he was witness of a curious little incident which he did not at the
time connect with Peter Sergeivics and his suspicious record, but
which proved afterwards to have a bearing upon it. Standing at a
window which overlooked the approach, Cyril saw, to his astonishment,
the O’Malachy advancing to the door of the Villa. His clothes were
faultless, his moustache waxed; there was something jaunty about his
very limp. A stranger would have taken him for a prince travelling
_incognito_, or at the least for an exquisite of the Pannonian Court;
and Cyril, who knew him only too well, wondered what on earth he was
up to now. The door of the room was slightly ajar, and he heard the
familiar voice, with its rich rolling intonation, asking leave to see
over the Villa. The obvious answer was returned that sightseers were
not admitted at present, to which the O’Malachy appeared to reply by
producing the local guidebook, which mentioned that visitors were
allowed to go through the State apartments on two days in the week. On
being assured, however, that this did not apply to the times at which
the Court was in residence, he perceived his error, and retired, with
profuse apologies, to view the Villa from the gardens, admission to
which was practically unrestricted.

“Pretty cool cheek of him to come here!” said Cyril to himself. “I
wonder he didn’t make use of my name as a reference. Now, what was the
object of this, I should like to know?”

But his curiosity remained unsatisfied, and he thought no more of
either the O’Malachy or Sergeivics until Paschics presented himself as
soon as he entered his office the next morning. A glance at the
detective’s face showed Cyril that he was bubbling over with news, and
he looked about for eavesdroppers, and made sure that the door and
windows were shut, before he would allow him to tell his tale.

“According to your Excellency’s orders, I shadowed Peter Sergeivics
yesterday,” began Paschics. “In the afternoon I saw him leave the
Villa by the servants’ entrance, and take the road to the town. While
still in the grounds, however, he was met by an elderly gentleman of
military appearance, walking with a slight limp.” Cyril uttered an
exclamation. “As your Excellency has surmised, I recognised this
person as the Scythian officer who was arrested by mistake some time
ago, and set at liberty immediately afterwards. Perceiving by his
livery that Sergeivics belonged to the household, he stopped him, and
apparently requested him to point out to him the principal
architectural features of the Villa; for Sergeivics gave up his
intention of proceeding to the town, and escorted him round the
gardens, exhibiting the chief points of interest. I must confess with
regret that I could not succeed in following them sufficiently closely
to hear their conversation. At last Colonel O’Malachy presented
Sergeivics with a handsome _pourboire_, and departed. I discovered
afterwards that he had tried to gain admission to the interior of the
Villa, but had been refused an entrance.”

Cyril nodded. “I saw that myself,” he said.

“After this, your Excellency, Sergeivics returned to the servants’
quarters, and did not go out again until the evening. Following upon
his steps, I tracked him to a tavern in a low part of the town. Having
seen him seated at one of the tables, I hurried to the lodging of an
acquaintance of mine near at hand, and borrowed from him the long
coat, high boots, and fur cap of a droschky-driver. With the aid of
the wig and false beard which I always carry about with me, my
disguise was complete, and I entered the tavern and sat down at the
same table as my quarry. I then noticed that the table was close to
the end of a passage, in which was a door. From time to time one of
the men in the room would enter the passage and disappear through the
doorway. Again, several persons came in one by one from the street,
and, believing themselves unnoticed, also slipped through. Among
these, I am certain, was Colonel O’Malachy. He was disguised in a
country cloak and cap; but I could not mistake his limp, nor his white
moustache. I observed that all who passed in at this mysterious door
were subjected to some test. They knocked, I think, in a peculiar
scraping manner; but I cannot be sure of this, owing to the distance
and to the noise around me, and also to the necessity of not appearing
to watch too closely. Moreover, certain questions, which also I could
not hear, were asked and answered before the door was opened. Then, as
it seemed to me, a badge of some kind was exhibited, which was worn on
the under-side of the left-hand lapel of the coat, and admission was
immediately granted. All this time, your Excellency, I was behaving as
though I had already drunk too much brandy, and offering to treat
Sergeivics and the other guests. The Thracians, as your Excellency
knows, do not become hilarious when excited by liquor; but I was
talkative and inclined to be quarrelsome. Sergeivics tried to shake me
off, and when he thought he had directed my attention to a group of
fresh arrivals, rose and endeavoured to slip down the passage. But I
caught him by the coat, and said in a drunken voice, ‘Not so fast, my
friend. There seems to be something interesting going on in there, and
I should like to come too.’ He looked at me as though he could have
killed me, but bent over the table and fixed me with his eye. ‘Look
here,’ he said, ‘I have no business to tell you what it is; but you
have been so liberal with the brandy that I don’t mind letting you
know in confidence. You have heard of the Freemasons?’ ‘Oh yes,’ I
said; ‘they worship the devil, and their rites are proscribed.’
‘Stuff!’ he said; ‘that is what the priests tell you. Count Mortimer
himself is a Freemason, and therefore the police have orders to wink
at their doings, in spite of the law. This is one of their lodges, and
I am a member, so you see I can’t take you in, much as I should like.’
I gave a tipsy grunt, and let him go, when he vanished down the
passage at once. I sat there some time longer, talking and treating,
and saw other people go in, some of them officers, as I knew by their
walk, and others, I am sure, priests. Then, fearing to arouse
suspicion, I staggered out, and, taking up a position from which I
could watch the place, tracked Sergeivics back to the Villa about an
hour and a half later. That is my report, your Excellency.”

“And a very good one it is. I shall require you again presently,
Paschics. You can go now, and tell Sergeivics that I want him.”

“But your Excellency does not intend to tax the man with his
treachery? He will be desperate--and he is probably armed.”

“So am I,” was the brief response; and Paschics retired. When
Sergeivics entered the room, Cyril was seated at his writing-table,
looking for something in one of the drawers.

“Ah, Peter Sergeivics--wait a minute,” he said, glancing up. “By the
way, what’s that on the left-hand lapel of your coat?”

The man’s face turned pale, and his hand went up in a terrified
snatch. Finding nothing, he recollected himself immediately.

“Perhaps you will kindly tell me what is wrong there, Excellency?”

“Nothing--now,” responded Cyril; “but something very wrong was there
last night.” There was a sudden movement of the footman’s arm, but
Cyril was too quick for him. The right hand which had been hidden in
the drawer came up suddenly, holding a revolver. “Throw up your hands
this moment, and stand where you are, or you are a dead man!” were the
words which smote upon the ear of the astonished Sergeivics, as he
found himself covered by the weapon.

“You will not murder me, Excellency?” he faltered.

“Not on any account; but I shall have no compunction in killing you in
self-defence. Peter Sergeivics, you came to Tatarjé under the orders
of a revolutionary committee, charged to help them in carrying out
their schemes. By an ingenious device, you obtained an opportunity for
receiving orders from the Scythian agent here and furnishing him with
information. Last night you attended a meeting at which the final
plans for the outbreak were agreed upon, and the parts to be played by
the various conspirators assigned to them.”

“What does your Excellency want with me?” whined the luckless man.

“I want nothing, as you see. If you care to offer any information, the
fact will be taken into account in deciding your sentence. If you do
not, you will merely be dismissed from the royal household, and it
will become known that you have retired with a pension, awarded in
consideration of the loyal assistance furnished by you to the
Government, which has led to the detection of the plot.”

Sergeivics writhed. “You know that I should be dead within an hour,
Excellency,” he whimpered. “If I tell you all I know, will you
guarantee that I shall be saved from the vengeance of the rest?”

“Stay where you are, if you please,” as the wretched man made a
movement as though to throw himself at Cyril’s feet. “It will be just
as uncomfortable for you to be shot by me as by your
fellow-conspirators. I have said that I do not ask you for
information; but if yours should prove to be of any value, I will
guarantee that you shall be sent to Bellaviste under a sufficient
escort to protect you from the vengeance of your friends. This is
showing quite undeserved mercy to one who has deliberately plotted to
murder the Queen and the young King----”

“Never, Excellency! There was no thought of murder. We merely----”

“Ah, your information differs from mine, then?”

“Your Excellency must have been misinformed. Our object was simply to
secure the persons of the King and Queen, and to induce the Queen to
consent to the King’s conversion to the Orthodox faith.”

“To induce her? yes. And when persuasion failed----?”

The man’s face grew pale again. “There was something said about a few
days without food for the Queen, and the knowledge that her child and
attendants were suffering in the same way,” he muttered.

“Exactly; and what would that have meant but murder, in the case of
delicate women and a child? And this precious scheme was to be carried
out to-night, was it, that you might have at least three clear days
before I should begin to feel surprised at receiving no news from
Tatarjé? or perhaps you would like to set me right on this point
also?”

“No, Excellency; your information is correct.”

“And the plot is supported by the garrison, the Church, and the
townspeople, headed no doubt by the mayor?”

“Yes, Excellency; and as you know, of course----”

“Yes, I was waiting for this. By whom besides?”

“I--I fear your Excellency knows more than I do. The message which the
head of our circle at Bellaviste gave me to bring here was merely that
a certain person was propitious, but must not be too confidently
relied upon.”

“Take care. To whom did you understand that message to allude?”

“To--to the Metropolitan, Excellency.”

“You are telling me lies.”

“No, no, indeed, Excellency. I will swear it by the Holy Fire, by all
the saints! We of the lower levels are not admitted into the
possession of important secrets, but we conjectured among ourselves
that the Metropolitan was meant.”

“Well, be careful. To continue: the King and Queen were to be
imprisoned in the Bishop’s Palace, which is capable of standing a
siege; and when the conversion was effected, the Queen was to be
further compelled to place the kingdom under the protection of
Scythia, and request the favour and support of the Emperor?”

“Yes, Excellency.”

“And if by any chance I did not start to-night for Bellaviste, I was
to be killed?”

“That is only natural, Excellency.”

“Quite so. Well, I will take you with me to Bellaviste when I start
to-night.”

“You start to-night, Excellency? But--the station is watched. Their
Majesties will not be allowed to travel.”

“That need not interfere with my journey. I have unmasked plots before
this one, my friend. You see this cigarette-case with the monogram in
brilliants? I will place it on the edge of the table close to you.
Lower your left hand--be careful, I am ready to shoot--take the case,
and put it in your right-hand outside pocket. You understand? Good.”

He rang sharply the bell which stood on the table, and Paschics burst
open the door and rushed in, followed by two or three servants, and
pausing in astonishment when he saw the tranquil condition of affairs.

“I must have this man searched,” said Cyril. “I suspect him of being
in possession of the cigarette-case presented to me by the Emperor of
Pannonia, and bearing his Majesty’s cipher in brilliants. It is
possible that you may find other stolen property upon him as well. I
missed one of my revolvers the day before yesterday.”

In an instant Sergeivics was seized and held by two footmen while
Paschics searched his pockets. The cigarette-case and a revolver were
produced almost immediately, and laid in triumph on the table; but
nothing else was revealed by the search. Cyril nodded pleasantly.

“I thought so,” he said. “Well, it is quite out of the question that I
should postpone my journey on account of this, and therefore the man
had better be taken to Bellaviste to-night by the train in which I
shall travel. Instruct the police to provide a proper guard, M.
Paschics, and report to me when you have made arrangements.”



 CHAPTER X.
 A NEW RELATIONSHIP.

Left to himself, Cyril rose from his chair, and began to walk
rapidly up and down the room, maturing some plan in his mind as he
walked. Once or twice his meditations were interrupted by the entrance
of a servant with a letter or a message; but he disposed quickly of
these stray pieces of business, and returned to the consideration of
his more important scheme. When Paschics came back, he sent him to
summon M. Stefanovics, and then unfolded to the two men the tale of
the conspiracy which he had forced from the wretched Sergeivics.

“But this is fearful!” cried M. Stefanovics. “Surely you have taken
some steps, Count? Their Majesties ought to have left the town
already.”

“The railway-station is watched, and even if it was too early to
oppose the departure of the Court by force, nothing could be easier
than to wreck the train,” said Cyril curtly.

“But why not telegraph for help to Bellaviste--or to Feodoratz, if M.
Drakovics is too far off to be of any assistance?”

“Because I have for some time past suspected that some one was
tampering with our telegrams, and now I am sure of it. I have just
received a telegram which ought to have reached me three days ago, but
which the operator says must have been delayed in transmission. It is
from M. Drakovics, begging me not to leave Tatarjé until I have heard
again from him, and if it had arrived in proper time it would have
delayed my journey. Now, of course, it is too late.”

The eyes of the other two men met with a puzzled expression. “But if
you suspect the officials here,” suggested M. Stefanovics, “why not
despatch a telegram from some point outside the city?”

“Because the danger does not arise merely from treachery here. That
would scarcely explain the delay in this telegram, and certainly not
the confusion and omissions which have puzzled me in others. No; I
believe that the conspirators are in the habit of tapping the wires
between this and Bellaviste, and so reading, and occasionally
altering, the telegrams which pass between the Premier and myself.”

“Then, you consider, Count, that to telegraph for assistance would
simply defeat all our hopes of catching the miscreants unawares?”

“Exactly. Whatever is to be done must be done from this end.”

“You would perhaps suggest that their Majesties should cross the
frontier, and take refuge in Dardanian territory?”

“No. I had thought of that at first; but besides producing an
extremely unfortunate impression abroad, the attempt would be useless,
for the Prince and Princess have left their country residence, and
returned to Bashi Konak for the opening of the Legislature.”

“But still, would it not be advisable for their Majesties, under the
pretext of a simple drive, to cross into Dardania, and then to make
all speed for Bashi Konak?”

“It might be, except that everybody in the Villa and the town knows
that no one belonging to the Court will drive to-day. You cannot
surely have forgotten that the Queen is commemorating the late King’s
birthday in retirement in her own apartments? If orders were given to
prepare a carriage, it would instantly be surmised that something
alarming had occurred, and a small band of resolute men could easily
stop us at a dozen points between this and the Dardanian frontier.
Moreover, we must not forget that the relations between the Scythian
and Dardanian Courts are very close, and to my mind the message
brought by this man Sergeivics to his fellow-conspirators here points
to some knowledge of the plot on the part of Baron Natarin, if not of
a more exalted individual behind him. It might even be a portion of
the design to drive her Majesty into seeking refuge in Dardania.”

“One must hope,” said M. Stefanovics, with some pique, “that you have
some plan of your own to propose for securing the safety of their
Majesties, Count, since you see so many flaws in all that I can
suggest.”

“Exactly; I have a plan--but I know that you will see innumerable
flaws in it, although it is the only one that seems to me to offer a
hope of success.”

“If it commends itself to your Excellency,” said Paschics stoutly,
“that is enough for me.”

M. Stefanovics gave a nod of acquiescence, and Cyril brought out a map
of the district and unrolled it. “You perceive,” he said, “that in
this case the railway and the telegraph, instead of being, as usual,
our friends, are our enemies, since they are in the power of the
conspirators. My idea is, then, to avoid them altogether, and provide
a means of escape for their Majesties by way of the old post-road,
which takes quite a different route from the railway, and reaches at
last the estates of Prince Mirkovics, whose loyalty no one can doubt,
and who will provide us with a safe asylum until help can be obtained
from Bellaviste.”

“But you forget, my dear Count, that spring can scarcely be said to
have begun, and that the post-road passes through the forest and
across the mountains before it reaches the Mirkovics domain.”

“I do not forget it; but this is a matter of life and death,
Stefanovics.”

“But surely the presence of so large a body of travellers on the old
road would create such a stir that it would be impossible for the
Court to travel unnoticed, not to mention the difficulty of providing
transport for so many?”

“You are right, and delay or recognition would simply mean that we
should be pursued and brought back. No; I do not intend to conduct a
Court progress, after the manner of a second flight to Varennes. My
idea is simply that M. Paschics and I should smuggle the Queen, the
little King, and one lady-in-waiting, through the country in
disguise.”

The audacity of the proposal took away M. Stefanovics’s breath.

“And the rest of the Court?” he inquired blankly.

“I am afraid they must stay here, in blissful ignorance, until the
escape of their Majesties is discovered. The conspirators are not
likely to be bloodthirsty, except in the case of unfortunate suspects
like myself.”

“We are to remain at the Villa, while you and the Queen--Holy Peter!
do you imagine the Queen would ever consent to such a plan of escape,
Count?”

“I trust she may, if it is put before her suddenly. If she had time to
think over it, I agree with you that there would be no hope. You see
how the thing works out. I must pretend to start for Bellaviste as I
had arranged to do, in order to avert suspicion; but you must let me
into the Villa again by the private stairway. Then we must lay the
matter before the Queen, and prevail upon her to start at once. We can
only count on being left in peace until the time when the Villa is
usually quiet for the night.”

“The risk is terrible. And yet, what else----? But you will never
obtain her Majesty’s consent.”

“Then her Majesty will have the pleasure of seeing me shot down before
her eyes, I presume. But do you agree to the plan in so far as you are
concerned?”

“How can I venture to object to it? It seems the only hope, and you
are risking more than the rest of us. A few days’ imprisonment would
be the worst punishment we should receive. But the hardships of your
journey will be dreadful for women and a child.”

“Better than the dungeons of the Bishop’s palace--that is all one can
say. The season is altogether on the side of the conspirators. Then
you will come into the scheme, Stefanovics? Now, Paschics, for your
part. You have some relations living not far off, I believe?”

“Yes, Excellency; a married brother, who farms his own land.”

“And you did not go to see them at Christmas, I think? Well, it will
be convenient if you pay them a visit to-day. Start after lunch, and
take a bag--full of presents for the children, or delicacies from the
town, or anything of the sort. You may let it be known that you will
not be back to-night. At your brother’s, hire his lightest cart, with
the two best horses he has, and tell him he will find it the day after
to-morrow left for him at No. 4 posting-house on the old road to
Bellaviste. Put in some straw--as much as you can--and any rugs you
can get to make it comfortable, and as soon as it is dark this
evening, drive the cart to the spot where the corner of the Alexova
estate touches the old road. Wait there under the trees and give your
horses a good feed. If we succeed we will join you; if not, you had
better get back to your brother’s as fast as you can, for your own
sake. By the bye, could you disguise yourself as a courier?”

“With the greatest ease, your Excellency.”

“Then take with you anything you will require. You will be wanted
to-morrow as courier to an English family whose carriage has met with
an accident. I will see about the passport.”

“One moment, Count,” said M. Stefanovics, with some embarrassment. “I
do not wish to interfere with your excellent plans; but you are, after
all, a young man and unmarried. Would it not be more suitable--less
open to unfavourable remark--if Madame Stefanovics and I undertook the
responsible task of conducting her Majesty’s flight, in conjunction,
of course, with M. Paschics?”

“It would simply be putting my neck in a noose,” muttered Paschics,
gazing apprehensively at the placid face and comfortable girth of the
worthy chamberlain.

“I have no objection whatever,” returned Cyril. “You must see for
yourself that I risk my life in coming back at all, and the slightest
misfortune or accident might lead to our being hunted down like
wolves. By all means carry the thing through, Stefanovics. No doubt
you have more influence than I have over the Queen, who is not exactly
the easiest of ladies to manage.”

“True,” remarked M. Stefanovics sadly. “Count, I have done you an
injustice. You alone can carry out this scheme, if any one can do it.
I will not venture, for I should only fail, and do harm to others.”

Cyril laughed silently to himself as the two men left the room, and
then turned his attention to arranging several matters of importance
connected with the great scheme. It was necessary first to write to M.
Drakovics; but when the letter was finished he put it into his pocket,
and did not post it. Next he busied himself in drawing up a passport
for the party of English travellers of whom he had spoken to Paschics,
and who comprised a Mrs Weston, her brother, her little son, her
nurse, and an Italian courier. The document did not leave Cyril’s
hands; but when he had finished with it, it bore other signatures than
his, carefully copied from a genuine passport which lay before him on
the table. There was one thing which he did not attempt to
imitate--the stamp of the frontier official whose duty it was to see
that all passports were in order. Cyril had not a stamp at hand, and
it would risk suspicion, and certainly cause delay, to send for one,
while a bad imitation might arouse doubts as to the genuineness of the
whole thing. It went to his heart to set out with the document
incomplete; but he knew that it is sometimes necessary to sacrifice
technical perfection to practical utility, and after drying his
handiwork carefully in the sun, he put it by safely. He had intended
after this to take advantage of Dietrich’s absence at dinner to go to
his own quarters and pack a small bag with necessaries, hiding it in
his office, where the valet would not be likely to find it; but he
decided that it was improbable he would be able to carry it, and
contented himself with putting two or three indispensable articles in
his pockets. There were still various things to be arranged in view of
his impending departure, and he spent the afternoon in attending to
these. He had his farewell audience of the Queen, dined with the
household, and drove to the station with Stefanovics, who was deputed
to see him off. There were several dignitaries on the platform, who
had come for the same purpose--the mayor of the town, the commandant
of the garrison, an archdeacon to represent the Bishop, and one or two
others. It was only right that they should be there; but Cyril felt
sure that some of them would have found excuses and stayed away if it
had not been that they were eager to assure themselves of his
departure by the evidence of their own eyes. He stayed on the platform
talking to them for some minutes, and then entered his carriage, which
was one of those belonging to the royal train, but had been detailed
for the service of the Minister of the Household.

“It’s a blessing all that fuss is over!” he said aloud, as the door
was shut after he had shaken hands with the officials outside. “Now
that we are left to ourselves, Dietrich, I think I will change my
things. What is the good of a holiday if one doesn’t wear holiday
clothes?”

To Dietrich, who knew that his master shared the incomprehensible
dislike of most Englishmen for livery of any kind, it was quite
natural that he should be anxious to change his official uniform at
once for a suit of ordinary clothes, and the transformation was
quickly effected and concealed by the regulation overcoat which had
been worn in driving to the station. It was well that this precaution
had been taken, for before long a sudden hubbub arose on the platform,
followed by a visit of the mayor to the carriage. Sergeivics, with his
escort of police, had just been conducted to a third-class
compartment, and the gentlemen on the platform were anxious to know of
what crime he was accused. Happily Cyril was able to gratify their
curiosity by a vivid description of the theft of the cigarette-case,
aggravated, as it was, by the possession of the revolver, which had,
no doubt, also been purloined, and his account interested them so much
that they all crowded into the carriage to hear it. Cyril began to
fear that they would insist on travelling with him as far as the next
station, which would have complicated matters seriously; but it was as
important for them to be in Tatarjé that night as to see him out of
it, and they returned to the platform precipitately when the bell
rang. The moment for Cyril’s great _coup_ was close at hand; but there
was not the slightest trace of excitement visible in his manner as he
stretched himself in an arm-chair, and raised his arms behind his head
in a long yawn.

“I shan’t want you any more to-night, Dietrich; and don’t come
bothering me at every station. Get a good night’s rest; I shall ring
fast enough if I want you. And, by the bye, if I don’t call out to you
when we get to Bellaviste in the morning, don’t come in and wake me.
See that the car is shunted into the siding, and take this letter
straight to his Excellency the Premier. You understand? You are not to
lose a minute. Then go home: if I have got there before you, it will
be all right; if not, wait for orders. You can go now.”

But Dietrich had failed fully to comprehend the order, and it was
necessary to repeat and emphasise it, so that the train was already in
motion when he betook himself to his own compartment. Cyril, who had
drawn up one of the blinds, and was bowing his farewells to the group
on the platform, turned with a sudden quickening of the heart as he
heard the door shut behind the valet. The speed was increasing; in
another moment his time for action would come. He threw off his
overcoat, and felt mechanically in his pockets to see whether he had
transferred to them everything he wanted. The train moved slowly out
of the lighted station into the dark night, and Cyril opened the door
of communication, and stepped out on the gangway between the two
carriages. Climbing over the railing, he remained for a moment holding
to its outer edge, then let himself drop. He fell clear of the line,
and rolled out of the way of the train, remaining prostrate at the
side of the road until the last carriage had passed, then climbed the
bank (the station stood outside the town), and plunged into the wood
which fringed it. He had studied his route carefully on the map, and
carried a compass on his watch-chain, which he consulted every now and
then with the help of a match, so that he succeeded in making his way
safely round the outskirts of the town without approaching any house.
He was tired, wet, and muddy when he reached at length the wall which
surrounded the grounds of the Villa, and he felt it to be an
additional grievance that he failed to strike the gate exactly, and
had to make a considerable circuit before he came to it. The gate was
reached at last, however, and it responded easily and noiselessly to
the well-oiled key which he took from his pocket. Crossing the
grounds, he came to the shrubbery opposite the terrace, and for some
few minutes watched the sentry pacing up and down. Then there came the
sound of the opening of a door, and the little red ball of light from
a cigar became visible. This was the signal which Cyril had agreed
upon with Stefanovics, and the next time that the sentry’s back was
turned he crept across the terrace, and arrived in the doorway so
suddenly as to startle the chamberlain almost into a cry. Leaving the
door ajar, they crept up the narrow winding staircase on which it
opened, and which was a relic of the days of the last king of the
house of Franza. It communicated with a room which had been used by
King Peter for receiving his Ministers--and other persons--and which
now served the Queen for holding private audiences. She disliked the
secret stair on account of its associations, and had wished to have it
bricked up; but Cyril had succeeded in persuading her that it was an
interesting historic survival, and might possibly prove useful again,
little thinking how soon he was to discover the truth of his own
words. One of the only two keys which fitted this door was in his
possession by virtue of his office, and the lock moved easily.

“Ask to speak to Baroness von Hilfenstein,” he whispered to
Stefanovics, as the latter preceded him into the room; “but on no
account let out that I am here until you are sure that no one else can
hear what you have to say.”

He waited in darkness behind the partially closed door until the sound
of voices showed him that Stefanovics had succeeded in finding some
one; but still he was not summoned, and time was flying. Pushing open
the door, he appeared in the room, to the accompaniment of a little
scream from the Baroness, and an outpouring of self-justification from
Stefanovics.

“The Baroness refuses to admit us to her Majesty’s presence, Count,
although she tells me that the Queen has sent away her maids, and is
talking over the fire with Fräulein von Staubach. It is in vain that
I----”

“Consider the hour, my dear Count,” said the Baroness reprovingly. “I
must beg of you to retire immediately. It is in the highest degree
irregular for you to seek an audience of the Queen at such a time.”

“My dear Baroness,” returned Cyril, “you know me pretty well by this
time, and will believe me when I tell you that my business is of such
importance that if you won’t consent to inform her Majesty of my
desire to see her I must announce myself.”

After a glance at his face to assure herself that he was in earnest,
the Baroness withdrew without a word, and the next sound that reached
his ears was the Queen’s voice in the adjoining room.

“Count Mortimer here again? I thought we were free from him for a week
at least! He asks to see me at this hour? The man must be mad. Most
certainly I refuse to see him, Baroness. Be so good as to tell him
that I shall know how to resent this intrusion.”

A low-toned remonstrance from the Baroness and a frightened murmur
from Fräulein von Staubach followed, interrupted ruthlessly by Cyril.

“Madame,” he cried, approaching the door of communication, “I have
returned at the risk of my life to bring you news of a plot which aims
at the forcible conversion of your son to the Orthodox Church, and the
subjugation of his kingdom to Scythia.”

“A plot to convert my son!” The door was thrown open, and Cyril had a
momentary glimpse of a figure with terrified dark eyes, and rippling
chestnut hair flowing over a white dressing-gown. Then the Baroness
dashed forward, shutting the door in his face, and he heard her
agonised voice--

“Madame, remember your position! I entreat your Majesty----”

The rest was inaudible, and Cyril stood fuming over the precious time
which was being lost because the old woman would not allow him to see
the Queen in a dressing-gown. But the door opened again almost
immediately, and the Queen stood on the threshold, pale and calm. The
other ladies had clad her in a loose black gown, and hidden away her
hair under the flowing crape veil she wore in the daytime, and she
looked a different being.

“Tell me, Count,” she said, “when is this plot to be carried out?”

“To-night, madame; and I believe very shortly. You and the King were
to be seized in your beds and carried off to the Bishop’s palace,
there to be starved into compliance with the demands of the
conspirators.”

“And you would advise us, no doubt, to take refuge in the castle
immediately?”

“I fear, madame, that you would only be running into danger. The
garrison is honeycombed with disaffection.”

“Then there is only one chance left, for I know well that it is
impossible to defend this house. We must go to the municipal offices,
and throw ourselves on the protection of the burghers.”

“Unfortunately, madame, there is no safety there. The whole of
Tatarjé is utterly disloyal.”

“Then what are we to do?” Her voice rang piteously in his ears; but
she dashed the tears resolutely from her eyes. “Count, I rely upon you
to help me. This plot threatens my son’s honour--not only his kingdom.
You have not come here simply to warn us of the approach of inevitable
danger. You have a plan to save the King. Tell me what it is. I will
follow your advice.”

She had risen so completely above her usual level that for the moment
Cyril was tempted to forget her inveterate distrust of him. He
answered promptly--

“There is one way to save the King and yourself, madame. If you will
consent to adopt a disguise, and to start immediately upon a somewhat
troublesome journey, with your son and one lady in attendance, I will
do my best to conduct you safely to Bellaviste.”

“Ah! you have made plans for this journey?”

“One does not generally undertake such a venture at haphazard, madame.
I have done what I could to ensure success, and I may say that I have
good hopes of attaining it.”

“And what,” she demanded, in a voice that made him jump, “is there to
assure me that this is not a plot of your own, invented for the
purpose of making me ridiculous or even humiliating me in the eyes of
the world? Where are the proofs of the conspiracy you have
discovered?”

“I have none,” said Cyril laconically. Her change of tone had restored
his mind immediately to its usual balance. “If you will wait half an
hour or so, madame, the proofs will probably arrive in the persons of
the conspirators; but it will then be too late to save your son.”

She bit her lips with vexation. “It is useless to ignore the fact,
Count, that the relations between us have not been wholly amicable of
late, and you are popularly supposed never to let slip an opportunity
of revenging yourself.”

“A guilty conscience is usually an unpleasant companion, madame; but
on this occasion it is also an untrustworthy adviser.”

“How? Do you venture to imply---- You must be aware that you are
asking me to repose an extraordinary degree of confidence in you,
Count.”

“Not more than your husband reposed in me, madame. Have I ever
betrayed that confidence? Even when you most disliked my measures,
have they not proved to be advantageous--even necessary?”

“Unhappily they have. But this case is wholly without precedent.”

“It is for you, madame, to decide whether you prefer to be saved in an
unprecedented way, or ruined in a manner which is unfortunately not
entirely new. If your son is to be rescued, I must ask you to make up
your mind quickly now, and to be obedient afterwards.”

“Obedient! That is a strange word to use to me!”

“I have no doubt that the action is equally new to you, madame.”

She turned from him with a gesture of disgust. “How am I to decide?”
she asked angrily. “On the one side I risk my son’s kingdom, on the
other my good name. If I could only trust him! Baroness, I will not
appeal to you. If Count Mortimer suggested a journey to the moon, you
would only inquire mildly, ‘By what route does the Herr Graf propose
to conduct us?’ Sophie, you are not a blind idolater. Tell me
quickly--shall I trust him?”

Poor Fräulein von Staubach, finding herself thus appealed to, turned
first red and then white, twisted her fingers painfully together, and
sought inspiration in the corners of the ceiling. Her advice came
suddenly, accompanied by a rush of tears and a great gulp: “Trust him,
madame. I believe you may.”

“Then you also have gone over to the enemy!” said the Queen
sarcastically, as she turned again to Cyril. “I congratulate you upon
your convert, Count. I wish you would exercise the same influence over
me; but as you have not thought fit to do so, I am afraid I must ask
you to swear that you have told me nothing but the truth, and that
your motives are what you represent them to be. Will you do this?”

“No, madame, I will not swear. If you cannot accept the word of a man
who has endangered his life in order to serve you, you must drag him
down to destruction with yourself.”

She looked up in alarm, and caught sight of the repressed fury in his
face. She gave a little gasp, and her eyes fell before his.

“Forgive me, Count. I do trust you. I will obey.”

Cyril’s heart leapt within him, but he betrayed no sign of exultation
over his victory. His tones were sternly business-like as he said--

“Then, madame, I must beg of you to disguise yourself as an
Englishwoman. Put on a tailor-made gown and a small felt hat, if you
please, and a short straight veil _à l’anglaise_, covering only the
upper part of the face. It would make it less easy for you to be
recognised if the dress was not black, but of some coloured cloth.
Bring also a fur cloak, for you will find it very cold. Which of the
ladies is to be summoned to attend you?”

“Pardon me, madame; that is my place,” said Baroness von Hilfenstein,
as the Queen looked round helplessly.

“I cannot consent to that, Baroness,” said Cyril. “You could not
support the fatigues of the journey, and moreover, your presence will
be needed here. Have you any preference as to your attendant, madame?”

“I should like to have Fräulein von Staubach if--if you--if it would
not do any harm,” faltered the Queen.

“That is the very selection I would have ventured to suggest, madame.
Fräulein von Staubach speaks Thracian well, and although the passport
is made out for a German, we may find it desirable to change our
disguise after a time. May I beg of you, Fräulein, to dress yourself
to play the part of a nurse, and to see that the King is warmly
wrapped up? Will you also pack a small bag with necessaries for her
Majesty, and another for yourself. They must not be too large to be
carried conveniently in the hand, for we have to cross the park on
foot before we can reach the vehicle which is awaiting us. And pray
waste no time. Every minute is precious.”

The three ladies disappeared promptly, and Cyril stood waiting for
what seemed to him to be hours. He curbed his impatience, and whiled
away the time by making one or two final arrangements with M.
Stefanovics; but they had both relapsed into an uneasy silence before
Baroness von Hilfenstein entered the room, and beckoned Cyril out of
earshot of the chamberlain.

“You think success is possible in this enterprise of yours, Count?”

“Certainly possible, Baroness; and possibly certain.”

“I did not come to ask you to play upon words,” very severely.

“I ask your pardon, Baroness. The danger has excited me. I think I
must be fey.”

“I do not know that word, my dear Count.”

“It only means that some one is walking over my grave, Baroness.”

“Do not speak in that way,” said the old lady, looking at him with
alarm not unmixed with tenderness. “Count, I cannot forget to-night
that you are a young man, although it has never struck me before. Can
I depend upon you to take such care of the Queen as I myself should
take were I with you?”

“I promise you, Baroness, that I will take as much care of the Queen
as she will allow me.”

“She will prove somewhat trying, I do not doubt. But you have mastered
her to-night, and that may change her manner towards you. I cannot
tell--I am afraid----”

“Are you afraid of her Majesty or of me, Baroness?”

The sudden question recalled the Baroness to her duty. “I am not
afraid of either of you; but I am very much afraid of circumstances,”
she replied, looking straight at Cyril.

“I have always aimed at moulding circumstances, Baroness, and not at
allowing them to mould me.”

“That is very well, but circumstances are sometimes too strong---- But
guard well the proprieties, my dear Count. Maintain the niceties of
etiquette with even unusual care, for they will form a barrier to
protect the Queen from her unfortunate surroundings. You will promise
me this?”

“Anything in reason, Baroness. I will do my best, certainly. But,”
changing the subject with some impatience, “may I remind you that our
escape will largely depend upon you? Of course it is impossible to
defend this house; but the longer you can keep the conspirators in
talk before they discover the Queen’s absence, the better for us.”

“You are right. I will meet them and argue with them, refuse to allow
them to proceed, and retreat only inch by inch before threats of
violence. And then, Count, I will try another expedient. When they
insist on seeing the Queen, my daughter shall personate her Majesty.
They are about the same height, and through the crape veil it will be
impossible to detect the difference.”

“It is an excellent idea, Baroness, if Baroness Paula has the nerve to
carry it out. But what about the King?”

“We will dress up a pillow in his clothes, and Mrs Jones shall carry
it. If we are hurried away to the Bishop’s palace at once, they will
not detect the trick until the morning, which will---- Oh, is that
you, Mrs Jones?”

“Yes, ma’am, it is; and hearin’ no good of myself, as they say no
eavesdroppers don’t. I think I see myself carryin’ about a pillow
dressed up in his Majesty’s clothes, and the precious lamb himself
left to that there Frawline!”

“Mrs Jones, we cannot take you with us.” Cyril spoke sharply, noting
that Mrs Jones was ready equipped for the journey. “You would be
recognised anywhere,” for tales of the magnificence of demeanour of
the King’s nurse, and her unbending deportment towards the natives of
her land of exile, circulated wherever the Court moved, “and that
would ruin the whole scheme. You must stay here, and obey the orders
of the Baroness, and so help us to save the King.”

“Thank you, my lord; and what if I declines to stay here?”

“Then you will have the responsibility of destroying the King’s only
chance of escape. We are in your hands, Mrs Jones. If you will stay
behind, it will help to gain time for us to get beyond the reach of
pursuit; but you may as well go and inform the conspirators at once
that we are trying to escape as insist on coming with us. Which is it
to be?”

“My lord, if me stayin’ here can help the King and your lordship to
escape, I’ll stay here till Doomsday, and no one shan’t drag me from
the house, not if wild horses was to try it. I thank you, my lord, for
talkin’ to me like a reasonable Christian woman, and here I stays, and
no thanks to no one else, neither!”

And Mrs Jones retired with added dignity, just as the Queen entered
the room, looking absurdly young and girlish in her grey tweed dress
and simple hat, and followed by Fräulein von Staubach, with the
little King, well wrapped up, fast asleep in her arms.

“One moment before we start, madame,” said Cyril. “From this time
forward you are an English lady, Mrs Weston, and I am your brother,
Arthur Cleeves. Your Christian name is Lilian. The King is your son
Tommy, Fräulein von Staubach is his German nurse Julie, and my clerk
Paschics, who is waiting for us on the other side of the park, is
Carlo, an Italian courier. We are travelling by road, and our carriage
has broken down, which makes it necessary for us to hire a country
cart to convey us to the next posting-station. Let me impress upon you
the necessity of speaking nothing but English, and of keeping to our
assumed names, even when no strangers are present, for the sake of
practice. I think you had better give me the child, Fr--Julie, and I
will take my sister’s bag, if you can manage your own. Now we had
better start--Lilian.”

The Queen gave Baroness von Hilfenstein a half-tearful, half-smiling
glance, for the old lady’s face was a study when she heard Cyril’s
words, and it was with difficulty that she restrained herself from
insisting, even at this late hour, on the abandonment of the scheme.
“Take care of her Majesty,” she whispered anxiously to Fräulein von
Staubach, holding her back from descending the stairs after the other
two; “remind her constantly of her position. Maintain all the
restraints possible, and remember that if anything happens, I shall
never forgive you or myself.”

Very much flurried, and totally unable to comprehend the full force of
the warning, Fräulein von Staubach nevertheless promised faithfully
to observe it, and hurried down the steps after her mistress, who had
reached the door at the foot of the staircase. Here the fugitives
stood for a moment in the shadow, listening to the beating of their
own hearts, while M. Stefanovics, emerging from the doorway, joined
the sentry in his walk, and accompanied him to the end of the terrace,
where he directed his attention to an imaginary glare in the sky over
the city, which he suggested was due to a street-fire. While the
sentry, deeply interested (for he knew something of the plot, and was
watching for any sign of its being carried out), was doing his best to
see the remarkably faint and fitful glow pointed out to him, Cyril
directed the Queen and Fräulein von Staubach to cross the terrace as
quietly as possible, and conceal themselves among the shrubs on the
farther side. The next moment he followed them; but the interval had
been long enough to allow a fear to seize him which covered his brow
with cold sweat. What if the conspirators were already in hiding among
those very bushes? But no one appeared, and no movement was made, and
he led the way through the gardens, walking on the grass wherever he
could so as to avoid making any sound, and then through a wicket-gate
into the park. Here their progress was much more satisfactory, for
they were quite out of sight from the house, and could walk rapidly
over the turf, although it required some care to avoid coming into
unpleasantly close and sudden contact with the trees. But when the
more open ground was left behind, and it was necessary to plunge into
a thick wood, the ladies found their difficulties greatly increased,
and the more so that Cyril, encumbered as he was with the sleeping
child and the Queen’s bag, could do little to aid them. They made no
complaint, and toiled on bravely through briers and wet bushes, which
had a perverse way of springing back and striking the unwary traveller
on the face; but it was no small relief to Cyril when they reached the
boundary of the estate, and a whistle from him brought up Paschics to
relieve him temporarily of the burden of the little King, and to help
the ladies over the fence. They descended the steep bank to the road,
where the Queen stopped suddenly, aghast at the sight of the vehicle
awaiting them, and then laughed until the tears came into her eyes. It
was the usual light wooden cart of the more advanced among the
farmers, without springs or tilt, and provided with a board by way of
driving-seat. The floor was covered thickly with straw, and there were
several rugs stowed away in the front, while the two rough, stout
little horses had had their bells carefully removed.

“Come, Lilian, let me help you up,” said Cyril briskly, handing the
little King to Fräulein von Staubach, and mounting into the cart. “I
can make you and Tommy a most comfortable nest in the straw, and there
is a rug for Julie as well. Give me your hand, and Carlo will show you
where to put your foot.”

The Queen, with the tears still in her eyes, allowed herself to be
helped in, and sat silent as Cyril lifted the child and laid him in
her arms; but when Fräulein von Staubach had been established beside
her, and Paschics had produced a piece of tarpaulin, which he fastened
to the sides of the cart so as to shelter the inmates, she put out her
hand suddenly and laid it on Cyril’s.

“Don’t think I am ungrateful,” she said; “it is all so strange. I feel
as if I were in a dream. But I will do all I can to avoid being a
trouble to you.”



 CHAPTER XI.
 WAYFARING.

When in after-days Cyril looked back to the events of that night,
they seemed to him like the course of a bad dream. The first part of
the journey was easy enough, for the road was good, and he occupied
the driving-seat with Paschics, exchanging a word with him
occasionally, and keeping him supplied with cigars, for the Queen had
entreated them to smoke. But when some ten English miles had been
covered without interruption, it became necessary to leave the road
for an old and almost disused cart-track, leading through rough and
hilly country. By this means the first three posting-stations on the
road would be missed altogether, a step which was imperative unless
the fugitives were simply to be traced from point to point along their
way; but time was so precious that Cyril would have been inclined to
try whether it was impossible to slip past them unnoticed, if it had
not been that the hill-track, though rough, was far shorter than the
post-road. There was no more easy driving now. Cyril and Paschics
spent the greater part of the night in walking up and down
interminable hills, sometimes dragging the horses on, sometimes
holding them back, and varying these occupations by pushing at the
cart behind, or lifting the wheels out of pits of mud. The two women
and the child were so completely tired out that they were scarcely
awakened even by the most tremendous jolts, and descents which would
have appeared impossible in daylight were attempted confidently by the
light of the lantern which Paschics carried, and which was constantly
in request for the purpose of consulting the map or the compass. At
length the worst and longest hill, having been successfully passed,
proved to be the last one, and the two men and the worn-out horses
stumbled painfully into the highroad. Looking at one another, in the
grey light of the March morning, Cyril and Paschics became aware that
they both presented a very disreputable appearance, and the short
interval which was granted to the horses for rest and refreshment was
utilised by their masters in getting rid of as much mud as possible
from their own persons and the wheels of the cart. This was to avoid
attracting attention by the amount of soil they were carrying with
them, as the mud on the highroad differed in colour from that of the
hill-track, besides being much less abundant.

This necessary operation finished, the weary horses were urged on
again, Cyril taking his turn of driving, purely for the purpose of
keeping himself awake. Happily there was little chance of meeting any
one on the road, for the traffic between Tatarjé and other large
towns was now carried on almost entirely by means of the railway, and
there were no isolated houses or small hamlets to be passed. In the
districts nearer to the capital the confidence born of a settled
government showed its results in the shape of scattered farms and
country houses; but in the province of which Tatarjé was the centre
things were not so far advanced, and the fortified villages still
occupied points of vantage on the hillside, or hid themselves in
secluded valleys, as they had done in the days of Roumi domination.
After a time Cyril gave up the reins again to Paschics, and was
actually sleeping on his uncomfortable seat, when a voice from behind
aroused him.

“Oh, _how_ funny!” it said. “What is we doing, Herr Graf?”

Looking round, he saw the little King kneeling on the straw, and
peering up at him from under the edge of the tarpaulin. Thinking that
it would be a good thing to caution the child, for fear of his
betraying the party, Cyril turned and held out his arms.

“Take hold of my hands, Majestät, and you shall come and sit between
us here. Don’t make a noise, or you will wake your mother. That’s it!”

“But where’s nursie--and everybody? And there’s no breakfast. And why
are we driving in this funny thing? And the escort has got left
behind; but we aren’t going very fast.”

“No, this is a new game,” said Cyril, as the child wriggled from side
to side in making these discoveries, “and if you will sit quiet, I’ll
tell you about it. We are playing at being English people, and we all
have different names. You are a little English boy, and your name is
Tommy Weston. Fräulein is pretending to be your nurse, and I am your
Uncle Arthur. M. Paschics is called Carlo.”

“Carlo,” repeated the child meditatively. “And what is mamma?”

“She is your mother still; but her name is Mrs Weston.”

“But what is the game, Herr Graf?”

“You must call me Uncle Arthur, not Herr Graf. We are playing at
enemies, don’t you see?--travelling through their country; and if they
once find out that we are not English, we shall be killed. So you must
never speak anything but English, remember, and never call any of us
by our old names, because it would do a great deal of harm--I mean it
would spoil the game.”

“I don’t think it’s a very interesting game,” said the little King
dolefully. “The enemy ought to be coming after us, or hiding behind
the hedges to shoot as we go by.”

“I hardly think you would like it if they did,” remarked Cyril.

“No; because we couldn’t run away very fast in this cart, could we? We
should have to ride away on the horses,--and there are only two of
them.”

“Yes, and they are very tired, too. But I hope in a little while we
shall be able to get a carriage, and travel comfortably.”

“And shall we have breakfast too?”

“I rather think Carlo has some provisions that you can begin upon at
once. There! will that keep the wolf from the door a little?”

“Oh, it’s just like a picnic!” said King Michael ecstatically, looking
at the coarse dark bread and flabby ewe’s-milk cheese which Paschics
produced from a bag and handed to him. “Thank you, Carlo; thank you,
Uncle Arthur.”

“I am afraid, sir,” said Paschics to Cyril, when the child was
engrossed with his frugal meal, “that we may not find it as easy to
obtain a carriage and horses at the posting-station as you expect.
When I was at my brother’s, and it was too late to let you know, I
heard that the traffic by this road had fallen off so much since the
construction of the railway, that the regulations were not enforced,
and the people at the stations had almost given up keeping horses in
readiness. I fear we shall meet with delay, at best.”

“Well, we can’t help it,” returned Cyril, after a moment of dismay,
due to his perception of the truth of the detective’s words. The road
had been constructed purely for military and strategical purposes, to
relieve Tatarjé from the isolation caused by its position as the most
outlying portion of the kingdom, and did not follow any of the native
trade-routes. The inns and posting-stations maintained by Government
had thriven so long as the road presented the swiftest means of
communication with the capital; but as soon as the railway was opened,
they lost their principal _raison d’être_.

“After all,” Cyril went on cheerfully, “a little rest will do none of
us any harm, and we have a good start. The conspirators have no means
of knowing what route we have taken, and I hope that our avoiding the
first three post-houses will prevent them from discovering it by
accident. There is only treachery left, and if we are to be betrayed
we may as well be captured sooner as later.”

“Uncle Arthur,” said the little King, “mamma is awake: I think she
would like some of this nice bread and cheese.”

“I’m afraid she is not so hungry as you are, Tommy; but take her the
bag, by all means, and ask her whether she would not like to have the
cover taken off the cart, so that she can sit up.”

The Queen accepted the offer willingly, and she and Fräulein von
Staubach straightened their hats and picked a few stray pieces of
straw out of their hair before partaking of the bread and cheese. The
Queen laughed merrily as Cyril handed her the bag, which proved too
heavy for King Michael to carry.

“We will look as respectable as we can,” she said, “even if we are
travelling like gipsies. I feel quite excited with wondering what
extraordinary thing we shall have to do next.”

“What a blessing that she takes it in this way!” thought Cyril,
reflecting on the inevitable unpleasantness if she had chosen to
behave with the austere dignity which had characterised her manner of
late; “but what would the Baroness say?”

It was not necessary, happily, to settle this point, and Cyril devoted
himself to trying to cheer the tired horses to greater exertions, to
the end that as little time might be wasted as possible. When the
posting-station was reached, the fears expressed by Paschics proved to
be only too well founded. True, it was possible to obtain a carriage;
but it was old and dilapidated, and needed a thorough cleaning, and
the only horses that could draw it were engaged in farm-work at some
distance off, and must be brought in by the man who was to act as
driver. All this would take some time--so long, indeed, that, as the
post-keeper shrewdly observed, it would be as well for the travellers
to wait a little longer and lunch before starting, since there was no
inn to be found until they reached the little town where they would
probably wish to spend the night. Cyril communicated this piece of
advice to the Queen, and she begged him immediately to act upon it.
Somewhat surprised by her tone, he obeyed.

“And now,” she said, when he returned after making the necessary
arrangements, “I insist that you and Carlo shall take possession of
that room,” pointing to the solitary apartment devoted to the
accommodation of travellers, “and get some rest. Do you think I do not
know that you have had no sleep all night?”

“In your service it is our duty never to feel fatigue,” said Cyril,
with a bow.

“Then it is quite clear that neither of you is equal to his duty.
Suppose you find it impossible to sleep again to-night, in what
condition will you be? I shall refuse to intrust my life to your care.
Come--Arthur--you will be able to get nearly three hours’ rest, if you
don’t waste time. I command you, Count.”

“Madame, I obey, if it is only to keep you from such imprudences as
that last speech.” The Queen, who had stamped her foot vehemently as
she spoke, looked nonplussed for a moment, and then blushed hotly, and
Cyril went on. “I must warn you again that the slightest indiscretion
may ruin our chance of escape. And how do you mean to pass the
morning, Lilian, if we take possession of the only room?”

“Oh, we will sit in the kitchen with the post-keeper’s wife,” she
replied, recovering herself quickly, “and help her to prepare our
lunch. You need not be afraid of my being indiscreet, for you know
that I speak no Thracian, and Sophie--Julie, I mean--is much too
prudent to interpret anything dangerous. I promise you that we will
not go out in front of the house--we are far too much frightened. Now
_au revoir_, Monsieur my brother!”

Cyril retired obediently, and she turned in triumph to Fräulein von
Staubach.

“Do you say I am selfish now, Sophie?”

“I am sure, madame, that I have never ventured----”

“Oh yes, you have. You venture to say a good deal sometimes. But you
will never be able to say that again, at any rate. Do you know that I
am in such a state of terror that I could almost scream? My nerves are
all on edge, and I feel as if the only thing that would calm me would
be to make Count Mortimer talk to me the whole morning, and yet I have
sent him to rest.”

“Madame, if your brother heard you, he would scarcely feel able to
rest.”

“True, but how is one to remember? Oh, Julie, I wish we could have
gone on, however slowly, rather than waste time like this! Every sound
terrifies me. If a band of pursuers were to appear, I believe I should
die on the spot, simply of terror.”

“Madame, be calm. You are trembling from head to foot, and your
brother’s task will be made almost impossible if you allow yourself to
get into this state. Come into the kitchen, and we will talk to the
woman, and ask her to find us something to do.”

In the primitive kitchen, where King Michael was lying flat on the
earthen floor investigating the mysteries of a rat-hole behind the
flour-bin, the two ladies spent an uneventful if anxious morning. So
lonely was the place that only one wayfarer passed by, and he was
going towards Tatarjé, not coming from it, but his arrival roused the
Queen to fresh alarm. While the woman of the house was supplying the
traveller with a glass of spirits in the rude verandah in front, King
Michael was astonished to find himself seized and clutched fast by his
mother, whose pale face and wild eyes filled him with amazement. As
soon as he could he wriggled out of her grasp and returned to the
rat-hole, while the Queen, in obedience to a warning look from
Fräulein von Staubach, resumed her task of plucking a fowl, which she
did very badly. As a patriotic German, Fräulein von Staubach
attributed this inexpertness, in her conversation with the woman of
the house, to the lack of domesticity among English ladies, and
illustrated her remarks by some awful examples, much to the
edification of the Thracian dame. To the Queen, who understood
scarcely a word--for she had obstinately refused throughout her
married life to study the language of her adopted country--the talk
failed to afford much amusement; but it helped to pass away the weary
hours, and the difficulties incident to her occupation prevented her
mind from dwelling exclusively on her many reasons for anxiety. Still,
it was with heartfelt relief that she hunted out King Michael from his
corner at last, and carried him off into the yard behind the house to
have the dust brushed off his clothes, and his face and hands washed
before lunch, for the horses had been brought in, and the driver was
giving a somewhat perfunctory cleaning to the untidy old carriage.
They would soon be on their way again, she thought, and her relief
made her smile pleasantly at Cyril as he emerged from his room,
looking as spick and span as if he had come fresh from the skilful
hands of Dietrich. The luncheon was set out in the sunny verandah
before the house, and the little party that gathered round the
uncovered table took their seats upon the rough benches, prepared to
do full justice to the meal. An involuntary smile crossed Cyril’s face
when he found himself at the head of the board, with the Queen and her
boy on either side of him, while at the lower end of the table, and on
the same bench as the Queen, were Paschics and Fräulein von Staubach.

“What are you laughing at, Arthur?” asked the Queen.

“I was wondering what Baroness von Hilfenstein would say if she saw us
now,” he replied.

“Oh, let us forget the Baroness for a little!” she said impatiently.
“This is a picnic in a different world. We are quite another set of
people, and it doesn’t signify to her what we do.”

Cyril smiled again, but said nothing, and they went on talking and
laughing as they ate until the Queen dropped her knife suddenly.

“Listen!” she cried, turning pale. “I hear horses.”

“They are coming in the opposite direction,” said Cyril, after a
moment of awful suspense, “and there are only two or three. Pull
yourself together, Lilian, and play your part well. There is nothing
to be afraid of.”

She smiled rather forlornly; but her hand released its tight grip of
the King’s, and she began to cut her bread resolutely into small
squares, as though it was all important that the fragments should be
exactly the same size. Meanwhile, the post-keeper’s wife, hearing the
approaching sounds, came to the door to look out.

“It is the sub-prefect, no doubt,” she said. “He is visiting every
house in the district to make some inquiry for the Government.”

As no house-to-house inquiry had been ordered from Bellaviste, the
thought suggested itself to Cyril that the sub-prefect was probably in
league with the conspirators, and had received his directions from
Tatarjé; but he did not feel it necessary to alarm the Queen further
with the idea. It was not long before the horsemen rode up--the
sub-prefect, a stout man in an elderly uniform, very dirty and
tarnished, and two followers who might have been stage cut-throats,
but were probably privates in the Army Reserve. The woman of the house
went forward to answer the official’s questions, and Cyril heard the
words “English travellers” pass between them. Presently the
sub-prefect dismounted and approached the group, his followers also
drawing near and eyeing them with great interest.

“Why don’t they salute?” asked the little King indignantly, noting
something military in the equipment of the gazers; “and why are they
so untidy? Salute!” he cried, scrambling over the bench, and facing
the men, to their no small amusement.

“Come here, Tommy,” said the Queen; “it is not for you to give orders.
My little boy has always been accustomed to be saluted by his father’s
soldiers,” she said graciously in English to the sub-prefect, to whom
Cyril had just offered a share of the meal.

“Ah, the lady’s husband is a soldier?” replied the sub-prefect,
seating himself, and letting his little eyes rove over the group, when
Cyril, assisted by Paschics, had rendered the apology into halting
Thracian. “The English have very few soldiers. You have travelled from
Tatarjé this morning, I suppose?” turning to Cyril.

“No, indeed; through an awkward accident we have been obliged to come
across country in a cart belonging to a farmer named Paschics.”

“Ah, I know Anton Paschics. But the proceeding is irregular--very. You
have a passport, I suppose?”

“We could scarcely have got so far on our journey without one,”
replied Cyril, producing the document.

“Signed and countersigned quite correctly, I see. But where is the
frontier official’s stamp? You came by Velisi, I presume?”

“You really can’t expect a foreigner to know the name of every place
he passes. I know one has to go through any number of formalities. Do
you mean to say that this thing is not correct?”

“Very far from correct. It lacks a most important verification. I
cannot accept this passport. We are warned to be very careful about
foreign travellers.”

“But surely that warning was directed against possible Scythian
spies?” objected Cyril, who began to find the measures of precaution,
the adoption of which he had recommended in his official capacity,
recoiling on his own head.

“Yes, to please you English--at least, your countryman, Count
Mortimer--and therefore it is only fair that I should use it against
you. I must insist on your returning to Tatarjé with me, in order
that this matter may be inquired into, instead of continuing your
journey.”

The blow was a crushing one; but Cyril allowed no stronger feeling
than natural irritation to appear in his face as he turned from the
sub-prefect, dressed in his little brief authority, to the Queen, who
had been listening anxiously.

“It’s a horrid bother, Lilian; but this fellow talks of taking us back
to Tatarjé with him, because of some informality in this wretched
thing.”

To his delight she neither shuddered nor changed colour, but replied
promptly in English with an unmistakable pout, “Oh, Arthur, how
awfully tiresome! We shan’t be able to get to Bellaviste for Easter,
and it’s all through your insisting on coming this way. Can’t you give
the man something to make him hold his tongue?”

“And the unprincipled little wretch calmly proposes to bribe her own
officials to wink at an infraction of her own laws!” was the ecstatic
thought that passed through Cyril’s mind as he turned again to the
sub-prefect. “Look here,” he said, “the lady is very anxious to get to
Bellaviste for Easter. Can’t we arrange this somehow? Perhaps”--he
drew the official away from Paschics, and took from his pocket an
Anglo-Thracian phrase-book to help him in his assumed difficulties
with the language--“Perhaps you could affix a stamp to the passport
which would help us in future? Of course, the fee would have to be
paid.”

The sub-prefect’s eyes gleamed for a moment; but there was real
sadness in them when he answered, much more politely than before.

“Alas, no! I have no stamp that would answer the purpose.”

“But perhaps with your assistance we might tide over this difficulty,
and get on afterwards as we have done hitherto? Come, monsieur, I
think I cannot be mistaken,--have I not heard of you as a collector of
coins?”

“You have heard of me?” The sub-prefect was puzzled, but interested
and eager.

“It is possible that I might be able to assist you with some specimens
for your collection. The English sovereign, for instance--it is
generally regarded as rather a handsome coin. I hope you are not
already possessed of an example?”

This time the sub-prefect understood perfectly. “I have not got it,”
he said. “But it is of little use to obtain a single specimen. One
desires a duplicate--perhaps also one or two for purposes of
exchange.”

“I fancy I could manage to let you have three.”

“I fear that I could not well do with fewer than six.”

“Oh, come now, five; and you will countersign the passport, so that we
may escape trouble in future?”

“Five be it, then. The coinage of your country is quite admirable,
both as to design and weight, and I am glad to obtain specimens. I
cannot say that I had realised its full beauty hitherto.”

He stood testing and scrutinising with the eye of a connoisseur the
five sovereigns with which Cyril, who had provided himself with a
certain quantity of English money for the purpose of supporting his
assumed character, presented him, and then turning again to the table,
scrawled a huge “Examined and found correct,” with his signature,
across the passport, which he folded up and returned to Cyril with a
bow. The carriage was ready by this time, and as none of the party
felt inclined to linger at the table, the luggage was brought out and
they started, leaving the sub-prefect bowing on the verandah, and his
henchmen saluting with broad grins.

“Courage, madame!” said Cyril in a low voice, leaning across to the
Queen, who looked ready to faint now that the immediate danger was
over. “You did that admirably, but we must keep on the mask still.
Remember that we have the driver with us.”

She roused herself with a low shuddering sigh, but Cyril did not allow
her to bear the strain unaided. There was scarcely a man in Europe who
could talk more brilliantly than he could when he chose, and this
afternoon he threw himself into the breach as though his whole aim in
life was to enthral his hearers by his conversation. The anxious look
faded gradually from the Queen’s eyes, the colour came back to her
face, and before she had time to think she was engaged in an animated
war of words. Cyril was instructing her in English ways, in case of
their meeting any travelled official who knew England, and she, in
self-defence, was displaying the knowledge of them which she already
possessed, and which, if extensive, was certainly also peculiar, being
derived largely from the didactic novels of half a century ago, which
she had read in German translations. Thanks in some degree to a
prejudice against England on the part of her mother, and also to her
own past dislike of Cyril, she had no acquaintance whatever with
modern English literature, and despised what she knew of English
customs, so that there was ample material for conversation and also
for controversy. They talked almost unceasingly for hours, interrupted
only by occasional changes of horses, and by the more frequent
interpellations of the little King, who listened eagerly for the
illustrative anecdotes, but rejected mere information with scorn, and
could only be kept in a good temper by being allowed to walk up the
hills with Paschics and race down them behind the carriage. This
healthy exercise tired him out at last, and he fell asleep, leaning
against his mother, while the Queen and Cyril continued their
discourse in lowered tones. Both were so deeply interested that it was
only an irrepressible yawn from Fräulein von Staubach, for which she
apologised with extreme contrition, which aroused them at last to the
fact that it was already growing dusk.

“It must be nearly six o’clock,” said Cyril. “Ask the driver whether
we have much farther to go, Carlo.”

“He says that we have passed the last hill, sir,” responded Paschics,
after conferring with his companion upon the box, “and that there is
only now a level stretch of good road between us and our
stopping-place.”

“Ask him whether he can’t get a little more speed out of his horses,
then. Mrs Weston is beginning to feel very tired.”

The driver whipped up the horses in obedience to the suggestion, and
the carriage was going on its way at a respectable pace, when there
was a sudden ominous crack. The horses swerved half across the road,
and the carriage lurched violently and then seemed to settle down in
front, throwing its occupants into a heap. Cyril heard the driver
invoke a malediction upon a certain defective axle-tree, and was
conscious that Paschics threw himself from the box, and rushed to the
heads of the startled horses; but his own duty left him no time to do
anything until he had extricated his frightened companions from the
medley of luggage and rugs which had overwhelmed them, and set them in
safety at the side of the road. Both the ladies were very much shaken,
and the little King was crying lustily; but as soon as Cyril had
ascertained that none of them had received any actual injury he
returned to the carriage, which Paschics was examining with the aid of
one of the lamps, while the driver held the horses. A very cursory
examination was sufficient to convince all the three that the
axle-tree, which had been spliced, braced, and strengthened many times
already, was quite beyond remedy with the means at their disposal,
which amounted solely to the ropes doing duty as harness, and the
straps upon the baggage.

“I suppose it is out of the question to hope to find a wheelwright
anywhere about,” said Cyril; “but we ought to be able to get hold of a
blacksmith or carpenter who could patch this up sufficiently for us to
reach the town. Ask the driver whether there is any village about
here, Carlo.”

Paschics interrogated the driver, and returned to Cyril. “He says that
there is no village nearer than the town, sir; but there is a large
farmhouse about half a mile away across the fields. We could reach it
by a cart-track which turns off from the road about a dozen yards
farther on, and they would be able to give us accommodation for the
night, besides helping to mend the carriage.”

“Does he think it impossible to reach the town to-night?”

Paschics translated the question, and the surly answer, “The carriage
will take so long to mend, sir, that it would be impossible unless we
went on travelling until after midnight, and that he will not do. He
is afraid of evil spirits.”

“Then I suppose we must make the best of a bad job,” said Cyril.
“Anything like our persistent ill-luck on this journey I never saw.
Well, we must drag the carriage to the side of the road, and mount the
ladies on the horses. You can lead one and I the other, and he shall
go in front with the lamp and show us the way to the farm.”

The driver demurred at first to the idea of leaving the valuable
remains of the carriage unguarded; but when it was pointed out to him
that he would otherwise be separated from his still more precious
horses, he acquiesced sullenly in Cyril’s decision. The horses were
brought to the side of the road, and the bags and rugs tied on their
backs with the harness-ropes in such a way as to form some approach to
a saddle. Then the Queen mounted one, with the little King perched
before her, and Fräulein von Staubach the other, and the melancholy
procession started in the direction of the farm, traversing a lane in
which the ruts bade fair to beat the record for depth and intricacy.
When the lights of the house were seen in front, and the driver went
forward to announce the plight of the party, Cyril took the
opportunity of saying--

“I don’t want to frighten you, Lilian; but I don’t feel easy about
this delay, following upon our meeting with our friend the
sub-prefect. If he receives news from Tatarjé of our escape, he will
spot us at once, and perhaps block the way in front. I think we ought
to have some other disguise to which we can resort if we are hard
pressed, and it might be as well if there were native clothes for all
of us. Perhaps you might be able to buy one complete costume here
to-night, and another in the town when we get there to-morrow morning.
Carlo and I might rig ourselves out at Ortojuk, which we expect to
reach at mid-day, and then we shall all have something to take to if
necessary, without arousing suspicion by buying a lot of clothes all
at once. What do you think, Carlo?”

“I think the idea is excellent, sir. I see no reason to apprehend
treachery, but I am disturbed by this second misfortune.”

“I will certainly buy a dress if I can,” said the Queen. “I suppose
there would be no harm in getting two if they were willing to sell
them?”

“None whatever; only then you will have to invent some excuse for
wanting them. One you might wish to take home as a curiosity, but you
would scarcely---- Ah, here is our friend returning, and not alone. I
hope the people are hospitably inclined.”

But there was no need for apprehension as to the welcome to be found
at the farm. The family which inhabited it, and which was patriarchal
in extent and in variety of ages, came out in a body to greet the
travellers and assure them of hospitality, and escorted them into the
high-walled courtyard which enclosed the house and outbuildings.
Supper was already over, but a supplementary meal was quickly
prepared; and when it had been consumed, the men of the family
accompanied Paschics and the driver back to the road, to see what
could be done for the carriage, while the Queen and Fräulein von
Staubach were taken possession of by the women. Cyril was lounging in
front of the house with a cigar, and endeavouring to draw some comfort
from the different misfortunes of the day, when the Queen came out
from the passage behind him.

“I am sorry to disturb you, Arthur,” she said, “but would you mind
fetching Tommy for me? He has slipped out into the yard to play with
the farmer’s grandchildren, and he ought to go to bed. We are doing
our best to induce the women to sell us some of their clothes. They
were very unwilling to part with them at first; but now the younger
ones are beginning to think that they could buy themselves Western
costumes with the money we should pay. Some of the things are most
beautifully worked--there is a little embroidered suit belonging to
one of the boys which looks as if it would just fit Tommy, so please
bring him in.”

Smiling to himself at her complete absorption in the matter in hand,
Cyril went in search of King Michael, whom he discovered snugly
ensconced on the top of a partially demolished corn-stack, in company
with the children of the farm. They were talking eagerly as he
approached.

“The little stranger boy shall be the king, because he is the
youngest, and has such pretty yellow hair. I will be the old queen,
his mother.”

To Cyril’s horror King Michael’s voice answered in Thracian--

“I mustn’t be king, because mamma wouldn’t like it. She made me
promise never to say----”

“Tommy, where are you?” interrupted Cyril, as the other children
looked curiously at their new playmate. “Your mother wants you.”

“I don’t want to go to bed!” protested the little King tearfully,
while the tall girl who had spoken first, and who had been winding one
of his curls round her finger, laughed.

“We thought he was such a good little boy!” she said.

“I hope you always remember what your mother tells you,” said Cyril,
in laboriously bad Thracian. “Come along, Tommy. Give me your hands,
and I’ll jump you down.”

But the little King drew himself up. “You are not to talk to me like
that,” he said. “It isn’t play, it’s rude.”

This was alarming, but Cyril laughed it off as well as he could.

“Speak English, Tommy. How am I to know what you are saying? You see
that he has picked up your language from his nurse,” he explained to
the other children; “I hope he has not learnt his naughtiness from
you. Now, Tommy, come at once,” he added sharply.

But King Michael still refused to come, and when Cyril carried him off
bodily, stiffened himself like an animated ramrod, so that it was
almost impossible to hold him. Happily it was beneath his dignity to
struggle or scream, and Cyril got him into the house, landing him
finally at his mother’s side in the large kitchen where the women were
displaying their finery. To Cyril’s intense amusement he overheard, as
he came along the passage, the Queen drawing upon her imagination in
picturing a gathering to be held “in the village schoolroom when we
get home,” at which “my brother” would give an address on Thracia and
the Thracians, illustrated by magic-lantern views, and “you and Tommy
and I, Julie,” would appear on the platform in Thracian costume in
order further to elucidate the lecture. The women were listening with
delighted interest to Fräulein von Staubach’s rendering of her words,
and it was evident that she had them all at her feet.

“I have bought two dresses, Arthur,” she said, turning to him, “and I
am sure this little suit will fit Tommy. I wish we could have bought a
suit for you. It would make the lecture so much more complete,
wouldn’t it? And now you must give me some more money.”

“I believe she really imagines herself a travelling Englishwoman for
the moment,” said Cyril to himself, as he returned to the front of the
house after furnishing the Queen with a handful of Thracian silver,
judiciously “salted” with English coins, “and that she is looking
forward to a real penny reading when she returns to her imaginary
English village. It’s queer, but at any rate it shows that she
appreciated my lesson on manners and customs to-day, and it’s all the
better for our purpose.”

Hearing the voices of the men returning from the highroad, he walked
to the gate to meet them, and was relieved to learn that they had
succeeded in effecting the necessary repairs to the carriage. On
thanking the farmer for his timely help, it seemed to him, however,
that his words were not received with the same bluff frankness as
before; but he could perceive no reason for the change until Paschics
directed his attention to a new member of the party, an
unkempt-looking youngish man with waving hair and beard, and the
bright, restless eyes of the fanatic.

“That is the farmer’s youngest son. He is a theological student, and
has just arrived. He is on a pilgrimage, and comes from Ortojuk by way
of the town we were to have reached to-night,” said the detective in
English, pointing smilingly at the young man; but Cyril guessed that
there was more behind.

“Tell the farmer, Carlo, that we are sorry to intrude upon a family
gathering of this kind, and ask if he will allow us to smoke out here
while his son has supper and they talk a little.”

The old farmer granted the request with some compunction, as it
appeared, and went into the house with his family, while Cyril turned
to Paschics.

“Is this another piece of ill luck?” he asked.

“Your Excellency, that man suspects us. I saw him questioning the
driver, but I cannot make out how much he knows. You will remember
that Ortojuk is connected with Tatarjé by telegraph, though not by
railway. It seems to me that the conspirators, on discovering the
escape of the King and Queen, must have circulated some account of it
which is calculated to stir up the fanaticism of the people. This man,
who was at Ortojuk at mid-day, seems to have carried on the news to
the town at which we were to have spent the night, and if we had
arrived there we should have found ourselves, as it appears to me, in
the lion’s mouth.”

“Then our break-down was a piece of good luck, at any rate,” said
Cyril; “but it’s not much to be set against the balance on the other
side. Well, Carlo (it would be advisable to continue our precautions,
in spite of all this), what do you say they will do?--arrest us
themselves, or fetch the police?”

“Neither, sir; I imagine that some of them will accompany us to the
town upon some pretext or other, and there inform the police of their
suspicions. They will not violate the hospitality of their own roof,
and they would be afraid of getting into trouble if they brought about
the arrest of English travellers on a false charge.”

“That is just what I should imagine, but unhappily the other plan will
be equally fatal to us. We must get away in the night.”

“Are you serious, sir? How are we to bring the horses out without
waking these people?”

“We must abandon the carriage, and walk.”

“With two ladies and a child, sir! It is impossible.”

“Nevertheless, it must be done, if for nothing else, because it’s a
case of dear life for you and me. But the--Mrs Weston’s resolution
won’t need that spur. She would walk barefoot across Europe to keep
the boy a Lutheran. And walk we must, if we are to get off.”

“But how far, sir? and what is the good?”

“We must get to Ortojuk and across the river. You know that the city
commands the only bridge for many miles. If they can hold that, we are
trapped. But my plan is, that we should start before these people
here, and do the journey in the disguise of peasants. The ladies have
the dresses they have just bought, and you and I must manage to get
hold of some peasant clothes somehow, even if we have to waylay
passing travellers and effect a forcible exchange. Our great safeguard
will be that they cannot tell that we have changed our disguise, and
we may slip through unsuspected.”

“But they will find out that you and I have purchased clothes, sir--or
requisitioned them, which would be worse.”

“My good Carlo, I am not seriously proposing that we should embark
upon a course of highway robbery. I merely intended to imply that we
must somehow or other procure peasants’ clothes. As to the
shopkeepers’ suspecting us, we must do our best to disarm their
suspicions by only buying one or two things at a time--and perhaps
making use of Julie as the purchaser until we have got together one
complete suit. I don’t say it’s a perfect plan, Carlo; but I can’t
think of a better. We must make a spurt and get across the river, and
it is quite certain that we can’t do it in our own clothes. When we
are over on the other side, we may get a breathing-space; but if we
stop now we lose everything.”

“I know of a place of refuge over there, sir. An old cousin of my
mother’s is a charcoal-burner in the forest; and my brother described
to me the spot where his hut is situated. If we could reach it, we
could remain hidden there for a day or two to rest and make fresh
plans.”

“Good; it is a goal to aim at, at any rate, and you shall mark the
place for me on the map when we get to our room. But for goodness’
sake, if you have any other plan, suggest it. This is a very forlorn
hope, I know---- Listen! what is that moving in the passage?”



 CHAPTER XII.
 METAMORPHOSES.

Paschics literally sprang away from the doorway as Cyril asked the
question; but a low voice speaking in Thracian from the darkness of
the passage speedily allayed their alarm.

“Please stand as you were before,” it said, “so that if any one
notices you they may not know that you are talking to me. I am
Olga--you saw me on the stack with the others before my uncle came
home--and my mother has sent me to warn the English gentleman. I am
hiding behind the door, so that even if any of them come into the
passage they will not see me; but you must speak very low, and keep
your faces turned the other way.”

“Very well, mademoiselle. We are now arranged as you dictate,” said
Cyril. “Pray proceed.”

“My grandfather and the rest are saying that there is something wrong
about you, and they are going to tell the police to-morrow. My mother
says that she cannot say what you may have done; but she doesn’t want
any harm to come to the young lady or to the little boy with the
pretty hair, and she advises you to get away in the night. The
house-door is never locked, and she will oil the hinges to make it
open easily; but she cannot do anything to the yard-gate, for it is
always locked and barred, and takes two men to open it. You will have
to escape over the wall; but our people all sleep soundly, so you will
not wake them unless you make a great noise. The corner where there is
a crooked tree close to the wall is the easiest place to climb.”

“Many thanks, mademoiselle. Your mother’s forethought is marvellous.
Does her kindness extend to offering us any further assistance--in the
way of disguise, for instance?”

“She says that she dares not sell you any of the men’s clothes,
because they would be angry; but in the room where you will sleep
there is a carved chest, with some clothes belonging to my eldest
brother in it. He leaves them here because he is studying law at
Bellaviste, and wears town clothes there. My mother cannot sell you
his things, but----” an expressive pause.

“If you find the clothes gone in the morning, and some money in their
place, you will not consider us thieves, nor think it necessary to
inform your grandfather immediately of the exchange?” A giggle was the
only answer, and Cyril went on, “Is there any possibility of our
finding two suits in that chest, mademoiselle? for I fear we both need
a change of attire.”

“Alas, no! There may not be even one complete suit, and there is
certainly only one winter coat. You must apportion them as you can,
gentlemen. The English gentleman needs the disguise most.” Another
giggle, as the speaker evidently surveyed Cyril’s tourist suit and
soft felt hat through the crack of the door.

“Mademoiselle, we lie under an unbounded obligation to your mother and
yourself. Would it be possible for you to add to our load by conveying
a message to the young lady or to her maid?”

“Oh yes, I could do that. They have gone to their room; but they asked
me to bring them some hot water--to drink, I suppose, but it seems a
funny thing to want--and I could take them a letter with it. My mother
told me to tell you that they would have the room of my three
aunts--that is the first door in the passage which turns off from this
one at the back of the house. You have the guest-room, which is
nearest to this door.”

“The arrangements of your dwelling seem a little complicated,”
observed Cyril.

“Ah, that is because my grandfather has been obliged to build on a
fresh piece so often when my uncles got married. But we have more
rooms than any other house in the district. We are not like the people
who have only one sleeping-room, and share that with the cattle--pigs,
I call them.”

“Far from it,” returned Cyril. “But in England we should have given
the guest-room to the ladies.”

“And put you and your servant in the worse room of the two? What a
funny idea--to treat women better than men!”

And she broke into a long noiseless fit of laughter, during which
Cyril tore a leaf from his pocket-book, and scribbled on it a message
to the Queen:--


 “Read this when none of the people of the house are with you. Some of
 them suspect us, and we must escape to-night. Put on the Thracian
 dresses you have bought, and lie down in your clothes. Get some sleep
 if you can; we will inform you when it is time to start. Carry your
 boots in your hands when we call you, and bring your own clothes in a
 bundle, as well as the luggage you brought. Don’t be frightened; there
 are friends even here. The girl Olga and her mother are to be
 trusted.”


He folded up the paper, and passed it in through the crack of the
door, accompanied by a coin or two. He heard the girl’s gasp of
delight, and a sudden swift rustle as she crept from her hiding-place;
then a quick whisper reached him as she remembered something and
turned back.

“When you are over the wall, don’t take the cart-road by which you
came, but the right-hand one. It will lead you into the highroad a
good deal farther on; and on the opposite side you will see a wood,
where they have been cutting down trees lately. You might take shelter
among the stacked wood until daylight. My mother feels sure that she
can keep them from discovering your escape until seven o’clock.”

Then she was gone, and although Cyril caught a momentary glimpse of
her in the back passage a little later, bearing two steaming wooden
tumblers of hot water to the Queen’s room, she came no more to the
door. When she had passed out of sight, he turned to Paschics.

“Well, Carlo, we have our work cut out for us to-night, that is
evident. I think it will be well to represent that we are tired with
our journey, and ask leave to go to bed as soon as possible. Then we
can perfect our plans. By the bye, have you looked in at the horses at
all?”

“No, sir,” responded Paschics in surprise.

“Then we will go and do it now,” and they crossed the farmyard and
entered the stable. Here Cyril found a state of things which threw him
into a towering passion, and made him despatch Paschics to fetch their
driver, who was enjoying a pleasant evening with the two or three men
employed on the farm.

“What do you mean by leaving the horses like this?” he stormed, when
the man appeared, surly and reluctant. “You have not even rubbed them
down, and the mud is literally caked on their legs. The black can’t
reach the manger, and there is something seriously wrong with the
grey’s off fore-foot. Do you imagine that I would drive about behind
cattle like that? Perhaps you counted on having time to clean them in
the morning, but I can assure you that we shall start too early for
that. By eight o’clock we must be upon the road, and it will be the
worse for you if the horses are not fit to be seen.”

Cowed by the rebukes translated to him by Paschics, the driver
attempted various excuses. The horses were his own, they were not
accustomed to be groomed, no travellers had ever said anything of the
kind before, and so on; but Cyril cut him short, and reiterating his
last warning, turned on his heel and went back to the house with
Paschics.

“How is that?” he asked him. “I fancy our friend will have a pretty
clear idea as to our intention of starting in good time in the
morning, will he not?”

“No doubt, sir; but was it worth while to awaken the man’s enmity
merely for that? I saw him scowl at you as you turned away.”

“You are right; it would not have been worth while merely for that.
But while you were fetching him from the house, I took the opportunity
of examining the corner of the wall by the stable, which is the very
corner Miss Olga mentioned to us. Thanks to the crooked tree and the
roughness of the stones, we shall be able to get the ladies over with
no great difficulty, if one of us is at the top to receive them and
the other at the foot to help them up.”

“I must say I wish we were safe outside, sir.”

“Why not say at once safe at Prince Mirkovics’s castle or in
Bellaviste itself? But here is our venerable friend the farmer. It
would be as well to ask whether he has any objection to our retiring
to rest now.”

The farmer, who met them with a somewhat shame-faced countenance,
offered no opposition to their wishes, and they were conducted to the
guest-room, where the rugs from the carriage had been arranged so as
to make a bed for Paschics on the floor.

“No bed for us to-night, Carlo,” said Cyril, catching the look of
pleasure which his weary follower cast at the lowly couch. “First of
all, while this primitive candle lasts, do you mark on my map the spot
where your cousin the charcoal-burner lives, while I hunt for the
chest of clothes. Ah, this must be it!”

But the result of a search in the chest was not wholly satisfactory.
The sheepskin-lined _kaftan_ of which Olga had spoken was there, and
so were a pair of high boots and a fur cap, and also several gaily
embroidered shirts and the short decorated jacket which is worn to
display them; but there was not one complete suit to be found, much
less two.

“Well, we must divide the things, and do what we can,” said Cyril.

“No, sir,” said Paschics, firmly; “you must disguise yourself as
thoroughly as possible. You are far more necessary to--to Mrs Weston
than I am, and in far more danger. I can alter my present appearance
sufficiently to pass muster in my own clothes, and if we have an
opportunity to-morrow I will buy a disguise in one of the towns we
must traverse.”

Cyril yielded to the good sense of his follower, and proceeded to
array himself in the Thracian garments, supplementing the deficiencies
with his own; but, happily, the coat was so long, and the boots so
high, as to make it most unlikely that he would be perceived to be
wearing tweed trousers instead of the baggy knickerbockers proper to
the costume. When his toilet was complete, he turned to Paschics for
his approval, but met instead a look of absolute consternation.

“It is impossible, sir--quite impossible. You look no more like a
Thracian peasant than--the Emperor of Scythia. You have the air of a
blond Hercynian officer at a fancy dress ball. To pass through the
country in that costume is simply to court disaster. You would be
arrested as a Scythian spy by our own people if the conspirators had
not seized you first.”

“We have plenty of time before us,” said Cyril, forbearingly, “and it
is your business to use it in fitting me to the costume. Pull yourself
together. You can do it if you try: I won’t believe that such a master
in the art of disguise could be beaten in such a comparatively simple
problem. Sit down and consider carefully what is wrong. Then we will
see what can be done to remedy it.”

Paschics obeyed, and before long his face lighted up.

“You are right, sir. I had forgotten this,” and he produced something
from his pocket. “You may remember that I once told you I always
carried a wig and false beard about with me. They will work wonders.”
He fastened on the beard, and arranged the wig on Cyril’s head,
pulling forward the unkempt hair over his forehead, so as to shade his
eyes. “Now for a few strokes of the brush,” and by means of a small
bottle of pigment he altered the shape of the eyebrows, and added
various lines and wrinkles to the face. “If you will be so good as to
dip your hands in the mud of the road when we are outside the walls,
sir, I think you will be quite unrecognisable.”

“But what about you?” asked Cyril. “You should have kept the wig and
beard for yourself.” But his success in transforming the appearance of
his employer seemed to have stimulated Paschics, for he next proceeded
methodically to disguise himself. He did not change his clothes,
except that he took Cyril’s hat, which he moulded into a different
shape, instead of his own; but when his preparations were complete, he
was no longer the smart, bustling, business-like Italian courier, but
an idle Thracian down on his luck, and only half at ease in his shabby
Western garments. His coat was stained and partially buttonless; his
hat, placed at what ought to have been a rakish angle, had an air of
indescribable melancholy, owing to the fact that its brim was turned
down on one side instead of up, and his very hair and moustache, which
had been gaily curled, now hung dank and despondent.

“Bravo!” cried Cyril. “It will take a knowing fellow to recognise you,
Carlo. Now let us pack up our possessions, and then I think it will be
time to be off.”

Their preparations had taken a considerable time, and the house had
long been silent. They rolled up the rugs and Cyril’s discarded
garments into a bundle, which Paschics was to carry, and placed a gold
coin in the chest from which they had obtained the clothes. The money
due to the driver was also wrapped in paper and placed in a
conspicuous spot; for, although it might have been good policy to aim
at being taken for mere thieves instead of more important fugitives,
Cyril did not wish to give the man an additional reason for pursuing
the party with his enmity. They then carried the bundle out into the
yard, and Paschics, climbing the wall, lowered it to the other side,
remaining at the top himself to help the rest. The door opened easily,
as Olga had promised it should, and beside it they found a little pile
of barley-cakes and an old brandy-bottle filled with rye-beer. Having
secured these, and given them into the charge of Paschics, Cyril
returned noiselessly into the house. It was necessary to move with the
greatest caution, in order to avoid disturbing the sleepers whose
snores were audible from the rooms on either side; but Cyril had paced
the passage carefully when he went to bid good-night to the farmer,
and knew exactly how far to go. Arrived at the door which Olga had
indicated, he scratched on it very lightly with his nail, and it was
opened immediately by Fräulein von Staubach.

“We have been expecting you for hours!” she whispered reproachfully.
“Neither Mrs Weston nor I could bring ourselves to close our eyes; but
Tommy is fast asleep again, although we had to wake him to dress him.”

“Give him to me just as he is, and do you and Mrs Weston bring your
things and follow me,” Cyril whispered back. The Queen laid her son in
his arms without a word, and he led the way down the passage. The
floor was of beaten earth, so that there were no boards to creak, and
the two ladies were carrying their boots in their hands, in accordance
with the directions they had received, and thus not the slightest
sound was made. While they paused outside to put on their boots, Cyril
secured the door noiselessly, and then noticed that the Queen and
Fräulein von Staubach were not carrying the bundles of clothes he had
expected.

“What have you done with your own things?” he asked, in a low voice,
but with some irritation, of Fräulein von Staubach.

“We have got them on under these,” she whispered. “The Thracian
dresses are so thin and loose that they would be too cold alone, and
so we put them on over those we had.”

“Then you were not able to buy pelisses?” said Cyril, as he led the
way to the corner where Paschics was waiting. “However, the weather is
mild, and these women are wonderfully hardy, so that your being
without them will not excite remark.”

They had reached the crooked tree by this time, and the ladies were a
little appalled to behold their means of escape. The Queen insisted on
being the first to tempt the perils of the climb, and Cyril,
intrusting the sleeping form of the little King to Fräulein von
Staubach, assisted her to reach the top of the wall, climbing up after
her himself to help her to lower herself on the outer side until
Paschics could guide her feet to the crevices in the stonework. The
King was next conveyed across, still without being awakened, and then
Cyril descended again to help Fräulein von Staubach, whose transit
was the most difficult of all. She had not the Queen’s agility, and
she was painfully nervous; but by dint of superhuman efforts on her
part and on Cyril’s, she was at last able to join the group outside.
The luggage was next passed over, and then Cyril let himself down, to
be met by a little shriek from the Queen as he did so. In the shadow
inside she had not noticed his disguise, and for the moment she
believed him to be one of the enemy. Paschics viewed her alarm with
equanimity, as a tribute to his skill, and in the midst of whispered
explanations a start was made, Cyril again carrying the King. The
ladies had been left unencumbered; but before they had gone more than
a few steps the Queen snatched her bag from the hand of Paschics.

“You shall not carry everything for us!” she cried. “Sophie, take your
own bag immediately. M. Paschics is heavily laden already with that
great parcel.”

“Prudence, madame!” remonstrated Cyril. “I fear that in the morning we
may be compelled to support our assumed characters by leaving you to
carry your own luggage; but at present we are still civilised beings.
That does not allow us to consider ourselves in safety, however.”

The Queen laughed and blushed, and they went on in silence along the
muddy cart-track. The heaviness of the ground made their progress very
difficult, and the ladies were manifestly relieved when the wood of
which Olga had spoken was reached, and Cyril announced that they were
to rest there for a few hours. He himself would have been inclined to
press on at once; but he realised that the endurance of the party was
limited by that of its feeblest members, and that it was better to
rest now and start at daybreak than to undertake the greater fatigue
of a night-journey, and perhaps find the ladies unable to proceed when
in a hostile neighbourhood. Accordingly, he and Paschics hunted about
in the wood until they came upon the clearing made by the woodcutters,
where the poles which had been cut were piled up against one another
to season. The shelter thus formed needed only to have its open ends
filled in with branches to form a very passable hut for the ladies,
and when the rugs had been spread on a carpet of dry leaves and twigs,
the interior was voted by common consent to be positively luxurious.
The Queen and Fräulein von Staubach took grateful possession of their
new abode, while Cyril and Paschics camped outside, and in spite of
the unwonted nature of the surroundings and the alarm of their
position, there was not one of the party that did not sleep well.

It was one of Cyril’s enviable characteristics that he could awake at
any hour he pleased, and this stood him in good stead the next
morning, although the rest were scarcely disposed to rejoice in his
possession of the faculty when he called them before daybreak. He
hastened to explain, however, that they ought to be on the road as
soon as it was fairly twilight, and that there was a good deal to do
first, and they partook meekly of the frugal meal he served out, and
awaited his orders.

“It is my painful duty to announce that we must lighten the ship,” he
said. “We brought away all our luggage from the farm in order to
puzzle the enemy, but we can’t carry it with us. It would be too
heavy, and it would arouse suspicion. Everything that cannot be
carried in your pockets, ladies, or in a large pocket-handkerchief,
must be left behind.”

“But if the enemy find the things, it will help them to track us,”
objected Fräulein von Staubach.

“I propose to bury everything we leave,” answered Cyril. “It is
evident that this spot is not often visited now that the woodcutting
is over, and the dead leaves and light soil are easy to move.”

“But you would not bury the Queen’s sable cloak?” in a tone of horror.
“It was the Emperor of Scythia’s wedding present to her, and it is
priceless.”

“Nonsense, Sophie!” said the Queen. “What is a fur cloak compared with
honour and safety? You shall bury anything you like, Count--Arthur, I
mean. We are all forgetting our _noms de guerre_.”

“We must change them again now,” said Cyril, “in accordance with our
changed position. From this moment we are merely Thracian peasants. If
you will call yourself Anna, madame, and Fräulein von Staubach Maria,
M. Paschics shall be Nicolai, and I will be Ivan. The King we may call
Sascha. May I entreat you all to speak nothing but Thracian when we
are upon the road? As for you, madame, I fear you must pretend to be
dumb. To be overheard speaking any language but Thracian would be
fatal.”

“Very well,” said the Queen; “from this moment I am dumb.”

“Then shall we now proceed to get rid of our surplus possessions?”
asked Cyril. “As my luggage has consisted since the beginning of this
trip of a toothbrush, a pocket-comb, and a piece of soap, I have a
good deal of room left in my pockets, and I shall be glad to carry
anything I can for any one, and so will Nicolai, I am sure. To work,
ladies, if you please!”

With heroic calmness the Queen and Fräulein von Staubach proceeded to
select the most necessary or most portable of their belongings, and
dispose of them as best they could about their persons, while Cyril
and Paschics, with the aid of some broken branches, were digging a
hole in the ground, in which they laid the Queen’s cloak and the other
rejected treasures. This operation was finished by the pale light of
the spring morning; and as soon as the leaves and soil had been
replaced, Cyril ordered a start. They walked as far as possible
through the wood, and only quitted it when it would have taken them
away from the road, to which they returned at a spot some four English
miles beyond that at which they had left it the night before in order
to reach the farm. The order of their march had now to be adapted to
their supposed circumstances. Cyril and Paschics walked in front in
lordly style, while the two ladies came humbly behind, according to
Thracian custom, carrying, when there was any one to see them, the one
the little King and the other the bundle of rugs, although when the
road was empty they were immediately relieved of their burdens. It was
only occasionally that they fell in with country-people, who exchanged
a bucolic greeting with the two men and took no notice of the women,
and to their great relief they were not overtaken by any one from the
farm they had quitted so unceremoniously. At about eight o’clock in
the morning they came in sight of the little town, or rather large
village, at which they were to have spent the night; and Paschics
proposed that the rest should make their way round it without
entering, while he went boldly on to purchase food and, if possible, a
suit of country clothes for himself. Cyril was loath to lose such an
opportunity of gauging personally the feelings of the inhabitants; but
his common-sense told him that in the uncertain condition of affairs
Paschics was a safer messenger than he was, and he led his charges
into a field-path which, as his map showed him, would rejoin the road
later on, while the detective walked on towards the town. At the point
at which the path returned to the road Cyril and his party halted and,
concealed by a clump of bushes, waited for Paschics. It was some time
before he came in sight, and when he saw Cyril awaiting him he made
him a hasty sign to withdraw behind the bushes, and looked up and down
the road anxiously. Then he turned aside, and, sitting down on the
bank, began to eat some food which he took from his pocket. Presently
Cyril, who had been watching him through the bushes in surprise, saw
the reason of this strange behaviour, for another wayfarer came round
the turn of the road, and, after exchanging a greeting with Paschics,
limped on his way. It was not until this man had passed out of sight
that Paschics rose and approached the rest, and they saw as he came
that his face was very gloomy.

“Then you could not get any other clothes?” Cyril asked him, as he
distributed the coarse bread and slices of sausage which he had
brought in his handkerchief.

“I found the shopkeeper so inquisitive, sir, that I did not venture to
do anything that might arouse his suspicions further. He asked me any
number of questions--who I was, whence I came, where I was going,
whether I was travelling alone, and if so, what I wanted with such a
store of food. My answers did not throw much light on our
circumstances, as you may guess; but the fact of his asking the
questions was in itself unpleasant.”

“But was the man merely inquisitive, or did he know anything to make
him suspicious?” demanded Cyril quickly. The detective’s eyes met his
meaningly, and he was about to suggest a private conversation, when
the Queen, seeing his intention, interposed--

“Allow us to hear what new danger threatens us, Count. We are all
exposed to the same peril, and we have a right to know its nature.”

“I find,” Paschics went on unwillingly, in response to a sign from
Cyril, to whom he persisted in addressing himself, “that our friend
the farmer’s son passed through the town last night on his way from
Ortojuk to the farm. He rested a short time at the tavern, and told
the people the news which he had heard in Ortojuk, whither it had been
telegraphed from Tatarjé. It seems (this is what he said) that an
arrangement had been arrived at between her Majesty the Queen and our
Holy Synod for the conversion of the King to the Orthodox faith. It
was for this reason that the Court was spending the winter at
Tatarjé, which is at once a stronghold of the Orthodox and remote
from the capital, for the conversion was to be kept a secret until it
had actually taken place, on account of the opposition which would be
raised by the Queen’s mother and the Hercynian Imperial family
generally, and by the other Western Powers. Meanwhile, Bishop Philaret
of Tatarjé had been instructing the King diligently in his new faith,
and the ceremony of receiving him into the Orthodox Church by the rite
of confirmation was arranged to take place on Friday--yesterday. But
on the night of Thursday his Majesty was kidnapped by some person or
persons unknown, presumably foreigners in the employ of the Princess
of Weldart, and had utterly disappeared. A strict watch had been set
on the frontier, and it was known that no suspicious characters had
crossed it, so that it was evident that the abductors had turned their
steps into the interior of the country, and measures were at once
taken to discover and arrest them. This was done by order of the
Queen, who remained at Tatarjé in the greatest distress and anxiety;
but my informant did not hesitate to add that he believed she had only
been half-hearted all along, and was a party to the plot----”

“But,” exclaimed the Queen, breaking the stunned silence, “how could I
be at Tatarjé when I am here? What can they mean?”

“I am afraid Baroness Paula has played her part a little too well,”
said Cyril. “I arranged with Baroness von Hilfenstein that in case of
need her daughter should personate you, madame, for a short time, in
order to give us a better opportunity of escape; but now it seems that
we have been too clever by half. But no! it is impossible that they
could have been deceived when it was daylight. They have taken
advantage of our _ruse_ for their own purposes. You think that they
have not discovered who took part in their Majesties’ flight,
Paschics?”

“How could they, Excellency? You had left for Bellaviste, and I had
gone to visit my relations. Fräulein von Staubach is the only person
they could make sure of. But what I fear is that some chance--or
possibly merely his own suspicions--may take our friend the
sub-prefect to Tatarjé. When he heard what had happened he would
instantly remember the English travellers, and his description of you
would be recognised by some one, and the identification established by
showing him one of your photographs. Then he would be after us like a
bloodhound, enraged at having allowed such a prey to slip through his
fingers.”

“And you think that the results might be unpleasant if he once came up
with the abductors of his Majesty?” asked Cyril.

“Your Excellency, they are all to be brought back to Tatarjé, _dead
or alive_; and I gathered from the shopkeeper that if the matter were
left in the hands of the people they would take care that it should be
dead.”

“Count!” said the Queen quickly, as Cyril sat with his chin on his
hand, plunged in meditation. “Count!” she said again, as he did not
answer her, “what are we to do?”

“I was just considering the advisability of our all going quietly to
the next police-station and giving ourselves up, madame.”

“You would not do it?” she cried, her eyes dilating with horror.

“I am almost convinced that it is our proper course, madame. I have
known all along that failure in this enterprise meant death to
Paschics and myself; but I thought that you and Fräulein von Staubach
would at any rate be free from bodily peril. But don’t you see the
diabolical cunning of these fellows? It would be easy enough to get up
a scuffle in arresting us, in which both of you might be killed by
accident, and there they are, with the King in their hands! They have
only to make a dramatic discovery of Baroness Paula’s imposture and
proclaim it, convert the King, and, using him as a hostage, make terms
with Drakovics. The ball is at their feet in that way. Whereas, if we
surrender to the police, they are bound to protect you two ladies from
the mob, whatever happens to us.”

“Yes, and what is to become of us?” cried the Queen, in a harsh,
strident voice. “Is my boy to be given up after all to the tender
mercies of these vile conspirators? After all that I have risked to
save him, is he to be forced into an alien Church before he is old
enough to make a choice? I tell you, he shall not be! Give yourself up
at the nearest police-station, Count, if you like; I will kill my son
and myself before you shall surrender us!” She made a sudden spring
forward, and snatched the keen, broad-bladed Thracian knife from
Cyril’s girdle, holding it poised ready to strike at her own heart.

“This is no time for scenes, madame,” said Cyril irritably. “We are
not strolling players, but sensible people consulting together as to
the best means of averting a great danger. Have the goodness to give
me back that knife.”

He took it from her unresisting hand as he spoke, for his words and
tone came like a dash of cold water on the fire of her passion, and
she was already ashamed of the momentary frenzy which had seized her.
But when he had returned the knife to its sheath, she caught his hand
in both hers.

“Count, I have trusted my son’s life and honour and my own to you. You
will not fail us?”

“I have no present intention of doing so, madame. Can you not trust me
yet?”

His words stung her like the lash of a whip, and she drew apart with a
crimson face, while Cyril turned to the other two.

“We are wasting time here,” he said. “Our business is to reach Ortojuk
and cross the river as soon as we can. How we are to pass through the
city I don’t know. We must find out when we get there.”

“I heard in the town that to-day is market-day in Ortojuk,” said
Paschics, “so that the place will be full of peasants from the country
round.”

“But we have seen no one coming from here.”

“No, sir; they left early in the morning. But we are sure to fall in
with some coming from the more distant villages, and arriving later,
and we must mingle with them, and so slip into the city.”

“Good; we will divide our party when we get a little nearer, so that
there may be a chance that some of us, at least, may get through. Now,
ladies, we will start, if you please.”

He took the little King in his arms, and they walked on resolutely and
almost in silence for nearly two hours. The Queen was flagging
painfully towards the end of the time; but she would have died rather
than complain after the words Cyril had addressed to her, and she even
objected when he called a halt on a grassy bank opposite the point at
which a by-path joined the main road. He took no notice of her remark,
however.

“We will join the next company of peasants that comes along,” he said,
as Paschics distributed a meagre lunch from the food he had brought,
“but we must divide. Remember that we are peasants from one of the
mountain villages across the river, and have been to Tatarjé on a
pilgrimage to the tomb of St Gabriel. Our aim on reaching the town is
to get through it as quickly as possible, and cross the river; but we
must meet at a spot near the bridge, and reconnoitre before venturing
upon it. It is almost certain to be watched, and once upon it there
would be no hope of escape.”

“Except the river!” said the Queen, the wild look returning to her
eyes.

“Madame!” said Cyril reprovingly. “If your Majesty will leave the
choice to me, I should prefer a boat. But as regards the order of our
progress, I think that you, Fräulein, should go first, carrying his
Majesty, and keeping his face hidden as far as possible. Paschics
shall follow, not looking as though he had any connection with you,
but ready in case you find yourself in any difficulty. The Queen and I
will come last.”

“No!” cried the Queen, “I will not be separated from my boy. Why
should Sophie carry him? It is my place, and I will do it.”

“Madame, it is impossible,” returned Cyril, not unsympathising, but
unmoved. “You have been photographed so often holding his Majesty in
your arms, and the photographs are so well known throughout the
country, that the juxtaposition of the two faces would attract notice
at once, and that would mean instant discovery. You must allow
Fräulein von Staubach to take this post of honour, and remember that
your own name is Anna, and that you are unfortunately dumb.”

The Queen subsided into instant silence, and Fräulein von Staubach
and Paschics, at Cyril’s suggestion, moved farther along the bank,
that they might not all appear to belong to the same party. He had
heard the voices and laughter of a band of peasants as they came along
the by-lane, and presently they emerged into the road, and took the
direction of Ortojuk. It was evident that contingents from several
villages were present, for they were divided into four or five
parties, each of which kept religiously to itself, and discussed its
own subjects of interest, the men in front and the women behind.
Fräulein von Staubach, with the little King in her arms, found a
welcome among the women of the first party, Paschics slouched with the
gait of the professional vagrant into the ranks of the men of another,
and Cyril and the Queen, rising slowly and painfully, as though
scarcely able to walk any farther, found a place in the last. Cyril
knew the temper of the Thracians too well to expect to be greeted with
curiosity or even interest. One or two languid questions were put to
him as to his starting-point and his destination; but the announcement
that his home lay across the river chilled any semblance of
friendliness that might otherwise have been forthcoming, and his
companions returned to the discussion of their own village politics
without paying any attention to his presence. The women behind were
more inquisitive, and Cyril could hear them questioning the Queen.
What was her name? where did she live? had she any children? was her
husband kind to her?--questions to all of which she answered by
shaking her head and pointing to her tongue. Then the women drew away
from her, and whispered together, and again some of their words were
audible to Cyril. Dumb, poor thing! and apparently deaf too. No wonder
she seemed sad! And besides, it was quite clear that her husband beat
her. Cyril wondered vainly from what premisses they deduced this
inference; but there was no doubt that it seemed to satisfy them.

After another hour’s walking the walls and cupolas of Ortojuk came in
sight, and Cyril felt an involuntary tightening of the throat as the
band of peasants approached the gate. The guards gave them a very
cursory inspection, however, being chiefly interested in inquiring
whether they had passed or met on the road a posting-carriage
containing some English travellers, who were said to be escaped
criminals, and to have succeeded in eluding justice wonderfully
hitherto. Cyril recognised the hand of the sub-prefect in this piece
of intelligence, and it caused him additional uneasiness to remember
that the official was probably in the town at this moment; but there
was no opportunity for deliberation now. The sole way of escape lay
through Ortojuk and across the river, and to pause or turn back was to
be lost. He pushed his way through the gate with the rest, made sure
that the Queen was close behind him, and submitted to be swept along
in the company of his peasant-friends towards the market-place in the
middle of the town, on the opposite side of which lay the streets
leading down to the river.

It was now considerably past noon, and as many people were leaving the
market as entering it; but the sellers, who had been disposed to take
things easily and eat their dinners, were stimulated by the arrival of
the fresh band of customers, and prepared to seize upon them with
effusion. The company of peasants divided on reaching the
market-place, each man seeking the special row of stalls of which the
contents interested him most, while Cyril and the Queen pressed on
across the open space in the midst, which had been used earlier in the
day as a horse-fair, in the wake of a few earnest souls who desired
first of all to perform their devotions at the great church on the
opposite side. Some way in front of him Cyril could see the hat which
Paschics was wearing, conspicuous among the caps of the other men and
the handkerchiefs of the women, and he breathed more freely, for it
seemed as though the first danger of Ortojuk were already past. But
his joy was premature. From the direction of the municipal buildings,
which lay close to the church, but at right angles with it, came three
men on horseback, pushing their way roughly through the crowd, and he
recognised them immediately as the sub-prefect and his two ragged
followers. He had barely time to reflect that the sub-prefect was
still searching for English travellers, and was looking far too glum
to have met with any success in his efforts as yet, when the official
rose in his stirrups and looked over the people’s heads. Whether it
was that he regarded any wearer of a hat as a suspicious person, or
that he actually recognised that which Paschics had on, he shouted to
the crowd to make way, and riding up behind Paschics, tapped him
smartly on the shoulder, asking him some trivial question at the same
time. Involuntarily Paschics looked round and up at his questioner,
who uttered an exclamation of delight.

“It is the courier who was with the English!” he said to his henchmen.
“Arrest him instantly, and bring him before the mayor for
examination.”

There was a wild rush to the spot on the part of the crowd, and as the
people swayed hither and thither, Cyril caught a momentary glimpse of
Fräulein von Staubach, with the child still in her arms, disappearing
down the street next the church, which he had pointed out to her on
the map as the nearest way to the river, without even turning her head
to ascertain the cause of the commotion. He blessed her for the
stolidity or presence of mind which had made her obey him so
implicitly; but the next moment he was recalled to the perils of the
position by feeling the Queen’s agonised grasp on his arm. Even now
she remembered her part sufficiently not to attempt to speak, but her
tortured eyes gazed into his in mute anguish.

“Maria and Sascha are safe,” he said to her, not venturing to use any
other language than Thracian, lest the unwonted accents should attract
the notice of the crowd, but trusting that she would be reassured by
the tone, “but Nicolai is taken.”

Her grip on his arm relaxed, but she still held convulsively to his
coat as he thrust himself into the crowd, battling apparently to gain
a front place, but in reality to force his way across the
market-place. There could be no safety or shelter until they had
gained the narrow streets again. After a few moments, his struggles
brought him fairly near the prisoner and his guards, and he heard
Paschics protesting vigorously against his arrest, in scraps of
various languages. But his words were not all those of protest.

“It is an infamy, an outrage! I will complain to the Italian Minister!
_Don’t stay here; go on, and never mind me_.” This was in English. “By
what right is a peaceable Italian citizen arrested when he has done no
harm? _Get out of the city, and into the mountains; go quickly_. You
shall pay finely for this! _Save them now; it is your only chance_.
Oh, you dogs of Thracians, you shall see what will happen!”

He was dragged away, shouting as he went, and Cyril, obeying his
injunctions, broke through the crowd, and hurried across the rest of
the market-place, the Queen still clinging to him. It was impossible
now to reach the street down which Fräulein von Staubach had
disappeared, and they turned down another and hurried along, Cyril
revolving in his mind the route they must take in order to reach the
river.



 CHAPTER XIII.
 IN THE GREENWOOD.

“We must go this way in order to get back to our proper road,” said
Cyril in a low voice, as they reached a street running at right angles
to that in which they were, and they walked briskly along it for some
little distance. Presently, as they passed the end of another street
leading from the market-place, they met a crowd of people, talking
loud and eagerly.

“He says they must be somewhere in the town, and all the inns are to
be visited.” “They say that if they are not discovered in that way no
one who cannot produce his credentials will be allowed to leave the
city.” “The search is beginning already, I hear.”

Looking towards the market-place, Cyril caught sight again of the
forms of the three horsemen. He knew that the Queen and he could not
be distinguishable in the crowd at this distance; but if the
sub-prefect should come up and question them, his suspicious eyes
could not fail to recognise the English lady of the previous day. The
threat of closing the gates was serious enough; but the danger of the
moment was so pressing as to exclude any thought of the future. Cyril
led the way a little longer in the direction they had been taking,
then turned sharply down a narrow back-street, silent and deserted.
Just as they entered it, the sound of horses’ feet became audible in
the street they had that moment left, and the Queen turned pale again,
and clung to Cyril’s arm. She had not understood the words of the
crowd; but she had seen the sub-prefect and his followers, and knew
that their appearance boded no good.

“Keep up!” whispered Cyril; “they may not come down here, or we may
find a doorway or an empty house to hide in. There is a gate open in
that wall. Come on quickly.”

But the gateway to which they hastened was that of a stonemason’s
yard, and the dazzling array of tombstones and obelisks afforded no
chance of concealment. Moreover, the sounds of conversation near at
hand showed them that the proprietor and his men were sitting in the
sun on the inner side of the wall eating their dinner, and it was
impossible to confide in them. But the sound of the horses’ feet was
now close upon them. Once let them turn that corner, and--Cyril paused
and glanced into the Queen’s white face, and an idea came to him
suddenly. The rickety old gate which had first attracted his notice,
and which opened outwards into the street, was swaying and creaking on
its hinges in the light spring breeze. He pulled it forward, pushed
the Queen into the angle of the wall behind it, followed her himself,
and pulling the gate back again, held it fast with all the strength he
could command. Scarcely had they taken their stand when they heard the
horsemen turn the corner and ride down the street. The Queen’s hand
gripped Cyril’s with a painful pressure, but neither of them uttered a
sound. There was a poster on the gate in front of them, evidently
fastened up in the early morning, before the yard was opened, and
Cyril’s eyes studied it without his understanding a word of what it
contained, while his ears were occupied in listening to the enemy
without. They came past the hiding-place, looked in at the yard, and
called out to the proprietor to know whether he had seen any strangers
about, then rode on, knocking now and then at the door of a house, and
questioning the inmates. Then the sounds of their horses’ feet died
gradually away, and Cyril ventured to push the gate forward a little
and look out cautiously in the direction they had taken. There was no
sign of them, and although there was a danger of their returning, it
was all-important to reach the river as soon as possible, and the
fugitives quitted their place of refuge and pursued their way; but not
before Cyril had realised that the bill posted on the gate contained
offers of reward to any one who should kill or capture the abductors
of the King, and that it purported to be signed by the Queen, Bishop
Philaret, and the Mayor of Tatarjé.

“When this is all over, and we are safe again, I shall buy that yard,
and build a memorial church there,” said the Queen, a little
hysterically.

“A most laudable resolution, madame; but at present, permit me to
remind you, we are very far from safe, especially when a presumably
dumb lady speaks German in a hostile town.”

Much confused, she followed him in silence, and they penetrated
through several winding lanes until they came out on the banks of the
river. The first sight that greeted their eyes was the comfortable
form of Fräulein von Staubach, sitting at her ease on a heap of
planks, with the little King asleep in her arms; the next, the bridge,
a short distance to their right, with a strong body of soldiers
guarding its approaches. Several peasant families, coming from the
market-place and wishing to cross, were turned back, and at last Cyril
approached the man who seemed to be the head of one of them, and asked
what the difficulty was.

“They will let no one cross without a passport,” replied the man, “and
as, of course, mine is at home, I have to go and look for the headman
of our village, who travelled to town with us this morning, to come
and identify us as belonging to the commune before we can cross.”

He passed on, and Cyril meditated upon this unwelcome intelligence.
The passport which he had drawn up at Tatarjé, and which had been
countersigned by the sub-prefect, would naturally, under present
circumstances, be worse than useless, and he had buried it in the wood
with the other things abandoned in the morning; but now it appeared
that without a passport, and with no one to testify to their identity,
or rather to disown it, he and his charges would be in a position
every whit as bad as if the compromising document were still in their
possession. It was clearly out of the question to attempt to cross the
river by means of the bridge, and he began to wander down the bank,
followed at a short distance by the Queen and Fräulein von Staubach,
examining the boats that were moored there. Most of them were empty
and untenanted, and for a moment the thought crossed his mind of
stealing one and escaping in it; but he reflected quickly that it was
unlikely such an easy means of evasion should have been left
unguarded, and that so larcenous an attempt would only precipitate the
catastrophe he dreaded. It was necessary, then, to turn to the boats
with people on board, in the hope that it might be possible to arrange
the terms of a passage. After passing several craft in review, Cyril
stopped before a boat loaded with bales of flax, on the deck of which
a shock-headed elderly man was walking up and down and talking angrily
to himself.

“Do you want a hand with your boat, father?” Cyril asked him politely;
but the politeness appeared to be wasted.

“No, young man, I don’t,” was the snappish answer. “Do you think after
I have brought this load of flax down the river for the merchant
Alexandrovics, only to be told by that dog of a Jew his clerk that I
have mistaken the day, and that it was next market-day he meant, that
I am likely to be able to waste money in hiring help?”

“But surely it will be a hard pull against the stream if you have to
take it back?”

“Of course it will; but that is nothing compared with losing a whole
day and having nothing to show for it. At any rate, it is a comfort
that I would not allow my son to leave his work on the farm when he
offered to come and help me, though it will be hard enough with the
loaded boat.”

“But why not land the flax and leave it at the merchant’s house?”

“And find next week that half the bales were under weight, and that
the flax in the rest had been filled with stones and mud by that Jew
thief? A plague on these Jews! It is they who have kidnapped the King,
and his mother knows it. Birds of a feather flock together. You know
that she is secretly a Jewess?”

“The Queen? No?” replied Cyril, with as stupid an expression of wonder
as he could command. But his surprise seemed to offend the old man.

“Where have you been living, not to know that? And now, young man, you
can be off. I have no time to waste in talking to you.”

“I thought you might be willing to put us across the river for a
piastre or two,” said Cyril sadly, jingling the coins in his girdle.

“Put you across? Why didn’t you say so at once, instead of talking
nonsense about helping? But what’s wrong that you don’t cross by the
bridge?”

“The soldiers are making some fuss about passports, and we have none.
Who would take passports on a pilgrimage, to get them stolen? And
there is no one from our village to testify to our identity; but if
you took us on board you would be able to say that we were respectable
people.”

“And how am I to know you are respectable people?”

“If you found us prepared to pay you a certain sum for putting us
across, surely that would show we were respectable?”

“Ah!” cunningly; “that would depend upon the sum. How much?”

“Five piastres,” said Cyril, with the air of one making a tremendous
offer. The sum named was somewhat under a shilling.

“Fifteen,” replied the man in possession, promptly.

“Ten,” said Cyril, with a lack of resolution which was quickly seen
through.

“I can’t do it under fifteen,” was the reply.

“Eleven--twelve--thirteen,” counted Cyril, in a voice of despair.
“That is my last piastre. We must look for some one else.”

“No, I’ll do it for that, since you are on pilgrimage,” cried the old
man, as the would-be passengers turned away. “But you must lend a hand
with the oars, and I can’t put you ashore at the bridge-end, for there
is a danger of smashing the boat against the piers. You must land
higher up.”

“That’s all right. Our road runs alongside the river for some
distance,” returned Cyril. “Are you starting now, or is there time to
buy some food?”

“Do you expect me to waste an hour while you go shopping, young man?
Get on board at once, or lose your money. You have something left
then, have you?”

“Only a few paras.” The para is about the twenty-fifth part of the
piastre. “You don’t want to take our last copper?”

“No; but I would have sold you some bread if I hadn’t eaten all I
brought with me, and I would have given you more for your money than
you would get in any of the town shops.”

“You are not such a bad hand at a bargain yourself,” said Cyril
morosely, as he helped the women on board, and the host began to
loosen the rope by which the boat was moored.

“I shouldn’t do much business if I was,” was the dry answer. “Now what
are those fellows shouting about? I knew they would come and interfere
as soon as an honest man who has done no business all day tries to get
home.”

The persons alluded to were three or four of the soldiers from the
bridge, who came rushing down to the bank when they saw the
preparations for the departure of the boat.

“Your names, all of you? and your village?” cried one of them,
breathlessly. The owner of the boat drew himself up.

“My name and village you can see painted there, if you can read, Mr
Soldier,” he replied; “and I should like to know why I should be
catechised because I allow my son and his wife and child and his
wife’s aunt to find seats on the flax there?”

“You are sure of their identity?” pursued the questioner, rather
confused.

“Sure? My good young man, I think you must have been visiting the
tavern too often lately to ask me such a question. Do you think I
don’t know my own son, and daughter-in-law, and grandson, and--and
sister-in-law? If you have come here to insult honest farmers, I’ll
complain to the magistrates.”

“All right,” the soldier explained hastily. “It’s only a form; but we
were ordered not to let any one pass without it. Good-bye, father, and
your son, and your daughter-in-law, and your grandson, _and_ your
great-grandmother’s cousin’s aunt, good-bye!”

“Thracia is going to ruin,” observed the farmer solemnly to Cyril, as
they got out the oars, “when any young jackanapes in uniform thinks he
can make fun of a man old enough to be his grandfather. Move out of
the way, young woman.” It was the Queen whom he addressed, and she
turned mutely and pointed to her tongue. He looked at her with
something like disgust.

“He wants you to move to the next bale, Anna,” said Cyril, in
Thracian, but with an imperative gesture which she understood and
obeyed.

“Dumb, is she?” grunted the old man. “Is she deaf as well?”

“She can understand me, as you see,” returned Cyril; “but I doubt
whether you could make her hear.”

“How do you make her understand?”

“How does one make a dog understand?” asked Cyril, and the farmer
laughed brutally.

“Boy dumb too?” he asked.

“Not a bit of it; only asleep. I would wake him up and let you hear
how he can talk, but that he is tired and would be troublesome.”

The old man laughed again, and they rowed on in silence for a time.
Then he said suddenly, “If you have been on pilgrimage, I suppose you
saw the tomb of St Gabriel at Tatarjé? What is it like?”

“Of course we saw it,” returned Cyril indignantly, and he began to
describe the shrine, which he and the other members of the Court had
visited as the only show-place in Tatarjé. But his hearer’s attention
wandered.

“What did you want to take _her_ on pilgrimage for?” he asked, jerking
his head towards the Queen. “Did it do her any good?”

“It hasn’t given her a voice, as you see. But the fact was, I wanted
to take the boy, and he can’t look after himself. Besides, she wanted
to come.”

“Ah, you don’t know how to manage a wife. The idea of letting a woman
go anywhere because she wished it!” and the old man turned chuckling
to his oars again, and chuckled until the boat arrived at the opposite
bank.

“Now then, young man, out you go, and your relations too,” he said.

“Don’t you mean to take us any farther?” asked Cyril, in a tone of
dire dismay.

“For thirteen piastres? No, my son. If you could make up the fifteen,
now----”

But Cyril shook his head, and began to make fast the boat, preparatory
to helping his charges to land. They would walk along the bank for a
little, in order to throw the old man off the scent; but it was not
worth while to run an additional risk for the sake of hoodwinking him
further.

“I say!” cried their late host, as he pushed the boat off again,
“surely you don’t carry your own parcels when you’ve got your wife
with you?”

“How could I do anything but carry the bundle in the town, when she
was gaping and staring about so that I knew she would drop it or let
it be stolen?” returned Cyril sullenly. “Here, Anna, make yourself
useful,” and he handed the parcel of rugs to the Queen. She gave him a
look of astonished reproach, which he answered by a frown intended to
counsel prudence. The old man, who had caught her expression but not
his, laughed loudly.

“Lazy!” he cried. “After all, my son, I see that there is some
advantage in having a dumb wife. If yours had possessed a tongue, you
would certainly be making acquaintance with the rough side of it at
this moment. But you and I know that there is nothing like a good
thick stick for all of them--is there?”

“He is a detestable old man,” said Fräulein von Staubach to Cyril in
a low voice, as they walked along the bank, the farmer’s loud chuckles
still reaching them faintly across the water; “but I am sorry you
thought it well to deceive him about the money. It would have been
much pleasanter to go a little farther in the boat.”

“But I assure you there was no deception,” returned Cyril. “That was
absolutely my last piastre. It is true that I have some gold; but if I
had let him see it he would have been convinced at once that we were
no better than we should be. And as for going farther in the boat, it
would only have been waste of time. As soon as we are out of sight of
our friend, we will turn off into the hills, and look for the
charcoal-burner’s glen.”

But it was some time before this was possible, for the road ran
parallel with the river, and every now and then their late host rested
on his oars for a minute to take breath, and shouted some remark to
Cyril. It was evident that he would have liked his help again in
rowing, although he would not confess it, and was trying to tempt him
to produce some hidden store of coin out of which to pay for a longer
passage. But at length the bank became steep and rocky, and the road
turned more inland, and Cyril waved farewell joyfully to the old man,
and took a furtive look at the map to ascertain the right course. But
the road was so completely deserted that he might have spread out the
map and consulted it for an hour without danger, and he turned to
relieve the Queen of the burden she had been carrying.

“We will return to the path we passed a little way back, madame. So
far as I can make out, it leads just in the direction we wish to take.
Permit me to carry the rugs.”

But to his surprise she looked him full in the face without a word,
and declined to give up the bundle. Thinking that she wished him to
relieve Fräulein von Staubach, he held out his arms for the little
King, who allowed himself to be transferred from one bearer to the
other without even waking. Going on in advance to find the path, Cyril
turned to wait for the ladies, and observed in astonishment that the
Queen was still carrying the rugs, in spite of all Fräulein von
Staubach’s attempts to get possession of the bundle. Moreover, she
still refused to speak, and Cyril led the way up the hill in silence,
deciding in his own mind that she had taken it into her head to feel
angry at being supposed to be dumb, and was trying to punish him by
keeping up the pretence when it was no longer necessary.

The path led on and on, first uphill and then down, through patches of
forest in sheltered spots and again over bare uplands; and still Cyril
kept on his way, with occasional halts for the purpose of consulting
the map, and still the Queen toiled on with the great bundle in her
arms, although she could scarcely drag one foot after the other for
weariness. Cyril was provoked by her obstinacy, and determined not to
make any further advances. If she chose to behave like a sulky child,
and punish herself, she should be allowed to do so. It was growing
dusk by this time, and when the path led down into a wood larger than
any they had passed hitherto, the trees overhead made it almost dark;
but Cyril’s spirits rose, for he knew that they must be approaching
the charcoal-burner’s hut. Coming to a spot where the fall of an old
tree had brought down two or three others with it, making a little
break in the blackness overhead, he advised the ladies to sit down and
rest, while he went on to reconnoitre. There was no reason to suspect
the loyalty of old Minics, since Paschics had declared him worthy of
trust; but it was just possible that he might have visitors, whose
discretion could not be so comfortably relied upon.

Still following the path, which was now barely distinguishable, Cyril
came out at last on the edge of a cleared space, sloping down to a
small lake. Close in front of him was a hut built rudely of logs and
branches, and before it a large fire, beside which an old man was
sitting with his dog. As he came forward, they both rose and looked at
him, the dog suspiciously, the man with a good deal of interest.

“You are Yosip Minics, I think?” asked Cyril. “We are travellers who
have been recommended to your kindness by your cousin’s son, Lyof
Paschics.”

The old man nodded. “I have been looking out for you,” he said. “I
went down into Ortojuk this morning to buy my week’s supplies, and I
had word by a sure hand that Lyof might be here soon wanting help.
When I heard what they were all saying in the town about the King, I
knew what the message meant,” and he glanced not unkindly at King
Michael, who, awakened by the voices, was now almost overbalancing
himself in his efforts to reach down and pat the dog.

“But what do you know about us?”

“Only this,” and the charcoal-burner brought out a dirty envelope from
his hut, and held the stamp towards Cyril in the firelight. “One can’t
very well go wrong when his Majesty’s portrait is so close at hand,
can one?”

“You certainly have an advantage there,” said Cyril with a laugh.
“It’s a good thing for us that other people haven’t thought of it.”

“Oh, I had my message from Lyof’s mother to help me, you see. But what
have you done with the lad?”

“I am sorry to say he was arrested in Ortojuk this afternoon.”

“But the royal party are safe? That is all right, then. He has done
his duty, and God and the saints will see that he comes to no harm.
But put the child down on this wolfskin here--I will look after
him--and fetch the women. They are not far off, I suppose?”

“No, I will go back for them,” and Cyril retraced his steps, wondering
the less, now that he had seen this shrewd and kindly old man, at the
curious conditions of Thracian life, which had given Paschics a
relative so low down in the social scale. But as he approached the
spot where he had left the ladies, he forgot all about the
charcoal-burner, for he could distinctly hear the Queen sobbing, and
Fräulein von Staubach trying to comfort her in German. His first
thought was that they had been tracked by the enemy and taken
prisoners; but almost at the same moment he saw that there was no one
there but themselves.

“I fear that you have been alarmed, madame,” he said, hurrying
forward; “but I assure you that I have not been longer than I could
help. The charcoal-burner is most willing to shelter and help us, and
I have left the King in his charge while I came back for you.”

“I have not been alarmed,” said the Queen, rising stiffly. “Give me
that bundle of rugs, if you please; I prefer to carry it.”

“Unhappily it is already bespoken, madame. May I be permitted----?”

He offered his arm to assist her, but she drew herself away. “I wish
to carry the rugs,” she repeated, but her voice failed her.

“Madame!” said Fräulein von Staubach, imploringly.

“Be quiet, Sophie. I know that it is my own fault. I have placed
myself in a false and degrading position, and Count Mortimer takes
advantage of it to humiliate me.”

“Madame!” protested the maligned Cyril, in utter astonishment.

“You know it is true. You rejoiced when you ordered me, in the
presence of that horrible old man, to carry the bundle.”

“You must know that it was merely to avert suspicion, madame.”

“It was not. You were repaying to me all the humiliations I have ever
inflicted upon you. I saw it in your eyes.”

“Upon my honour, madame, the step was more painful to me than to your
Majesty, but it was necessary to save the situation.”

“At my expense. Oh, I have put myself into your power, Count, I know
that. But I did not expect----”

Her voice failed again, and Fräulein von Staubach cast a beseeching
glance at Cyril, to which he responded instantly:

“If I may not have the honour of assisting you, madame, I will fetch
the charcoal-burner; but you cannot stay here all night. Old Minics is
rather grimy, but if you prefer his help to mine----”

Without a word the Queen took his arm, and he piloted her the rest of
the way. Once arrived at the hut, she was too much exhausted to do
more than partake of the soup and black bread which the host had
prepared, and then sit leaning against the wall of the hut while
Fräulein von Staubach made the best she could, with the aid of the
rugs, of the primitive arrangements for the night. When the little
King had been carried indoors, and the two ladies had also retired,
Cyril and his host sat outside by the fire, smoking. The
charcoal-burner had accepted, out of politeness, one of his guest’s
cigars; but it was evident that he preferred his own clay pipe and
coarse tobacco, to which he betook himself with zest as soon as he had
finished it. Under ordinary circumstances, Cyril would have welcomed
this divergence of tastes, since his remaining cigars were now very
few in number; but to-night he felt too much depressed to be comforted
even by tobacco, and he smoked on moodily until a hand was laid upon
his shoulder, and he turned to find Fräulein von Staubach stooping
over him.

“I wanted to ask you whether you were intending that we should
continue our journey to-morrow, Count?” she said.

“I had thought of it, Fräulein; but you must surely know that I
should not venture to recommend any plan of my own in opposition to
the slightest wish of her Majesty. Her knowledge of affairs----”

“You are piqued, Count, and you speak with unnecessary sarcasm. Her
Majesty is asleep, and has no idea that I am consulting you; but the
fact is that she is quite incapable of performing a farther march
without rest. Her feet are so fearfully blistered that I cannot
imagine how she succeeded in getting here at all. Every step must have
been agony to her.”

“It would be quite possible to rest to-morrow, Fräulein. The people
would have more leisure to stare at us if we travelled on Sunday, and
we might find it difficult to obtain food. By all means inform her
Majesty that you will not leave the valley until Monday morning.”

“You speak as though you were intending to abandon us, Count.”

“I hope that the abandonment will be only a temporary one, Fräulein;
but I fear that her Majesty would derive little benefit from her day
of rest if I were in the neighbourhood.”

“Then what do you propose to do?”

“Go out into the world--back to Ortojuk, perhaps--and see what is
going on, and whether our schemes have been penetrated.”

“This is quite unnecessary, Count, and you know it. You are going
wilfully into danger--exposing us to danger, even--because you cannot
make allowances for her Majesty’s hasty words spoken in a moment of
weariness.”

“Make allowances? I have been doing nothing else since I have been
sitting here. I was a little surprised at the moment, I grant; but
since then I have reflected that I was a fool not to expect just what
I got. It is not my first experience of her Majesty’s gratitude, you
will remember.”

“Count, you are cruelly unjust. Think of the trials which have beset
the Queen since we left Tatarjé; of all the vicissitudes----”

“I have thought of them all, Fräulein. The only thing I had not
expected was to be abused for what I had not done, and for that I was
a fool, as I tell you. Are you not satisfied with that?”

“Satisfied, when every word you say brings an accusation against her
Majesty? You are casting the blame on the woman, as the men always
do.”

“May I ask whether you think I am the person to blame, Fräulein?”

Fräulein von Staubach appeared to find the question a hard one to
answer, for it was some time before she said unwillingly, as she went
back into the hut, “No, Count; you are not to blame, and certainly her
Majesty is not. It is circumstances.”

“Circumstances!” muttered Cyril to himself somewhat later, as he
crawled on hands and knees into the little lean-to which he had
assisted old Minics to build as a kind of spare bedroom to his log
mansion, and made himself as comfortable as he could on a couch of
branches very imperfectly covered with a rug. “That is what the
Baroness said--‘I am not afraid of either the Queen or you; but I am
very much afraid of circumstances.’ How long ago was it--a hundred
thousand years? Is it possible that it was only the night before last?
It feels as if I had lived whole lifetimes since then--since she said
she trusted me and would obey me. And a pretty farce it is! She will
obey me when she likes, and when she doesn’t she tries to make me feel
like a blackguard for giving her orders.”

He laughed angrily, and turned over on his unrestful bed. But sleep
would not come to him, in spite of the fatigues of the day and the
disturbed character of his last two nights. The Queen’s face floated
before him--now white and terror-stricken, as when they had hidden
behind the gate; now rosy and confused, as he had seen it when she had
made some dangerous blunder; now lifted to his in eager interest, and
again suffused with tears, as when he had come upon her in the
wood,--never twice the same, and at no time strictly beautiful,
perhaps, but always fascinating from its ever-changing play of
expression.

“Her infinite variety!” he said to himself sarcastically, remembering
the line he had once quoted to Drakovics with reference to her;
“infinite fickleness, I call it--wish she would cultivate a good
serviceable workaday frame of mind, and stay in it, for once. And
why--why, when I have been bothered with her all day, I should want to
be thinking of her all night, I don’t know----” He stretched himself
vigorously, and came into such violent contact with one of the poles
of the lean-to as almost to send the structure flying; then resigned
himself to lying passive and watching the stars through the crevices
of the roof. “I really could not be more taken up with her if I was in
love with her. Why--well, and what if I am in love with her?”

“In love--and with her!” The idea was so ludicrous, and at the same
time so unwelcome, that Cyril could not contemplate it lying down. He
sat up, leaning against the supporting wall of the hut, and regardless
of the risk of fire, lighted another cigar to calm his nerves, and
thus fortified, prepared to face the situation. That he--he, Cyril
Mortimer, of all men--should have fallen in love, and that with a lady
who had not merely done her utmost to testify her dislike to him, but
who could, and doubtless would, ruin his career with a ruthless hand
if she should gain the slightest inkling of the state of his feelings,
was too utterly absurd. It must be that he possessed a double
personality, and one self loved the Queen, while the other not only
perceived how fatal to all his chances in life such an attachment
would be, but actually disliked, despised, and disapproved of
Ernestine and all her doings. But--double personality or not--he was
in love with her, and, so far as he could tell, for no earthly reason.
This consideration was peculiarly trying to Cyril. As he had told
Caerleon long ago, he had had many love-affairs, but to have called
them _affaires du cœur_ would have been a serious mistake. They were
purely _affaires de la tête_, political or social speculations
deliberately entered upon with an eye to the realisation of an
underlying purpose. Cyril undertook them with the same zest that
characterised him in his schemes of a more purely political nature,
and enjoyed them fully, without once losing his head. The ladies
concerned enjoyed them also, of course--such of them, at least, as
understood that a _tendresse_, and not a _grande passion_, was the
utmost to be expected from him--and the affairs had never yet afforded
occasion for scandal. Cyril was not the man to compromise any
woman--and far less himself--unless he was playing for very high
stakes indeed.

And now he was honestly in love--just as Caerleon had been! The
thought was so exquisitely absurd that he laughed until the tears came
into his eyes. No, not like Caerleon, very far from it. It had not
been Caerleon’s misfortune to fall in love with his sovereign; his
difficulty was just the other way about. And the avowal that his love
was returned, the hope that one day he might call the loved one his
own--these things, for which Caerleon had lived, Cyril did not even
desire. If he should ever be so unfortunate as to come to desire them,
it would be the signal for him to leave Thracia, and take his
susceptible heart to some other country, where Queens were less
attractive, or, at any rate, less given to demand knight-errantry from
their followers. His susceptible heart!--the term in connection with
himself struck him as so ridiculous that he began to picture himself
as laying that heart at Ernestine’s feet. What would she do?--turn
away from it in disgust, or take it up in her disdainful little hands
and throw it down again, just for the pleasure of seeing it break? But
that pleasure she should not enjoy. He could not secure his heart in
his own keeping, it seemed; but at least he could prevent any one else
from guessing that he had lost it. He smiled again as he thought how
easy the task would be. There was not a man in the kingdom who would
not be suspected of such folly before himself, not a man to whom the
Queen was less likely to condescend by way of inspiring in him such
dreams.

“I’ll go on,” he said to himself, “and so long as she treats me
decently I’ll stay and look after her; but if she makes herself
disagreeable I shall cut, and before I go I’ll tell her! That will
punish her,” and happy in the thought, and also conscious that his
cigar had gone out, he lay down again, and slept peacefully.

He did not wake until late in the morning; but the host was the only
member of the party who was before him. He was busy making up the fire
as Cyril went down to the lake for a hasty toilet, and received him
with a friendly smile when he returned.

“Can you let me have a snack of some kind, Minics, before the ladies
come out?” Cyril asked him. “I want to be off without their knowing
it.”

“But where are you going?” asked the charcoal-burner.

“Out along the way we came yesterday, to reconnoitre.”

“But that is foolhardy,” said the old man solemnly.

“That is just how I feel--foolhardy--or perhaps restless, rather. But
I don’t intend to run any risks. I shall stop on this side of the
river and make sure that the soldiers are gone from the Ortojuk end of
the bridge before I attempt to cross. If they are there still, I shall
come back.”

“But what foolishness are you contemplating? You have some silly idea
of gaining glory by running into danger.”

“I assure you that you were never more mistaken in your life. It is
easy to see that you don’t know me, or you wouldn’t make such a
suggestion. My errand is the very prosaic one of discovering whether
we have been tracked across, or not. If I find that they think we are
still on the other side, I shall venture on hiring a boat to-morrow,
for the sake of the ladies, who are really unfit to walk. But if they
are looking for us on this side, or along the river, walk we must.”

“Yes. I can show you a path across the hills, which is fairly safe,
but very rough. Well, go and make your inquiries, my son. I wish I had
something better than rye-bread and ewe-cheese to give you to take
with you.”

“Nothing could be better,” said Cyril cheerfully. “Good-bye. Present
my respects to the ladies when they appear.”

But as he turned towards the forest-path, stuffing the bread and
cheese into his girdle as he walked, the Queen ran out suddenly from
the hut, and caught his arm. She had no shoes on, and her feet were
bound up in pocket-handkerchiefs; but it was evident that she had
quite forgotten the fact.

“Where are you going, Count?” she asked imperiously.

“On a voyage of discovery, madame.”

“That means that you are rushing into danger?”

“The experiences of the last few days have made danger appear quite
unexciting, madame--even monotonous.”

“Do you think I am a child, Count, that you try to put me off with
such tales? You are not to go.”

“Your Majesty must know that it is my dearest duty to obey any wish of
yours. Am I to consider myself under arrest?”

“Count!” she stamped her foot and burst into tears, “you are cruel,
ungentlemanly! Is it generous to recall to me what I said last night?
You will not make the slightest allowance for a woman who was half out
of her mind with fatigue and the dangers of the day. How can you be so
unjust?”

“Madame!” remonstrated Cyril, in alarm, “you mistake me. If I have
given you cause to address such a reproach to me, I humbly entreat
your pardon.”

“Now you are putting me in the wrong again,” she said, half-laughing
through her tears. “Do not let us quarrel, Count. I do not command you
to stay here, but I entreat you not to leave us to-day. Think of the
fearful suspense we should endure--waiting hour after hour for your
return. You don’t believe me,” catching the involuntarily sarcastic
look upon his face. “Well, then, think of our horrible isolation; left
here without you. What should we do if the enemy traced us to this
spot? How could you answer to your conscience for abandoning us? Ah!
you will believe that, I see. You will permit us to have some fear for
ourselves, if we may not feel any anxiety for the safety of our
friend, our leader. _Mille remercîments, M. le comte!_ Come, you will
not go? The charcoal-burner is going to church. He will make any
inquiries with far less danger than you. You will remain here?”

“Little witch!” said Cyril to himself. “What does she mean by looking
so distractingly pretty? I shall kiss her in another minute, and then
there will be a nice row! I couldn’t very well plead that it was my
other personality which had done it.” Aloud he answered formally,
“Your commands shall be obeyed, madame. I am your servant.”

“You are not!” she cried. “Never say that again, Count. Do you think I
am a stone, a block of wood--that I have no feelings, no gratitude?
You are a dear and faithful friend to my son and myself, as you were
to my husband; and if we ever return to--to everyday life, you shall
see that I am not ungrateful. Come, I ask you as a friend not to leave
us lonely here. You will not refuse?”

“You do me too much honour, madame. Naturally I will remain.”

“You are not enthusiastic, Count. You think that I shall quarrel again
with you in an hour or so?”

This was exactly what Cyril did think, but he was not so rude as to
tell her so. “If you have any further wishes, madame, pray command
me,” he said.

“Yes, there is one thing,” she said quickly, trying to hide a little
disappointment which had crept into her tone. “What are they saying
about us in the world all this time? What of M. Drakovics?”

“In the suddenness of our departure from Tatarjé, madame, I ventured
to take the steps which seemed to me to be advisable without
consulting your Majesty. To my servant, who was proceeding to
Bellaviste in the train supposed to be conveying me, and who is a
staunch fellow, I intrusted a note to be given to M. Drakovics
immediately on his arrival. In this note I informed his Excellency of
the unfortunate events which compelled you to leave Tatarjé at once
with the King, and added that you would travel _incognito_ until you
reached the castle of Prince Mirkovics. These facts I begged him not
to make public, lest the conspirators should have sympathisers in
Bellaviste; and I requested him also not to attempt to put down the
rebellion by force until he knew that your safety was assured. I have
no doubt that he is publishing daily special Gazettes detailing your
Majesty’s journey by the usual route, with particulars of the
decorations and illuminations at the towns passed on the way.”

“To throw the public off the scent?” asked the Queen, laughing, in
spite of herself, at the idea. “But surely we are losing time
frightfully? The rebellion will spread and consolidate itself while we
are wandering about in these forests.”

“Your safety, madame, and that of his Majesty, is the paramount
consideration. When M. Drakovics knows you are safe, he can put down
the rebellion at his leisure. Any step that would direct attention to
this district, or drive the insurgents from Tatarjé to take refuge
among these hills, would be a grave mistake. And even at the worst, we
are losing very little time, although I cannot flatter myself that my
plans have succeeded as they would have done with ordinary luck. By
to-morrow night--in four days from our leaving Tatarjé--I hope to see
you in safety. Either by the river, if it proves prudent to hire a
boat, or by a path across the hills which Minics can show us, we ought
to be able to reach Karajevo long before sunset; and once there we are
among friends, for Bishop Andreas is the brother of Prince Mirkovics.”

“It is my turn to ask your pardon, Count. Your foresight is
marvellous. If we reach Karajevo safely, I shall begin to feel that
there is something supernatural about the way in which your plans
succeed in spite of all kinds of apparent failure. Well, I shall not
be altogether sorry to leave this wandering life in the greenwood; and
yet---- There has been much, very much, that was delightful in it,
and, best of all, it has shown me a true friend whom I have hitherto
been too blind to recognise.”

She went back into the hut, leaving Cyril speechless under the
witchery of the radiant smile she turned upon him. As he shook
himself, metaphorically speaking, to get rid of the spell, he heard
Fräulein von Staubach say with some asperity--

“Was it needful to take quite so long to make your peace, madame? I do
not know what it will lead Count Mortimer to think?”

“Think? Why, what should he think?” asked the Queen sharply.

“Exactly,” reflected Cyril; “what should he think? No; that further
complication is mercifully avoided--although there are moments when
one is inclined to wish that it was not.”



 CHAPTER XIV.
 THE _JUDENHETZE_.

The hours of that Sunday passed pleasantly enough by the side of the
lake in the valley. The charcoal-burner donned his best clothes and
started for church, going not to Ortojuk, but to a village on the
nearer bank of the river, and Fräulein von Staubach found ample
employment in putting the hut tidy and making preparations for dinner,
interlarding these occupations with disparaging remarks on their
host’s style of housekeeping, addressed to the Queen, who was acting
as her assistant. Cyril, who had been peremptorily refused a share in
their labours, lay upon the grass and watched them, keeping at the
same time a vigilant eye on the little King, who was amusing himself
at the water’s edge, and came to him now and then to propound
conundrums in physics and natural history.

When the Queen had finished her household tasks she fetched the child
away, and sat down with him under a tree at the farther side of the
clearing. She produced a book from her pocket, and Cyril gathered that
she was telling the King a Bible story and teaching him texts.
Presently Fräulein von Staubach joined her, and they read verses
alternately out of the Bible and repeated German hymns aloud. Cyril
understood perfectly well the timid glance which the Queen cast at
him; she felt that it would only be right to ask him to join them, but
she was afraid of his sarcasm. The idea pleased him, for it was
evident that she had no inkling of the power she possessed over him,
and moreover, he much preferred to watch her from this distance
“playing at being in Church,” as the little King, with no intention of
being profane, designated her occupation. She was very pleasant to
look at as she sat there, holding fast one of the child’s chubby hands
lest his active little body should escape whither his mind had already
gone, to the birds and squirrels in the woods, and Cyril, as he
watched her, fell into a day-dream. Suppose that some unimaginable
turn of affairs should prevent their returning to what the Queen
called “everyday life,” and keep them imprisoned in the forest, how
pleasant it would be! He saw himself returning after a hard day’s
hunting or woodcutting to this glen (not to the charcoal-burner’s hut,
it may well be understood, or at least to a glorified edition of it),
and welcomed by Ernestine--this new and friendly Ernestine. He
scarcely glanced, even in his dream, at the possibility of marrying
her, for it seemed that it would be happiness enough to be permitted
to live near her and enjoy her society, provided that her mood did not
change. But at the thought his lip curled. If there was anything in
past experience, she would be scolding and upbraiding him to-morrow as
though she had never called him her friend to-day, nor sworn endless
gratitude to him. Such was life! and after this return to hard reality
Cyril’s day-dream passed imperceptibly into a real dream, from which
he only awoke to find that the little King had been putting beech-nuts
(uncomfortable three-cornered things) down his collar, and that the
Queen was scolding the child for being so naughty.

Recalled to the prose of life in this practical manner, Cyril returned
good for evil by taking his youthful tormentor to look for a
squirrel’s nest, an unavailing search that lasted until old Minics
returned, overflowing with the gossip gathered from his acquaintances
outside the church. It was the general belief that the King and his
abductors must have crossed the river, although nothing had come to
light as to the means by which the crossing had been accomplished, and
search was being made for them all along the stream, and also on the
road which they had left to reach the glen. From this it was evident
that not only was it unsafe to return to the river in the hope of
proceeding by boat; but it was also advisable to start as early as
possible on the morrow, lest the search should extend even to their
place of refuge.

Shortly after sunrise on the Monday morning, therefore, the wanderers
took the road again. Minics accompanied them for some miles, in order
to make sure that they were in the right way, as he said; but in
reality, as Cyril shrewdly suspected, because he could scarcely bring
himself to part from the strangers who had brought so much variety
into his lonely life. This feeling was entirely reciprocated by King
Michael, who displayed a willingness to return with the
charcoal-burner to the “place where all the squirrels were,” which
rather wounded his mother. When he was carried off at last on Cyril’s
shoulder, he kept his face turned persistently backwards until Minics
was out of sight, and continued to wave his hand and blow him kisses
as often as the old man looked round. It was not until a further view
of his friend had become absolutely hopeless that the King consented
to adopt a position more agreeable to the person who had the honour of
carrying him, and Cyril was able to address the Queen.

“Do you dislike leaving the wood as much as his Majesty, madame?”

“Very nearly as much,” she said, with a sigh. “I think that when next
the doctors order us into the country, I shall make the Court camp out
in the woods, instead of hiring houses.”

“It would be quite Arcadian,” observed Cyril, meditatively. “I can
imagine Baroness Paula and the other maids of honour enjoying it
immensely as long as the weather was fine, with Parisian shepherdess
costumes and high-heeled shoes, and gilt crooks with bows of ribbon on
them--but the elder ladies, madame! It would be sheer cruelty. Think
of Baroness von Hilfenstein!”

“I don’t want the Baroness or any of them,” said the Queen, hastily.
“Of course I was thinking of merely the party we have here to-day. Any
one else would spoil it--except poor M. Paschics. What do you think
they will do to him?”

To this question, asked for the twentieth time, Cyril could only give
the stereotyped reply that Minics believed that his cousin had been
sent back to Tatarjé, there to be examined by the heads of the
conspiracy, and that if all went well it might be possible to rescue
him in the course of a day or two. But this reminder of their past and
present perils checked any tendency to further trivial conversation,
and they marched on for the most part in silence.

Throughout the day’s journey over these sparsely wooded uplands they
scarcely caught sight of a single person, and in only one case were
they themselves seen, when they met a goatherd who consented to sell
them a cupful of milk for the child. Cyril had succeeded in obtaining
from old Minics a further supply of piastres in exchange for gold, and
the transaction aroused no suspicion. Their frugal mid-day meal was
eaten on the roadside near a stream, and a long rough walk
followed--so long that the Queen was flagging visibly, and King
Michael asking plaintively for his tea, before they reached the brow
of the hill beneath which lay Karajevo, with a lofty mountain, its
summit still covered with the winter’s snow, and its lower slopes clad
with thick forest, towering above it on the other side. Over the city
hovered a cloud which Cyril pronounced to be smoke.

“Evidently there has been a fire,” he said. “I only hope that the
Bishop’s palace has not been burnt out, just as we want to test his
hospitality. Well, we are nearly safe now; but we will not relax our
precautions until we have claimed the Bishop’s protection. We will
take our Thracian names again, and speak nothing but Thracian. You,
madame, must be dumb, I fear, once more.”

They went on down the hill, but before they had reached its foot Cyril
stopped again.

“I don’t like the look of this,” he said. “There is certainly
something wrong, for there are houses on fire in two or three parts of
the town, and the people seem to be moving about in crowds. We will
make inquiries at the gate before we go in.”

But the gate proved to be deserted and falling into decay, and Cyril,
noticing a small inn just inside the walls, thought that it would be a
good place for inquiry. Telling the two women to sit down on the stone
bench in front, he went indoors and asked for a glass of rye-beer. The
woman who was serving looked at him apprehensively when he entered,
and was obviously relieved to hear that he was a stranger.

“Is there anything wrong in the town?” he asked, as he sipped his
beer. “It looks as though the Roumis had been making a raid.”

“Oh dear no! we have nothing of that sort nowadays,” replied the
hostess hastily. “It is only that the townspeople have been expelling
the Jews.”

“The Jews! Why, what have they done?”

“They have kidnapped the King, haven’t you heard? They want to make
him a Jew, and they knew that their wicked spells would have no power
over him if he was once made an Orthodox Christian, so they carried
him off--to kill him and use his blood in their horrible rites, I
daresay,” she added, with unconscious inconsistency.

“Dreadful!” said Cyril. “But what has that to do with Karajevo?”

“Oh, when the news came, the people rushed at once to attack the
Jewish quarter. They set it on fire and drove the Jews out, and one or
two got killed--but it was their own fault. They would not say where
their treasures were hidden. And the Bishop actually took their
part--well, our Popa Vladimir says he is half a Jew himself--and let
them put their goods in his courtyard for safety. It wasn’t likely
that the people would stand that, was it? and they broke open the
gates and drove the Bishop out----”

“How long ago was this, and where did the Bishop go?” asked Cyril, in
great anxiety.

“Oh, that was this morning, and the Bishop went up the mountain with
two or three priests and servants, to take refuge with his brother,
Prince Mirkovics, no doubt. How could he think of protecting the
creatures, when the proclamation said that the wretches who had stolen
the King ought all to be killed, and every one knew that it was the
Jews who had done it?”

“There will be a few little pickings still left, I daresay,” said
Cyril, who had had time to collect his thoughts. “At any rate, I think
we will not go farther to-night--if you can provide us with a lodging,
that is. We can’t pay much, but I can sleep in the loft if you can let
the women have a room.”

“We can certainly take you in,” said the hostess with some contempt.
“You don’t want a private sitting-room, I suppose? Your wife and the
other woman had better come inside. Oh, there are the people coming
down the street again! They are all drunk now, and what they will be
when they have had more brandy, St Gabriel only knows!”

The aspect of the approaching mob was certainly not reassuring. Its
component parts appeared to belong to the lowest rabble of the town,
and in their equipment bloodstained weapons contrasted painfully with
the gay stuffs and embroideries with which some of them were
decorated. Cyril stepped to the door of the inn, where the Queen and
Fräulein von Staubach, terrified by the wild shouting and wilder
singing, were beginning to meditate flight.

“Stay where you are,” he whispered hastily, “and don’t look more
frightened than you can help. They may not notice you.”

He had barely time to utter the words before the crowd poured past him
into the house, clamouring for brandy. While the hostess was
satisfying their demands, they had time to observe the stranger.

“Who are you?” demanded a big fellow in a butcher’s apron.

“A pilgrim coming from Tatarjé, and looking for a night’s lodging,”
returned Cyril.

“Are those women with you? How are we to know you are not Jews?”

“Do Jews generally go on pilgrimage to St Gabriel’s tomb?”

“How should I tell? I know nothing about Jews. But we are not going to
have them in Karajevo, at any rate. Come, we must get this settled.”

“Here is your brandy, gentlemen,” said the hostess anxiously. “Don’t
disturb the poor people. The young woman looks dead tired.”

“Musht be sure they’re not Jewsh,” said a young man, with tipsy
gravity. “Can’t have the plashe defiled again, jusht when we’ve turned
them all out. Are you Jewsh, you women?”

He addressed himself to the Queen, who shook her head and pointed to
her tongue. The action appeared to arouse suspicion.

“Dumb?” said the butcher. “There was a Jew dumb to-day, but I cured
him with a red-hot steel. It cast the dumb devil out of him, so Popa
Vladimir said.”

“She is no more a Jew than you are,” said Cyril.

“Of course not,” said the hostess. “Here’s an easy way of settling it,
gentlemen. Let the poor people kiss the blessed _icon_ of St Peter
which I will take down for you--no Jew would do that--and do you leave
them alone, and come back to your brandy.”

The suggestion was hailed with acclamations, and the blessed _icon_, a
smoke-begrimed painting on a board, promptly handed to Cyril. He
kissed it immediately, and the butcher held it to the lips of King
Michael. He drew back fretfully, and his mother pushed it away. A
murmur rose from the mob, and the self-appointed inquisitor offered
the _icon_ to the Queen, who rejected it so vigorously that it fell
from his hand to the ground. Cyril called to her angrily to kiss it;
but she shook her head obstinately, and stood facing the crowd with
gleaming eyes and heaving breast.

“She is a Jewess!” was the cry, as the butcher picked up the _icon_
reverently.

“Not a bit of it,” said Cyril, brushing the dust off it with the
sleeve of his coat. “She doesn’t understand.”

“You make her undershtand, if she’sh your wife,” said the tipsy man.

“Why didn’t you ask me at first? You have frightened her and made her
angry, and now she won’t do it for me.”

“It is quite clear that the woman is either a Jewess or possessed with
a devil,” said the butcher solemnly. A murmur of assent greeted him,
and he turned to Cyril. “You can stay here, young man; but the girl
and her brat must go. We won’t have them in our town.”

“Then I shall go too,” said Cyril, warned by a whisper from the
hostess, “Get her away before they begin to ill-treat her. They are
nasty to-night.” Beckoning to the women to follow him, he pushed his
way through the crowd and out at the gate, this sudden movement taking
the enemy by surprise. One or two started in pursuit, however; but the
brandy they had found in the Jewish spirit-shops interfered with their
walking powers, and they considered it wiser to remain at the gate and
hurl stones and pieces of rubbish after the fugitives. It was
difficult to maintain the semblance of dignity when walking as fast as
possible, and trying not to duck too precipitately in order to avoid
the missiles thus despatched; but the Queen achieved the feat, and
entered the forest with the lofty mien of a martyr, carrying her boy
as easily as if indignation had driven away all fatigue.

“I am sorry you thought it well to destroy your chances of obtaining a
night’s rest, madame,” said Cyril, selecting a path which led in the
direction of the mountain, when they were out of sight and earshot of
the city.

“I am sorry you thought it well to kiss the _icon_, Count.”

“I am not a Jew, madame. I should call myself a Christian if I was
asked, I suppose.”

“You know very well it was not that. To kiss the _icon_ meant that you
belonged to the Orthodox Church. And it was to save my boy from that
that we have gone through so much. But at least I have kept him from
such a step as you chose to take.”

“My conscience, like my life, is at your service, madame.”

“But mine is not at yours!” she cried, turning on him. “Understand
that, Count, if you please. But we will not discuss the subject. I do
not wish to appear ungrateful.”

“Count!” came from Fräulein von Staubach in an awful whisper, as she
clutched Cyril’s arm, “pray do not speak German. I believe we are
followed. Several times I am certain that I have heard something
moving among the bushes.”

“It may be some of the Jews, who have taken refuge here,” said Cyril
reassuringly. “At any rate, it cannot be any one in pursuit of us, for
those fellows were much too drunk to come, and there is no one in
authority to organise a chase, even if we had been recognised, which
we were not. Very likely it is some poor wretch who is as much afraid
of us as we of him.” He raised his voice, and called out loudly in
Thracian, “Who are you? Is there any one there?” but no answer came.
“You see, it must have been an animal,” he said.

“A wolf!” gasped Fräulein von Staubach.

“A wolf won’t think of attacking us if we keep together. Besides, I
have the knife and a revolver if he should prove aggressive. Allow me
to relieve you of his Majesty, madame. We may have a good deal farther
to go yet.”

They went on and on into the depths of the wood, much to the disgust
of Fräulein von Staubach, who expressed her objections loudly; but
the Queen, conscious that the farther journey was consequent upon her
own action, said nothing, and plodded on valiantly. At length a red
light became visible among the trees in front, and Cyril turned into a
narrow path which led towards it.

“It cannot be a house,” he said; “but it may be a woodcutters’ camp,
and they would probably give us shelter for the night.”

But as they approached the light, a figure burst from the bushes in
front of them, and ran headlong towards the glow.

“What did I tell you?” cried Fräulein von Staubach, catching Cyril’s
arm again. “It is a man, and we are lost!”

“Come on,” said Cyril coolly, and he led the way after the flying
figure, which had burst into a circle of people sitting round a large
fire with a cry of “Strangers! Christians!” There was an instant
commotion, knives were drawn and hatchets brandished; but the
appearance of Cyril and the two women on the edge of the clearing
allayed the tumult. They were not formidable foes, and a venerable old
man with a long beard, who seemed to be the chief of the party,
advanced to meet them. As for Cyril, he had no doubt of the identity
of the people on whom he had chanced. The long black _kaftans_ and
greasy ringlets of the men, the fuzzy wigs and occasional gleaming
jewels of the women, showed them to be the Jews expelled that day from
Karajevo.

“I tracked them all the way from the town. The man talked to the dark
woman in a strange tongue!” cried the youth who had announced the
approach of the new arrivals, and who stood breathless before the old
Rabbi.

“Who are you? and what do you want here?” asked the old man of Cyril
in Thracian.

“We are travellers who were refused a night’s lodging in the town.
Will you allow us to join your company for the night?”

“But why were you refused lodging? You are not beggars?”

“No; they wanted to make us kiss one of their _icons_, and she,”
pointing to the Queen, “refused. She is a foreigner.”

“But you do not belong to us?”

“No; but I will pay you five piastres--ten--if you will let us build a
shelter for ourselves near you, and use your fire.”

“I saw them driven out of the town with stones and curses!” cried the
youth, and a consultation took place between the Rabbi and two other
old men. Cyril heard the words “Spies!” pass between them, to which
the Rabbi seemed to demur, only to be silenced by one of his
fellow-counsellors--

“If they are not spies, they must be criminals, and when they are
found to have sojourned for the night with us, we shall be in a worse
plight than ever.”

“Unless you can show us any stronger reason for your staying with us,”
said the Rabbi at last to Cyril, and as he spoke he clinked imaginary
coins from one hand into the other, “we cannot receive you into our
camp.”

Cyril reflected for a moment, then decided not to be tempted into
injudicious confidences. None knew better than he that among the Jews,
as among people of other nationalities, good and bad are mixed
together, and it was, to say the least, unlikely that every member of
this banished community should be of the former description. To be
robbed and murdered in the hours of darkness, or to be detained in the
morning that their hosts might win favour by betraying them, would be
for the little group of fugitives worse than going on farther that
night, tired as they were.

“If what I have offered you is not enough,” he said sullenly, “we
can’t pay any more. How far is the next village?”

“There are no more on this side of the mountains. The nearest house is
the hotel on the top of the pass; but it has not yet been opened for
the summer, and only the proprietor and one old servant live there.”

“And how are we to find our way to it?” asked Cyril. “Look here, if
you will send some one with us as a guide, we will pay him the ten
piastres, and trust to the innkeeper’s charity to let us lie down in
some outhouse for the night.”

“I will go!” cried the youth who had tracked them. “There must be
something wrong about them,” he added in a low voice, which was still
quite audible to Cyril, “for them to be willing to camp with us at
all, and see how quiet they are--not in the least like other
Christians. Let me see what they do.”

“And art thou to be murdered and left in the snow for the sake of the
ten piastres?” cried a black-wigged dame who had pressed into the
group. “Thou shalt not go with the strangers, Nathan.”

“I will leave five piastres with you,” said Cyril to the Rabbi,
wondering whether it would have proved more effective if he had
blustered and demanded hospitality, instead of entreating it; “the
rest I will give to the young man when he has brought us safely to the
inn.”

“That is fair,” said the Rabbi, breaking in upon the renewed protests
of Nathan’s mother. “Find the lantern for thy son, woman, instead of
talking. He can take care of himself.”

The lantern, which happened to have been snatched up by some one in
the hurry of flight as the object nearest at hand, was found and
lighted, and Nathan led the way out of the clearing. As Cyril followed
him, the little King’s eye fell on a sweet cake with which one of the
Jewesses was feeding her baby, and he stretched out his hands
hungrily. “Please give me some too,” he entreated.

“The poor child is starving!” cried the woman, breaking off half the
cake, and handing it to him over Cyril’s shoulder.

“God bless you!” said the Queen, earnestly, laying her hand on the
Jewess’s arm; “I will never forget what you have done to-night.”

And she passed on, leaving the women wondering over the German words,
which the Rabbi had not caught sufficiently to interpret. The path up
which Nathan was leading his party was rough and steep, and the light
of the lantern was not of much use to any one but himself; but the
rest followed him without a murmur, although their weary limbs almost
refused to carry them up the rugged ascent. When the forest ended
abruptly, however, and they found themselves on the bare
mountain-side, the Queen gave way at last. She had tripped over a
stone, and only saved herself by catching at Cyril; and when she
released his arm, her strength failed her.

“I can’t go any farther,” she said, sitting down on the ground. “Go
on, and leave me here.”

“Nonsense, madame!” said Cyril sharply. “Take the child,” he added to
Fräulein von Staubach, “and give the rugs to the Jew boy.”

“I did not come here to carry your parcels,” protested the indignant
Nathan.

“Do as you are told!” said Cyril, and, to his own intense
astonishment, Nathan obeyed meekly. “Come, madame, take my arm,” and
he raised the Queen from the ground. “I presume you do not wish to be
seized with rheumatism as a consequence of this adventure; but you
don’t appear to have noticed that it is raining.”

If the Queen had not noticed the rain under the shade of the trees, it
was very evident in the open, and she allowed herself to be helped on
a little farther. Then she stopped again, half-crying--

“Please let me go. I cannot walk another step.”

“You must,” was Cyril’s reply. “If you stay here you will freeze to
death. We have nearly reached the snow, and the rain is changing to
sleet. Surely you must feel how cold it is getting.”

She set her teeth and struggled on. They reached the snow before
long--merely a thin sprinkling at first, just enough to make the path
slippery; but this soon gave place to the partially melted snow of the
winter, into the wet yielding masses of which the unwary traveller
sank if he missed his foothold on the narrow track, trampled into
hardness by his predecessors. Cyril dragged the Queen on with stern
determination, wondering at each step that she did not fall, and
scarcely surprised when at last her arm slipped from his, and she sank
down on the snow.

“I know you are going to say that I shall die if I stay here,” she
sobbed, pushing him away as he attempted to raise her. “That is just
what I want.”

“For shame, madame! The Queen of Thracia a coward!” came in Cyril’s
most sarcastic tones. “Look at Fräulein von Staubach, how bravely she
keeps up. Will you be outdone by your _dame d’honneur_?”

“How dare you!” she cried angrily, but accepting his proffered help.
“And you call yourself a gentleman!”

“Is it forbidden to a gentleman to interfere when he sees a woman
trying to commit suicide?” he asked coolly. “If I can make her angry
with me, and get her to argue, it will help us on,” he thought.

“You are unkind--cruel!” panted the Queen. “You won’t let me rest,
although I can’t walk a step without agony. Have you no pity?”

“Madame, I pity you from my heart, but I dare not let you rest here. I
cannot think only of the suffering woman; it is my duty to save the
Queen.”

A gasping sob was the only answer; but he had felt her half withdraw
her arm from his when he spoke of pitying her, and he went on
stoutly--

“Courage, madame! You cannot afford to lie down and die here in the
snow. For the kingdom’s sake, for your son’s sake, hold out a little
longer. Be brave--for my sake.”

He expected an outburst of indignation; but something in his tone
stirred the Queen’s curiosity, for she lifted her tired eyes to his,
and asked, “Why for your sake, Count?”

“What do you imagine my feelings would be if I had brought you here to
die in the snow, madame? I should be worse than a murderer.”

“You expect me to consider you, when you have no consideration for
me,” she said, half-smiling, half-pouting, looking for the moment like
her old self.

“If it would relieve your feelings to abuse me a little more, madame,
pray do so.”

But this time the bait did not take. “I can scarcely keep my eyes
open,” she complained, “and I can’t talk. I forget what I want to say
before the words reach my lips.”

The cold was evidently benumbing her faculties, and Cyril became
seriously alarmed. He continued to talk as he dragged her on, doing
everything in his power to force an answer from her, keeping her awake
by the sheer strength of his will, as in the case of a sufferer from
some narcotic poison, until he felt both her hands clutching feebly at
his arm.

“I would keep up if I could. I really can’t,” she murmured, as her
head fell against his shoulder. Then her clasp relaxed, and she slid
down on the snow at his feet, overcome by the deadly sleep, or rather
stupor, brought on by intense cold. The rest of the party were so far
in advance that it was of no use to call upon them for help. Cyril
tried to lift the Queen’s senseless form; but, tired and numbed as he
was, the dead-weight was too much for him. At last he passed his arm
round her waist, and succeeded in raising her from the ground, and
thus, half-carrying and half-dragging her, resumed the ascent. A few
minutes later he came suddenly upon Fräulein von Staubach and Nathan,
whom he could not see in the darkness and the falling snow until he
was close upon them, standing despairingly in front of a high gate.

“It is locked,” the Jew was saying, “and the house is some way from
it. The innkeeper cannot hear us, and if he could, he would not come
down to open it.”

“Then climb over and wake him up,” said Cyril peremptorily. “Make any
noise you like--break the windows if necessary--to make him come here
and let us in. I will settle with him afterwards.”

Under ordinary conditions, Nathan would have pronounced the gate
impossible to climb; but now he made a valiant effort, and succeeded
in gaining the top. To fall over on the other side was comparatively
easy, and when the obstacle had thus been effectually, if
ungracefully, surmounted, he ran up the path to the house.

“What is the matter with her Majesty?” asked Fräulein von Staubach
anxiously of Cyril, as they stood waiting before the gate.

“I think she has fainted. I have had almost to carry her the last part
of the way.”

“_Lieber Himmel_! she will die if we cannot restore her quickly. Could
you not break the gate open, Count?”

Placing the Queen in a sheltered corner, Cyril examined the gate. The
lock was new, but the wood was somewhat worm-eaten. Retreating a step
or two, he burst it open with a kick, delivered with a strength that
surprised himself, and he and Fräulein von Staubach together dragged
the Queen inside, just as Nathan ran down the path with several keys
jingling in his hand.

“You have got in? Ah, but he will be angry, the swine of an innkeeper!
He says he won’t have wandering peasants taking shelter in his house;
but if you like to spend the night in the porter’s lodge, which is
empty, he does not mind. Here’s the key.”

“But can we get fire and food?” cried Cyril. “The brute! he shan’t
escape like this. I will get what we want, if I have to take it.”

The youth paused, much impressed, as he fitted one of the keys into
the doorway of the little house, and looked at Cyril. “There is wood
in the shed,” he replied. “The innkeeper’s servant whispered it to me,
when her master’s back was turned, and said that she would be down
here herself in a moment. She was only waiting to bring some soup with
her.”

“Excellent woman!” said Cyril, forcing the door open with his knee.
Fireless as it was, the house gave a sensation of sudden warmth, in
its shelter from the wind and contrast with the cold outside, and he
hastened to bring in the Queen and lay her on the rough plank settle
which occupied three sides of the room. Sending Nathan to forage for
wood, he helped Fräulein von Staubach to disencumber herself of the
shawl which she had wrapped round herself and the little King, and
laid the child on the settle, only half awake, and protesting
fretfully against such treatment. While they were unfastening the
rugs, which Fräulein von Staubach proceeded to heap upon the Queen,
Nathan returned with the wood, and Cyril swept from the hearth the
snow which had drifted in through the hole which served as a chimney,
and arranged a goodly pile. The youth had had the forethought to bring
some shavings to serve as kindling, much to Cyril’s relief, for the
remains of a box of wax vestas in his pocket were all the matches the
party possessed. While he was engaged in the task of lighting the fire
by their means, a sudden question from Fräulein von Staubach startled
him.

“Count, is eau de Cologne poisonous?”

“Not that I know of,” he answered, without looking round. “Have you
taken some?”

“No; but if it is not harmful I am going to give some to the Queen.
I’m sure there is spirit in it, and she must have something.”

“For pity’s sake don’t! It wouldn’t improve matters to poison her.
Wait!” for Fräulein von Staubach was actually pouring out the liquid
into a thimble, the only drinking-vessel available.

“What are you giving the poor thing?” cried a voice in Thracian, and
an elderly woman burst in upon them like a beneficent tornado. In one
hand was a steaming jug, in the other a great loaf of black bread,
both sheltered from the snow by her shawl. “Don’t give her that
nasty-smelling stuff,” she added briskly, depositing her load on the
settle, “and you oughtn’t to have her here by this fire. Bring her in
here,” and she produced a key and opened the door into an inner room.
“The porter’s wife is my sister, and I have kept the place looked
after for her myself. Carry your wife in, young man, and put her on
the bed, and then bring in the child and the soup. Send the Jew boy to
the well for some water--he knows where it is--and put on the pot to
boil. And get some of those rugs of yours dried and warmed.”

She closed the inner door peremptorily on herself and Fräulein von
Staubach, and Cyril was left to obey her last commands. Nathan proved
to be much more expert in fixing up the great pot over the fire than
he was, and he was holding up the rugs to the blaze to dry when the
door opened again, and Fräulein von Staubach came out, wearing an
expression of the most unflinching resolution, and took him by the
arm.

“You must come in and speak to the Queen,” she said. “She is still
unconscious.”

“But what good will it do if I speak to her?” asked Cyril in
astonishment. “Surely it would be better for her to sleep off her
fatigue?”

“It is not sleep--it is a kind of fainting-fit,” she returned, “and
unless she is restored to consciousness she will slip away, merely
through fatigue and want of food. You forget that she has had nothing
to eat since noon, and it is now past nine o’clock. She must be made
to take something.”

“But if you have tried in vain to persuade her Majesty, surely it is
clear that nothing I could say would move her?”

“I do not wish to answer questions, Count. I want you to come with me
at once.”

Yielding to her importunity, Cyril followed her into the inner room,
feeling more foolish than he had ever done before in his life, and
also more bashful. The thought of Baroness von Hilfenstein persisted
in presenting itself to him, and he felt that in such a case as this,
the mistress of the robes would unhesitatingly have condemned the
Queen to death, rather than countenance so grievous a breach of
etiquette. But when he was inside the room, he forgot all at once his
misgivings and his self-consciousness. The old Thracian woman, who was
undressing the little King, alleviating the hardships of the process
by administering morsels of bread dipped in soup, nodded with evident
satisfaction when she saw him.

“It is well,” she said. “Speak to her, and bring her back. Sometimes
the voice of a loved one has power to recall the soul from the very
gates of death.”

Scarcely noticing the remark, which was couched in the semi-poetical
strain common among the Thracians, Cyril bent over the Queen. She was
lying on the bed just as he had left her, covered with blankets which
the old woman had brought out, her wet lustreless hair streaming over
the coarse pillow. Her face was white and set, her teeth locked, and
for the moment he thought that she was really dead.

“Speak to her,” commanded Fräulein von Staubach, as he looked up with
dread in his eyes.

“Madame!” he said softly, “madame! I entreat your Majesty----”

“Fool!” hissed Fräulein von Staubach, gripping him by the shoulder,
“will you let her die before your eyes? Speak to her by her name.”

Scarcely knowing what he did, Cyril knelt down at the bedside, and
took the hand which was lying clenched upon the coverlet into his.

“Ernestine!” he cried, bending over her, “Ernestine, speak to me!”

“Ah, he loves his wife--that young man,” murmured the old woman,
rising and watching the scene curiously; “and--holy Peter!--she has
heard him!” as by the dim light of the lantern she saw a sudden quiver
cross the white face. But Cyril had forgotten the presence of any
onlookers.

“Ernestine!” he cried again, watching eagerly for a repetition of the
sign of life, but it was not repeated. Instead, the Queen opened her
eyes. They rested for a moment on his face, and met his with an
expression that startled him and stirred his heart to its depths, then
closed again with a smile. Cyril could neither move nor speak; but
Fräulein von Staubach, for once most unsentimentally practical,
thrust the jug of soup and a spoon into his hands.

“Give it to her,” she whispered. “She must take something.”

The Queen’s eyes opened again, but only to reject the soup with a look
of disgust. This time, however, Cyril was equal to his duty.

“You will take it from me?” he said, and succeeded in administering
several spoonfuls before Fräulein von Staubach snatched the jug from
his hands, and in a peremptory whisper ordered him away.

“She is coming back to her senses,” she said, and as he rose, Cyril
saw that the Queen’s eyes were following him with a look in which a
shade of fear and perplexity was blended with the loving confidence
which had revealed to him so much. He felt as though he had committed
sacrilege--as though a rude hand had raised a veil and shown him
something that he had no right to see, and he went back into the outer
room like a man in a dream, and stood looking into the fire.

“Good heavens!” he said to himself helplessly, “good heavens!” Then
after a pause. “It only needed this. What a complication! Of all the
cursed luck which this wretched business has brought us, this is the
very worst. Who could have dreamt that she would take it into her head
to care for me? I shall have to cut Thracia, of course. I declare, if
it wasn’t for leaving her in danger, I would make myself scarce
to-night. What in the world is to be done?”

Here he met the gaze of Nathan, who was regarding him with great
interest from the other side of the hearth, and awoke from his
meditations to be thankful that the youth knew no English. In the
perturbation of his mind it was a relief to remember that there was a
practical matter still to be settled.

“What do you intend to do, Nathan?” he asked. “You don’t think of
going back to your people to-night, I suppose? A shake-down on the
settle here would be more comfortable than the snow.”

“Oh, I shall get back all right,” was the confident reply. “I know the
way, and the wind is going down. But the kind gentleman won’t forget
the money?”

No, Cyril had not forgotten; but it was necessary to check the impulse
which moved him to give the youth a gold piece instead of the five
piastres which were owing to him. Assuming the reluctant air of the
thrifty peasant, Cyril counted out the sum, and added three piastres
and a few smaller coins, which he pushed across to Nathan. “Those are
for yourself,” he said. “You see that I am not ungrateful.”

The Jew looked up with something like a twinkle in his eye. “And when
the kind gentleman comes to his own again, he will not forget poor
Nathan?” he said, in the cringing whine of his race.

“I think you must be making some mistake about me, Nathan,” said
Cyril; but Nathan only laughed incredulously as he took his cap and
stick, asked for the lantern, and departed. Presently the old servant
passed through the room, and informing Cyril that his wife had taken
some more soup, and was now sleeping quietly, she also went home.
Cyril was left alone, and his thoughts, as he lay down on his
improvised couch, were scarcely more reassuring than they had been two
nights ago in the forest. When at last he fell asleep, he was
tormented by a dream which recurred several times, so that all night
he seemed to be carrying the Queen in his arms up a steep snow
mountain, which, as often as he reached the top, changed into a great
throne of ice, on which sat Ernestine far above him, gazing down with
that look of love and trust which he had surprised in her unconscious
eyes, but unapproachable. At last she bent towards him, and laid her
hand upon his shoulder, and the touch at least was real; but, alas! it
was Fräulein von Staubach who was waking him in broad daylight.

“Is anything the matter? How is the Queen?” he asked, jumping up.

“Her Majesty is much refreshed by her night’s rest,” returned
Fräulein von Staubach primly, but with some signs of confusion. “I
merely wished to warn you, Count, that she was troubled by a peculiar
dream last night, which had to do with yourself. She thought that you
came into the room and held her hand in yours, and addressed her by
name. Of course you see at once that it is only in the Queen’s weak
state that she could imagine such an idea was anything but a dream.”

“Of course,” returned Cyril. “Dreams are strange things, Fräulein.”



 CHAPTER XV.
 “WE TWO STOOD THERE WITH NEVER A THIRD.”

“You make me absolutely miserable, madame,” Fräulein von Staubach
was protesting vigorously. “Count, I am sure you will agree with me
that her Majesty ought not to leave her bed. Pray exercise your
influence----”

“What has Count Mortimer to do with it?” asked the Queen, as she
hobbled into the outer room on her bandaged feet. “He is not my
private physician. Your influence is never exerted on the side of
laziness, is it, Count?”

She spoke quickly, and with a little hardness in her voice, doing her
best not to look at Cyril. He knew that she was trying to assure
herself of the purely imaginary character of the events of her dream,
and that she found it difficult to do so; but, thanks to Fräulein von
Staubach’s warning, he was able to meet her without betraying any
self-consciousness. The situation had even a touch of piquancy for
him, as he arranged a comfortable seat for her near the fire, and
brought out the remains of the last night’s loaf, which formed the
only breakfast available; but when he found her eyes fixed on him in
mingled confusion and anxiety, he did his best to set her at her ease
by diverting her mind to other topics.

“Indeed, Fräulein,” he replied, “I cannot say that I am sorry her
Majesty is well enough to rise. You must remember that we are not out
of danger yet, and for all we know there may be another day’s tramping
before us.”

“More walking, Count?” asked the Queen in dismay.

“It will be all downhill to-day, madame, at any rate.”

“Ah, I am afraid you found me very troublesome last night--but that is
just what I thought you at the time. I have a vague impression,” she
added, turning to Fräulein von Staubach, “that Count Mortimer was
helping me up the mountain, and that he insisted on talking when I
wanted to be quiet. I know that he enunciated the most outrageous
doctrines, for I felt he was trying to see how far he could go without
making me contradict him, and I took a perverse pleasure in remaining
silent.”

“I congratulate you on your skill in concealing your feelings,
madame,” said Cyril, with a bow. “I did you the injustice of imagining
that you were nearly asleep.”

“Oh no, I was not asleep then,” she replied hurriedly, blushing as she
spoke; “but I fear that your thinking so proves that it must have been
difficult to get me up the hill. Did you find me very heavy?”

“I could wish that you had been heavier, madame. The greater the
weight the greater the honour, in such a case.”

“That is a double-barrelled insult, Count. Do you imply that my weight
was great, or that the honour was small?”

“Madame, there is some one coming,” interrupted Fräulein von
Staubach, who had been listening with evident displeasure to this
exchange of _badinage_; and almost as she spoke the door opened, and
the old servant entered.

“You are up, then?” she said, surveying the party cheerfully. “I am
glad of that, for all morning I have been afraid that the master would
come and rouse you up and turn you out. It’s much better to get your
breakfast quietly before starting. I have brought you another loaf, by
the way, and a pair of soft slippers for your wife, poor soul!” she
added to Cyril, who felt for once devoutly thankful that the Queen did
not understand Thracian. “I saw that her feet were all cut and
blistered last night.”

“You see, Sophie, it is a good thing that I got up, if we are to be
turned out,” said the Queen to Fräulein von Staubach, when the gift
had been duly tried on, and the old woman thanked with great
heartiness, much to her disgust.

“There, there!” she said. “I suppose one may give away a pair of old
slippers without being supposed to have done anything great. I don’t
know whether it makes any difference to you, young man; but when I
looked down at Karajevo just now, I saw a crowd streaming out of the
gate and coming towards the mountain. I haven’t an idea who you may
be; but you know best whether you are in any danger.”

“Many thanks,” said Cyril. “Can you add to your kindness by telling us
the nearest way to Prince Mirkovics’s castle from here?”

“Why, what a pity you weren’t here yesterday, so as to travel in the
good Bishop’s company! He passed here about noon, with just two or
three priests and people, and gave me his blessing as kindly as you
please. Which way did he go? Why, he took the path down the mountains,
of course. It winds a good deal; you can see it again down there,” she
had drawn Cyril to the door, and was pointing down the rocky slope,
“and when you reach the bottom, you have to go on past the waterfall,
where the river comes down from the mountains, and keep on along the
bank for three or four miles, until you get to the bridge. When you
have crossed that, you are in Prince Mirkovics’s country, and if you
go straight on you must come to the castle before very long.”

“But all this will take a long time,” said Cyril, in dismay, thinking
of the pursuit which was in all probability already on foot, and of
the Queen’s difficulty in walking; “is there no place where we could
find shelter before reaching the castle?”

“Shelter means a hiding-place, I suppose?” said the old woman
shrewdly. “No, don’t be afraid; I won’t tell tales. Well, there may be
one, and there may not. When you come to the falls, you will see a
tumbledown old house built beside them. It was a saw-mill once, but it
doesn’t work now. Old Giorgei who lives there is mad, but you won’t
find it out unless you start him upon politics. His two sons took part
in that conspiracy years ago, when the English King (our Carlino, you
know) was driven out, and they were both killed. The eldest, who
worked the saw-mill, was killed in the fighting, and the other, a
soldier in garrison at Tatarjé, though he escaped at the time, was
taken and shot afterwards. But if you don’t mention politics or
Drakovics, the old man will be all right, though there’s no saying
what he will do if you stir him up. Holy Peter! there’s the master
coming, and what will he say to me? You keep him in talk, there’s a
good young man, while I get back to the house.”

“Tell the women to get ready to start,” Cyril called after her as she
scurried back into the room, and he went forward to meet the elderly
man who was approaching--a lean, bow-legged individual, with small
eyes and a quavering voice, who cried out angrily as he came in sight
of the broken gate--

“What does this mean, fellow? How dare you destroy my property in this
way?”

“You forget that it was contrary to the law for the gate to be locked
yesterday evening,” returned Cyril. “Inns are supposed to be open
night and day. However,” he added, remembering, as the old man grew
purple with rage, that it was not advisable to make enemies, “I am
willing to pay for the damage, since you sent down the key for us
after all. Ten piastres will buy the wood and pay a carpenter for
making you a much better gate than this one, and I will add five
piastres for the accommodation you found for us. But I warn you that
if you lock the new gate to keep out travellers who may die in the
snow, it will be the dearest gate you ever had.”

“What do you mean, fellow? Do you venture to threaten me?” stuttered
the innkeeper, his fingers closing greedily over the coins. “You are
much too impudent for a peasant.”

“Then perhaps I am a prophet. I may tell you that when I give myself
the trouble of prophesying, I generally take good care that the
prophecy comes true; so remember. Good day.”

And having attained his object of securing time for the old servant’s
retreat by mystifying her master, Cyril returned into the little house
and summoned the ladies to start on their journey. The Queen was quite
unable to walk without assistance, but she persisted in accepting as
little help as possible from him. Indeed she did her best to enlist
Fräulein von Staubach as her supporter, and only consented to
dispense with her services when Cyril pointed out that it was
impossible for him to carry both the little King and the bundle of
rugs; but that if Fräulein von Staubach would take charge of his
Majesty, he himself could carry the rugs and find an arm to lend the
Queen. In this order they started from the hotel, the proprietor
watching them morosely as they passed through the broken gate, and
took their way down the mountain. The sun had thawed the surface of
the snow a little, and it was less slippery than the night before, but
their progress was necessarily very slow. The Queen set her teeth and
limped along with dogged resolution; but Cyril noticed that before
long she forgot her reluctance to make use of his support, and
clutched his arm tightly. Matters became somewhat better when the snow
was left behind, and the spirits of the wanderers rose as they plodded
down the path, which, as the old servant had said, pursued a very
winding course.

“Why, we can see the hotel again from here!” said Fräulein von
Staubach at last, looking back at the snowy heights they had left.
“Oh, Count, look! They are there!”

Cyril glanced up, and saw distinctly a dark moving mass, showing
clearly against the snow, coming over the crest of the pass. It could
only be a crowd of men, and it was in the highest degree unlikely that
such a body should be crossing the mountains with any object in view
but that of pursuit, but the terror-stricken faces of the two women
warned him to be cheerful.

“We shall be obliged to turn aside and interview old Giorgei, I see,”
he said; “but there is no need to be frightened. These people may not
be after us, and even if they are, it is quite possible we have not
been seen. And if they are looking for us, and have seen us, we have
a good start, and plenty of time to get hidden before they can come
up.”

“But what if the old man will not hide us?” asked the Queen.

“Then we must demand his help in the name of St Gabriel, madame. Did
you know that this waterfall was called St Gabriel’s Leap? The
charcoal-burner told me the legend. It seems that St Gabriel had one
of his numerous hermitages here--for an ascetic he must have enjoyed a
wonderful amount of change of air and scene--and one day the Roumis
came to hunt him out, intending to kill him. He saw them approaching,
and immediately hastened to the edge of the falls and dashed into the
water. They expected to see his body washed up in the pool below; but
while they were watching for it, they were electrified to behold the
saint himself standing on the opposite side of the falls, with his
clothes perfectly dry--at least, so the story says. He stayed long
enough to bestow his curse on them in dumb show, and then disappeared
among the rocks. There was no doubt that it was the man himself, and
not an apparition, for he lived some years after, and at last fell
into Roumi hands and was tortured to death, no miracle intervening on
that occasion. Still, I only wish we had him here now, to let us into
his secret.”

“But how do you think he got across?” asked the Queen.

“I should imagine that he had made a careful study beforehand of the
rocks in the waterfall, with an eye to emergencies--perhaps had even
practised crossing by jumping from one to another. There may be clouds
of spray which would hide him until he had got over; but he must have
needed a cool head, at any rate.”

“But what about his dry clothes?”

“Oh, that I fear we must put down as a pious addition of later ages,
unless he kept a spare suit in some convenient cave on the other side.
But listen; don’t you hear the sound of the falls?”

“Trains!” cried the little King, with great delight.

“I wish it was!” said Cyril. “Now, madame, I think we had better leave
the road. Unfortunately it lies so straight before us that when the
enemy reach this point they will be able to see at once that we are
not upon it; but they will be obliged to spend some little time in
hunting about to find out where we turned off. There seems to be some
sort of a path through this wood, and it leads straight in the
direction of the waterfall, by the sound.”

The path, if such it could be called, was not wide enough for two
people to walk abreast, and Cyril had some difficulty in making a way
for the Queen; but they penetrated through the wood at last, and came
out on a cleared space. In front of them was the waterfall, dashing
down from a lofty ridge of rocks high up on the left hand, while on
the right the water swirled in a deep dark pool at the foot of the
cascade. Perched on the very side of the fall, and partially
overhanging the water, was a weatherbeaten house, partly built of
stone and partly of wood, through the dilapidated windows of which the
remains of machinery were visible. Other rusty pieces of mechanism
were strewn about the clearing, mingled with a number of logs, some
freshly hewn, others mouldering into decay, while an abandoned
cart-track, all grown over with grass, followed the slope of the
ground on the right, and no doubt joined the road a little way below
the pool. The only living occupant of this deserted clearing was an
old man with a shaggy beard and long grey hair, who was sitting idly
on one of the logs, with an adze in his hand. He did not appear to
take any notice of the intruders; but as Cyril approached to speak to
him, he turned and addressed him instead--

“You are come at last, then? I have been watching for you a long
time.”

“Why? do you know who we are?” asked Cyril, taken by surprise.

“Know you? You are the Englishman, Count Mortimer, and those with you
are the wife and child of your master, Otto Georg.”

“You certainly have the advantage of us, father.”

The old man shot a disdainful glance at him. “I saw you carrying the
sword before Otto Georg when he entered Bellaviste in state after his
marriage with the girl there, and again when that child yonder was
baptised. And you expect me not to know you or her, because you are
dressed up as peasants!”

“Well, that saves us the trouble of an introduction,” said Cyril
easily. “Yes, Father Giorgei, the Queen and her son are at your door,
and claim your protection against the enemies who are pursuing them.”

“My protection!” with a grin, which changed suddenly to a snarl of
malevolence. “And they ask it through you, of all people, never
guessing that they might as well employ Drakovics himself as their
messenger! You ask for my protection--you, who murdered my two sons!”

“I think you must be labouring under some misapprehension,” said
Cyril, much disturbed by the turn which the conversation was taking.

“There is no misapprehension,” returned the old man, more calmly. “You
are the brother of the Englishman Carlino, whom my sons had sworn to
drive out. I saw you first with your brother at Bellaviste--it was the
day that the mad Scythian girl tried to kill him, and we thought all
our plans were wrecked. My son Pavel pointed you out to me. ‘Look,’ he
said, ‘it is Carlino that speaks, but Kyrillo puts the words into his
mouth. It is of no use killing one--they must both go.’ Then the
fighting began, and Pavel was killed when Drakovics and Otto Georg
retook Bellaviste; but I rejoiced in all my sorrow for my son, because
I thought that at any rate Carlino and Kyrillo were both dead also.
But you were not dead, and you came back with Otto Georg; and my son
Dmitri, who had escaped and hidden himself when the Tatarjé patriots
were cut to pieces by the German, was discovered and tried and shot.
Both my sons are dead, and you are living still, though their deaths
lie at your door.”

The old man’s voice was raised, and his sunken eyes gleamed as he
flung the charge at Cyril, who betrayed no emotion. “Let us look at
this thing sensibly,” he said. “I am no more responsible than any
other member of the Government for your sons’ deaths; but I don’t want
to shirk what responsibility there is. Your sons, on your own showing,
tried to kill me; but matters fell out the other way. It was a fair
fight, and the chances were equal, except that your sons worked
underground.”

“And that my sons were in the right!” shouted the father. “They were
patriots and Orthodox, while you are a miserable Lutheran foreigner.”

“That is undeniable,” said Cyril; “but setting myself and your grudge
against me aside, let me ask you not to lose any more time before
providing a shelter for the King and Queen and their attendant. You
can’t wish to wreak your vengeance on two helpless women and a child.
The Queen was a young girl at home in Germany when your sons’ deaths
occurred, and the King was not born until several years after.
Whatever the guilt is, they cannot be involved in it.”

“They should not come to ask my help with you in their company.”

“Leave me out of the question, I tell you; only hide them.”

“Ah!” with a long cunning laugh; “shall I hide them and leave you to
face your enemies?”

“By all means, if that is your condition. But pray be quick.”

“You won’t try to escape?”

“It wouldn’t be much good. Where am I to escape to?”

“You will wait here while I place them in safety, so that I may see
you killed? I have dreamed of it often.”

“You shall have that pleasure,” said Cyril aloud. “But it would not
surprise me,” he added to himself, “if a bullet from my revolver found
its way in your direction in the scrimmage, my good man, and gave me
the pleasure instead.”

“Good!” said the old man, unconscious of the murderous determination
of his intended victim. “It is almost a pity that you are not a
Thracian; but no Thracian would be such a fool as to let his life go
so easily. And now, bid the women follow me. I will hide them safely.”

He turned into the house and brought out an ancient lantern, setting
to work to light it by means of a flint and steel, while Cyril turned
to the Queen--

“Madame, the old man consents to hide you; but I have grave doubts of
his sanity, and more of his trustworthiness. Take this knife of mine,
and hide it in your dress. If the occasion comes, use it--that is all
that I can say. The need is so urgent that I dare not advise you to
neglect the smallest chance of escape; but I fear this is a very
slight one indeed.”

“But why should I take your knife?” demanded the Queen, holding the
weapon doubtfully in her hand. “You don’t think that I can’t trust you
to defend us, Count? What has the old man been saying? By his tones
and gestures he seemed to be very hostile to you. What arrangement
have you made with him?”

“He guarantees your safety, madame, which is the important point at
the present moment. Permit me to assist you,” and he helped her across
the threshold into one of the lower rooms of the mill, which was
filled with rusty machinery, looking weird and ghostly in the dim
light. The old man had preceded them, and was waiting at the foot of
a ladder in a similar room beyond, leading to a large round hole in
the ceiling, through which nothing but darkness was visible. The Queen
looked from him to Cyril, then sat down deliberately on a block of
wood, and beckoned to Fräulein von Staubach.

“Ask the old man what he has promised to do,” she said loudly, for in
this confined space the noise of the waterfall was so overpowering
that ordinary tones were inaudible. “No; not you, Count,” waving Cyril
away; “you are trying to hide something from me.”

“Madame,” stammered Fräulein von Staubach, “I heard what passed
between Count Mortimer and the old man. He has promised to hide us
safely if Count Mortimer will give himself up to the enemy.”

“Pardon me, Fräulein,” said Cyril in German, “you are in error. There
is no question of giving myself up. I have a revolver here, and I mean
to make a fight for it yet.”

“A fight! one man against a crowd!” said the Queen, with a look of
measureless contempt. “You take too much upon yourself, Count. I am to
be consulted before you enter into treaties of this kind.”

“What is the lady sitting down and wasting time for?” asked the old
man impatiently.

“Tell him that I refuse utterly to be saved at such a price, Sophie,”
said the Queen. “We shall all die together.”

“Madame, madame!” cried Cyril. “Think that you are sacrificing your
son!”

“I am saving his honour,” she replied, with fine scorn. “Could I wish
him to live by the death of his most faithful servant?”

“You torture me, madame!” cried Cyril in agony. “Believe me, there is
no sacrifice in the case. My life is laid joyfully at his Majesty’s
feet. I entreat you not to be so cruel as to refuse the gift.”

“I do refuse it,” said the Queen sharply. “Sophie, give me my child.
They shall kill us together. It will not be long now.”

“Well, what do you intend to do?” asked the old man of Cyril with a
grin, as Fräulein von Staubach placed the little King in the arms of
his mother, who arranged the shawl which she wore over her head so as
to hide from him the ruined machinery, at which he was glancing
fearfully.

“Look here,” said Cyril, dragging the old man aside, “let me go up
with you and get them safely hidden. It will pacify her if she thinks
I am all right, and I give you my word of honour to come down again
with you afterwards.”

“Very well,” returned the woodman. “Help the lame lady up the ladder.”

“Madame,” said Cyril, approaching the Queen, “our friend has changed
his mind, and permits me to attend you.”

“I am glad to hear it,” said the Queen, looking round at him with a
rigid face; “for it would be impossible for me to mount that ladder
without your help.”

“She still suspects something, worse luck!” said Cyril to himself, as
he restored the King to the care of Fräulein von Staubach and sent
her up the ladder after the old man. The Queen followed, with more
ease than might have been expected after her confession of weakness,
and Cyril brought up the rear. At the top they found themselves in a
kind of loft, and as soon as they had all ascended, the old man rushed
to a windlass, and by its means drew up the ladder, which he placed on
the floor where it could not be seen from below. Then he left them,
taking the lantern with him, and they traced his progress by his
frequent stumbles over pieces of old ironwork, for the roar of the
water drowned the noise of his footsteps on the shaking boards, until
he suddenly flung open a large shutter, and called to them to come and
look out. A gasp of astonishment escaped them when they obeyed, for
they found themselves apparently in the middle of the waterfall. A
square stone tower was here built out into the stream, and the
cascade, dashing down some four feet below the window, flung its spray
in their faces.

“We are caught like rats in a trap!” was Cyril’s reflection; but
before he could utter a word the old man turned upon him.

“You see that I have you in my power?” he said. “I know you do, and I
know also that you do not trust me. You believe that I have brought
you here to take your choice of deaths between the falls and the
enemy. Well, be it so; suspicion deserves only disloyalty.”

“What does he say?” asked the Queen of Fräulein von Staubach, who,
shaking with terror, translated the words. To her astonishment her
mistress stepped forward, and taking the little King from her, placed
him in the old man’s arms.

“Make him understand,” she said authoritatively. “I do trust you,
Father Giorgei; and I give you the best proof of my trust by confiding
to you the safety of my son, your King.”

Cyril trembled lest the old man should fling the child into the
torrent; but as Fräulein von Staubach translated the Queen’s words,
Giorgei’s face relaxed, and he turned from the window with something
like delight.

“You and your child and your servants are safe with me, lady,” he
said, “for trust begets loyal service. Without your trust I could not
save you, for our only way of escape, if your enemies track you here,
is a terrible one, which will demand the most complete confidence in
me from all of you. But now I do not fear to try it.”

He closed the shutter again and restored the King to his mother, then
turned to a heap of rubbish, and began to draw out of it some pieces
of rope, old and frayed, and to knot them together.

“You have more faith in human nature than I, madame,” observed Cyril
to the Queen, in German.

“How could I do otherwise than trust him, when he had promised to save
us?” she asked, and Cyril reflected that it was not the first time he
had seen a woman arrive at a right conclusion upon insufficient
premisses. But he had no leisure to make further observations on the
peculiarities of feminine logic, for it seemed to him that there was
another sound mingling with the roar of the waterfall.

“Surely I hear shouting?” he said to the old man, who dropped his
pieces of rope immediately, and drew Cyril towards the front of the
building, where a gap between two planks afforded a narrow spy-hole.
Looking through this, they saw that the clearing was filled with
people, who were pouring into it both by the cart-track and the path
through the wood, shouting with eagerness as they realised the
character of the place. Among them Cyril recognised the big butcher of
Karajevo, and also, to his infinite amusement, the churlish host of
the preceding night.

“All lie down on the floor, and do not utter a sound,” said the old
man, extinguishing the lantern as he and Cyril returned to the rest.
“If they are satisfied with searching the ground-floor, we can stay
here; but if they guess that we are on this floor, we must escape by
the falls.”

“Is there any other ladder?” asked Cyril.

“No; but if they wished to climb up, they could easily devise some
means of doing so. Hush!”

Lying flat on the floor, too far from the edge of the hole for their
faces to be seen from below, they saw the darkness above them
illuminated by wavering lights, while the sound of voices, raised in
order to be heard through the noise of the torrent, mounted to their
ears. The mob had manufactured torches from some of the dry wood lying
about, and were crowding into the lower rooms, peering into the
wrecked machinery and probing the rubbish-heaps with their knives. It
took some time to satisfy them that the fugitives were not concealed
on the ground-floor; but at last they halted below the hole which led
to the loft, and gazed up into the blackness.

“There ought to be a ladder,” shouted one. “Where is it?”

“They must be up there,” returned another. “Father Giorgei always
leaves the ladder down here, and it isn’t anywhere about.”

“Never mind,” said the butcher. “We can easily get up without it. A
young tree with the branches on will serve as a ladder.”

“But the man is sure to be armed,” said another; “and he could shoot
you out of the darkness long before you saw him.”

“We will go up ten or twelve at once and overpower him. I don’t mind
being the first,” said the butcher; but the innkeeper pulled his
sleeve--

“No, no, my dear friend; why risk your valuable life? Remember your
wife and children. Let us set the old place on fire, and burn the
wretches out.”

The idea seemed to commend itself to all; but presently a voice said
hesitatingly, “What about Father Giorgei?”

“If they have killed him, it can’t signify to him what happens to the
house; and if he has given them shelter, he deserves to be punished.”

This was convincing, and the mob rushed out to look for wood, several
of them shouting up through the hole, “We have not forgotten you,
foxes! We are going to smoke you out of your earth!”

“Surely we had better go before they come back?” said Cyril; but the
old man shook his head--

“No; if we opened the shutter now they would see the light, and guess
that we had a way of escape. Besides, they may be only trying to
frighten us. When they have brought in their wood we will go, if they
really set light to it. There will be plenty of time.”

The enemy were not long in returning, laden with logs and branches,
which they deposited on the floor and against the wooden portions of
the walls. When their preparations were complete, the butcher stepped
under the hole once more, and shouted, without waiting to receive any
answer.

“Foxes, it’s your last chance! Will you come down or be burnt?”

“See how obstinate they are!” snarled the innkeeper, who was already
setting a light to a heap of shavings. “Well, they won’t break down
honest people’s gates after this. Put a light wherever you can find
any shavings, friends.”

“Pah! it’s getting smoky,” cried one man, coughing loudly. “I suppose
there’s no need for us to be suffocated, at any rate? I’m going out.”

“Yes; we need stay no longer,” said the innkeeper complacently. “The
whole place will be a furnace in a minute or two.”

“Now!” said Cyril to the old man.

“We mustn’t open the shutter until the place is well alight below,”
was the answer, “for they may dash in to see how things are going. But
we can get the ropes ready. You understand that you will have to cross
the falls?”

“Like St Gabriel?”

“Just so, and by his path. Well, I can only take two across at once,
and it will need both you and me to get the lame lady over. Shall I
take her first, or the other woman and the child?”

“The King must go first, of course,” said the Queen, when the question
was translated to her. “Sophie, I put him in your charge.”

Poor Fräulein von Staubach, who was already trembling at the thought
of the perilous transit, displayed no delight in the honourable
pre-eminence thus thrust upon her; but the smoke, which was now
pouring up into the loft through the hole, was so unpleasant that she
did not attempt to hang back. The old man fastened a rope round her
waist, and another round the little King, and told her to knot them
together when he brought the child to her. Then he opened the shutter,
and climbing out on the sill, let himself drop apparently into the
raging waters. He seemed to find some foothold, however, for he stood
firmly with the torrent washing round his knees, and told Cyril to
help out Fräulein von Staubach. In those few moments the poor lady
tasted the bitterness of death. Kissing the Queen’s hand, and
bestowing a farewell embrace on the little King, she allowed Cyril to
help her mount on the window-sill; but there her courage gave way. The
sight of the foaming water was too much for her, and, with a scream,
she tried to precipitate herself again into the room. But the rotten
wood of the sill was displaced by her sudden movement, and she fell on
the outside, and remained suspended for a moment, Cyril holding
desperately to her wrists, until the old man succeeded in catching her
and guiding her feet to his own foothold. Then he led her promptly
through the water round the corner of the tower out of sight, and
apparently into the very heart of the torrent, returning again alone
for the little King. The Queen had tied her handkerchief over the
child’s eyes that he might not be frightened by the falling water, and
Cyril lowered him successfully out of the window into Giorgei’s arms.

“Shut the window and wait for me!” shouted the old man, as he
disappeared again round the corner. “I shall not be five minutes; but
you could never get through alone.”

Cyril closed the shutter immediately and returned into the room. The
smoke was pouring up through the hole, and red tongues of flame were
beginning to mingle with it, leaping up and apparently trying to catch
the edges of the flooring. The Queen was sitting on the ground, and
Cyril asked her to stand up for a moment that he might fasten the rope
round her waist. Putting her hand on the floor to help herself to
rise, she drew it back with a little scream, and then smiled.

“I had forgotten that it was so hot,” she said apologetically.

“I think, madame, that it will be well to stand as near the window as
possible,” said Cyril, with growing anxiety, “so as to be ready the
moment that the old man comes back.”

He found an old packing-case for her to stand on, in order to keep her
wounded feet from the floor, and they waited by the window in silence
for what appeared to be hours. Still the old man did not return, and a
terrible thought crept into Cyril’s mind, What if he did not intend to
return? Could a more horrible death be devised for the victims of his
vengeance than this which grew closer every moment? The cold sweat
stood on Cyril’s brow; but he would not alarm the Queen further, far
less suggest to her that her son also was absolutely in Giorgei’s
power. He felt that he must do something, and throwing back the
shutter, he looked narrowly at the shining, water-washed wall below
the sill. There was no trace of any crevice or projection that might
help in the descent, and at the foot nothing was visible but the
foaming torrent. It was evident that the old man knew of some shelf of
rock which afforded a safe standpoint; but to allow oneself to drop
into the cataract on the mere chance of finding it would be a feat of
such foolhardiness that only the direst necessity could impel a man to
risk it. Still, it was for dear life. But the Queen--for her it would
be simply impossible. The matter was decided. Cyril closed the shutter
again sharply, for the draught served to intensify the force of the
flames, and turned to his companion, who had pressed close to the
window to enjoy the cooler air.

“It’s no good,” he said; “we can’t do it.”

“No good!” repeated the Queen, her eyes dilated with horror.

“We can do nothing unless old Giorgei comes back, and he has been gone
more than ten minutes already.”

“More than ten minutes! He must have been gone two hours--two hours at
least. But tell me, if I were not here, could you escape?”

“I don’t know.”

“Then that means that you could. You are sacrificing yourself for me,
and it can do no good to either of us. Leave me, and save yourself, I
command you.”

Cyril did not offer to stir, and she repeated the order in a tone
tremulous with excitement.

“Count, I command you on your allegiance,--go at once.”

“Madame, I absolutely refuse to leave you.”

“But why?” she asked, with an attempt at anger. “Count, I--I dreamt
last night that you loved me. If--if I was right, go for my sake, I
entreat you. It is my last request.”

“Madame, I also dreamt that dream, and it is for that reason that I
will not go. I had rather die with you than live without you.”

A fresh cloud of stifling smoke rolled into the room, making them both
gasp for breath. The Queen tottered, and Cyril caught her in his arms.

“I don’t think it will be very painful,” he said, trying to find some
crumb of comfort for her. “The smoke will do the business before the
flames reach us. It can’t hurt very much.”

“No; it can’t hurt much now,” she replied dreamily.

The shawl had fallen back from her head; and as her face lay on his
breast, her hair brushed his very lips. Almost unconsciously, he
pressed a kiss upon it. She looked up quickly, with a searching
glance; but as her eyes met his in the lurid light, their expression
changed, softened, and a flush crept over her face. She sighed as her
head sank back to its former position; but it was a sigh of absolute
contentment, and Cyril, emboldened by the look he had caught, stooped
and kissed her on the mouth. She did not resist, and the thrill of
exultation which ran through him swept away the last barriers between
them. He kissed her again passionately, and spoke fast and in broken
accents, his tongue unloosed by the approach of the death which was so
surely creeping nearer.

“Ernestine--my dearest!” he said again and again, his low voice
sounding louder in her ears than the roar of the flames or the
torrent, “we can welcome death, for it has given us to each other.
Life would have kept us apart; but there is nothing between us now. We
stand here as man and woman--not Queen and servant any longer. And yet
you are my Queen--and I am your servant--always--but now it cannot
separate us. We have left our lives behind us. Tell me that you love
me--just the one word.”

The overmastering passion with which he spoke stirred Ernestine, and
she shook back her hair and looked at him with shining eyes. “My
love!” she said, and hid her face again. “Death will be easier than
life would have been,” she murmured.

“Oh, my God!” burst from Cyril. “Death now!” The prospect with which
he had been contented the moment before seemed all at once to have
become terrible beyond expression. Was this new life--this triumphant
love--to end thus? With gloomy eyes he watched the flames creeping
along the floor, seizing on the odds and ends of rubbish that lay
about, coming closer and closer. The wooden walls were on fire as
well; but he and Ernestine stood in the partial shelter of the stone
tower. Still, the floor was of wood even here. The flames must soon
spread to it; it would give way, and they would be precipitated into
the abyss of flame beneath. He turned shuddering from the thought, and
looking at Ernestine, saw that her lips were moving.

“Are you praying, dearest?” he asked her.

“No; I was thanking God,” she answered simply; and Cyril, raging
against his fate and hers, felt almost angry with her for being able
to give thanks at such a moment. Suddenly he bent down, and, with a
horrified exclamation, crushed out a tongue of flame which had run
along the floor and caught her dress. She crept closer to him, and
raised her eyes to his.

“Kiss me once more, dear,” she said. “It cannot be long now.”

Their lips were meeting just as a loud knocking upon the shutter from
without startled them. Disengaging himself from Ernestine’s arms,
Cyril sprang to the window and threw it open. Below in the water stood
old Giorgei, much excited, and belabouring the shutter vigorously with
his staff.

“Thank the saints you are there still!” he shouted breathlessly. “I
was afraid I was too late. That’s right; lower the lady gently,” for
Cyril had not lost an instant in lifting the Queen to the sill, and
was now helping her to let herself down on the outside. “Don’t be
afraid, lady; I am here to catch you. That’s bravely done! Now just
round the corner. Shut your eyes if you are afraid of the water. Now,
what is it you want to say? Go back quickly and save him, do you mean?
Why, of course. You stand there, and I’ll bring him to you in a
trice.”

Cyril was not a moment too soon in lowering himself out of the window,
for the flames and smoke, encouraged by the draught, poured out after
him, and caught the shutter even before he had turned the corner. The
Queen was standing knee-deep in the swirling water, clinging to an
iron ring fixed into the wall, and Giorgei nodded at her approvingly.

“That’s right; you have some sense, I see, but you’ll need it all in a
minute.” It did not seem to strike him that she could not understand
his exhortations. “Cover up your eyes if you are frightened; but don’t
stand still for a second. That was what kept me so long. The other
lady, she got frightened in the middle, and stood holding on to a rock
and shaking. She wouldn’t move one way or the other, and at last I had
to take the child on first and come back for her, and even then I
couldn’t get her to stir for a long time. It was only when I told her
she would be the death of you both if she stuck there that she let go
of the rock, and then she was too terrified to walk. I had to carry
her across in my arms, after all, and she is not so light as she was
once, either.”

“Shall I blindfold you, dear?” said Cyril to Ernestine in English.

“No; I am not frightened with you,” she answered, looking at him with
a rapt expression in her eyes. He doubted whether she was even aware
that she was standing in the water, and yet the means of transit which
the old man now pointed out was such as to put every faculty on the
alert. In front of them, at the top of the fall, the river made its
longest leap, twenty feet or so without a break, and dashed clear of
the rocks, leaving an empty space under a curtain of water. Here a
precarious path had been formed, partly by nature, but chiefly, no
doubt, by the hand of man; and it was possible to cross the cascade,
as St Gabriel had done in his day, beneath the water and not on its
surface. No wonder poor Fräulein von Staubach was frightened! thought
Cyril. But he had little time for reflection. Fastening about his own
waist the end of the rope which was round that of the Queen, the old
man led the way, and in a moment the fugitives found themselves in a
cavern of which the roof was formed of falling water, and where the
air was filled with sound, and the temperature icy cold. The rocks
were damp with constantly oozing moisture, and the greatest care was
needed to prevent a slip; but the Queen never made a false step. She
seemed to know by instinct where to place her feet, and obeyed any
order without the slightest hesitation, and the perilous passage was
accomplished in perfect safety. Fräulein von Staubach and the little
King, watching anxiously among the rocks on the farther shore, flew to
greet her, while Cyril wondered secretly whether his hair had not
turned grey during the last hour. He looked round to speak to Giorgei;
but the old man had disappeared, and looking back in astonishment into
the water-tunnel, Cyril caught sight of him vanishing round a
projecting rock. It was evident that he had departed to avoid being
thanked; and as even gratitude itself could not face the terrors of
the passage again for the sake of tracking him, the fugitives were
obliged to respect his wishes.



 CHAPTER XVI.
 THIS WORKING-DAY WORLD.

The rocks on this side of the waterfall were not bare, but covered,
wherever a crevice or a hollow afforded a resting-place for the
smallest amount of soil, with close-growing bushes, and these served
to conceal the movements of the little party from their foes on the
opposite bank. Glancing across before turning his back finally on the
torrent, Cyril saw the mob standing in eager expectation and watching
the house, the roof of which was now blazing from end to end. It was
evident that they thought their victims must at last show themselves
and entreat the mercy which it was now too late to grant, even had
there been any inclination to do so; and Cyril felt grateful for the
volumes of smoke which rolled between them, and effectually prevented
the mob from perceiving that any one was passing through the bushes
beyond the waterfall. Arrived at the summit of the cliff, and turning
away from the river, the fugitives saw, at no great distance in front
of them, a small house somewhat fancifully built of wood, and
occupying a position which commanded an extensive view. As it was not
certain how much farther they had still to walk before reaching Prince
Mirkovics’s castle, Cyril proposed that he should go on and make
inquiries at the house, while the rest waited for him in the shelter
of a thicket, so as not to attract the notice of any passer-by. He was
not long in returning.

“Our troubles are over now, I hope,” he said. “The house is a
shooting-box belonging to Prince Mirkovics, and occupied by one of his
gamekeepers. The woman in charge is a pleasant person, and quite
willing to give us hospitality for a few hours. I told her that we
were acquainted with the Prince; but I did not think it advisable to
say who we really were. You agree with me, madame?”

The Queen, who had scarcely spoken since crossing the river, and had
been walking on as if in a dream, with the light in her eyes which
Cyril had noticed when they left the burning house, started suddenly
when he addressed her, as though she had been struck, and turned a
piteous gaze on him.

“I leave everything to you--Count,” she said falteringly; and
Fräulein von Staubach gave Cyril a glance full of suspicion.

“Then, madame, as soon as I have seen you settled in the gamekeeper’s
house, I will go on to the castle, and find out whether Prince
Mirkovics possesses any kind of vehicle which he could send to convey
you and his Majesty. You will no doubt wish to return to civilised
life as soon as possible?”

“Civilised life!” cried Fräulein von Staubach, as the Queen remained
silent; “do we look fitted for civilised life, Count? It is absolutely
out of the question that her Majesty should be seen in such a guise.”

“I had forgotten that,” said the Queen, blushing hotly, as she
realised the strangeness of her appearance, in her torn and soiled
Thracian garments, now drenched almost to the waist, and with her
bandaged feet thrust into the worn-out slippers of the innkeeper’s
compassionate maid-servant. “What can we do?” she asked helplessly,
looking at her brown hands.

“If your Majesty remembers the circumstances under which Prince
Mirkovics left the Court,” suggested Cyril hesitatingly, “you will see
that there would be some awkwardness in appearing before him in our
present state of--of destitution.”

The Queen’s face flushed again. On the occasion of some Court
festivity at the Palace, Prince Mirkovics had disregarded her
unwritten law by appearing in the Thracian national costume instead of
Western evening dress, and both she and her mother had received him
with marked coldness. The proud old chieftain had withdrawn
immediately from Bellaviste, and returned to his native hills; and it
was only at the entreaty of King Otto Georg and M. Drakovics that he
had consented to allow his daughter to remain a member of the royal
household. They knew that if he severed all connection with the
reigning house, his many friends and relations would do the same, thus
depriving the throne of its most loyal supporters. And now the Queen,
herself in rags, must appeal to the charity of Prince Mirkovics to
furnish her with shelter and clothes--truly a humiliating position.
She looked appealingly at Fräulein von Staubach, who, after a
struggle with herself, answered Cyril’s remark--

“That is quite impossible, Count; and it is also impossible that you
should represent to Prince Mirkovics the condition of her Majesty’s
wardrobe. It is I who must go to the castle.”

“Am I to have the honour of escorting you, Fräulein?”

“Would you leave her Majesty without attendance, Count?” irritably. “I
will not approach Prince Mirkovics, but ask at once for Princess Anna.
She is spending the winter at home, and to whom has the Queen a better
right to look for assistance than to her own maid of honour? She shall
come back with me, bringing a suitable dress for her Majesty, and then
you can go to the castle and make yourself known to the Prince, who
will of course hasten to welcome their Majesties; but by that time the
Queen will be prepared to receive him, and there will be two ladies in
attendance.”

This suggestion, which promised to obviate the great clothes
difficulty, although rather to the eye than in reality, was agreed to
by the Queen; and as soon as Fräulein von Staubach had seen her
mistress established on one of the cane lounges of the shooting-box
for a rest, she departed for the castle under the guidance of the
gamekeeper. Cyril, who had accepted the loan of the good man’s best
suit, took the opportunity of removing the false beard and wig which
he had worn during his wanderings, and of washing off the paint and
mud which had contributed to disguise him. He further inveigled the
little King into allowing his face and hands to be washed, and his
general appearance smartened up by the woman of the house, although
the child had been so constantly carried that his clothes had suffered
very little in comparison with those of the rest of the party. The
King only submitted to the brushing and cleansing process in
consideration of a bribe--the promise that he should go with his
hostess and see her milk the goats; and as soon as he was set at
liberty he gave her no peace until she took up her pails and led the
way out of the house. Cyril accompanied them, fearing lest his
sovereign, in the ardour of his study of natural history, should make
too close an acquaintance with the goats’ horns; but almost before the
milking had begun, the little King uttered an angry exclamation.

“Mamma is calling me!” he said, and Cyril, looking towards the house,
saw the Queen standing on the verandah, looking anxiously after her
son, who wailed sadly, “They never let me do anything nice, and the
goats are so pretty, and I’m not going too near, Herr Graf. Please do
go and tell mamma that I want to stay here.”

“I will look after the little gentleman, honourable sir, and see that
he doesn’t come to any harm,” said the woman; and Cyril accepted the
assurance, and returned to the Queen, who remarked doubtfully on
hearing it that she supposed Michael might as well stay where he was
for the present, but that it would be very difficult to get him into
proper ways again when they were back at Bellaviste.

“I fear that you will be obliged to spend some days at the castle as
the guest of Prince Mirkovics, madame, before we can hope to return to
Bellaviste,” said Cyril. “Communication is difficult in these
mountains, and there will be plenty of time to drill his Majesty into
courtly ways once more.”

“Why will you talk to me like this, even when we are alone?” asked the
Queen reproachfully. “Please do not stand on the steps--come up here.
I want to talk to you. I know what you are thinking,” she went on, as
Cyril mounted the steps and stood beside her. “You think that I might
wish to withdraw what I said to you just now, because things are
different. They are different, I know; we thought then that we had
come to the end of our lives, and instead we are beginning a new life,
but I--my feelings--have not changed.”

“I am overwhelmed by your graciousness, madame,” began Cyril, not
daring to look at her lowered eyes and blushing face; but she
interrupted him impetuously, her voice ringing with impatience--

“_Madame_ again! and after what has passed between us! Why won’t you
understand that I am Ernestine to you? I know what it is; you don’t
trust me--Cyril.”

“You are unfair to me, Ernestine.” Stung by her reproach, he sought
refuge in turning the tables on her. “It is you who will not trust me.
Can’t you see that in our difficult position the utmost prudence is
necessary? Your family--the European Courts----”

“They have no authority over me,” she said eagerly. “I married once to
please my family; but the experiment was not so successful that I
should wish to try it again. I have had enough of _noblesse oblige_ in
such matters. And as to the other Powers, what do I care for them? I
am not ashamed of my choice. You will see whether I shrink from
announcing to the world that you are to be my husband.”

“Do you know what the consequences of such an announcement would be
for me, Ernestine?”

“No. What should they be?”

“The scaffold and the block, I suppose. In history that is generally
the lot of the man who loves the Queen, isn’t it? But forgive me, my
dearest,” as he caught sight of her agonised face; “it would not be so
bad as that. I should merely have to leave Thracia, and after that I
should probably disappear.”

“What do you mean?” she cried, laying a trembling hand on his. “Does
my love really place you in danger, Cyril? Oh, why did I not bite my
tongue out before confessing it? Can you ever forgive me?”

Cyril resisted the temptation to take her in his arms and kiss away
her tears. He had deliberately struck the chord which he knew would
find the surest response in her, and the advantage must not be
frittered away. In other words, unless the new Ernestine would allow
herself to be managed as the old one had never done, Thracia would no
longer be a desirable place of residence for him; but if she proved
amenable, there was still hope that he might succeed in maintaining
his position. He took both her hands in his, and spoke slowly and
impressively.

“Dearest, you won’t mind my putting before you the true state of the
case? It would be no kindness to conceal from you the difficulties in
our way. Perhaps you don’t know that if you marry a second time the
Thracian Constitution deprives you of your position as regent during
your son’s minority, while, as your husband, I should be unable to
hold my present post. You see that our marriage would mean our
forsaking King Michael, and leaving Thracia?”

“Of course I would never be separated from him,” she said indignantly.
“But is there no alternative?” and her dark eyes were raised
appealingly to his.

“Our only hope lies in an alteration of the Constitution; but that
would never take place if the fact of our engagement became known.
Drakovics is no friend of yours, and although he has tolerated me
hitherto as a necessary evil, he would be delighted to find any excuse
for getting rid of me. If he knew what has passed between us, it would
give him the very weapon he wants, and all the Powers would be on his
side.”

“Tell me what you would wish me to do,” she murmured, despairing
sadness visible in every feature.

“Don’t look so miserable, dear. Can’t you trust me to find a way out
of this if there is one? I ask you at present only to keep our secret
until we have returned to Bellaviste, and I have had time to look
round. It is just possible that we may be able to offer Drakovics some
equivalent for acquiescing in our plans, or some other chance may turn
up. You may be sure that I shall set all my wits to work to find one.”

“Yes,” said the Queen doubtfully, though with the shadow of a smile;
“but must we pretend not--not to care for one another?”

“Everything must be just as it was before,” was the decisive reply.

“No, that cannot be; for before last Thursday you and I were always
quarrelling. If I quarrelled with you now, after all you have done for
my boy, I should be the most ungrateful woman alive, and I am not
that. You must allow me to be grateful.”

“Very well, in so far as her Majesty may condescend to be grateful to
her poor servant. No. I am not teasing you,” as her eyes filled again
with tears. “I have shared my difficulties with you, Ernestine, and
asked you to do a hard thing for me, I know, in keeping this distance
between us; but I believe you will do it.”

“I will,” she said; “although I had rather you had asked me to come
down and stand beside you. But you will not find me fail you.”

“I was sure of it. And as to the necessary ceremony and etiquette, you
will remember that we are merely playing parts again, as we did when
we left Tatarjé. We have different parts now; but there is just as
much at stake.”

“You make me ashamed of myself,” she said. “Yes; I will remember. And
now, do you mind fetching the King back? I am sure he has stayed long
enough watching the goats.”

As Cyril obeyed, he saw that there was a reason for her request quite
different from that which she had given, in three figures which were
approaching the house. No doubt Fräulein von Staubach was returning,
and Ernestine, catching a distant glimpse of her, had thought it well
to begin playing her part at once. Cyril laughed to himself at her
diplomacy.

“She shrank from hurting my feelings by saying that we ought not to be
seen alone together,” he reflected, “so she sends me off on an
imaginary errand. What have I done to make her credit me with such
delicate sensibilities?”

It was not without the exercise of strong moral suasion that he was
able to induce the little King to leave the fascinating neighbourhood
of the goats; and they only reached the house at the same time as the
three people whom Cyril had noticed, and who proved to be Fräulein
von Staubach, Princess Anna Mirkovics, a pale, plain girl who
cherished a romantic attachment for the Queen, and the gamekeeper, who
carried a large bundle done up in a wrapper. Princess Anna was
evidently ill at ease. She remained at the foot of the steps while
Fräulein von Staubach went up them to seek the Queen, and stood
looking the picture of misery, twisting her fingers nervously
together. Even when the Queen stepped out on the verandah, she made no
attempt to approach, looking up at her with tearful eyes.

“Anna!” said the Queen in astonishment, “what is the matter? Am I so
much altered that my own friends do not know me?”

“Oh no, no, dearest madame!” cried the girl, fairly sobbing. “It is
only--how can I dare to approach you in this dress?” and she pointed
to the Thracian costume she was wearing.

“Prince Mirkovics will not allow any but the national dress to be worn
on his estates, madame,” explained Fräulein von Staubach. “Princess
Anna was obliged to leave all her European dresses at her aunt’s house
before she came home.”

“And I have nothing but a Thracian dress to bring for you, madame,”
sobbed Anna; “but indeed it is not my fault--nor my father’s either,
since he could not tell that you would be coming here.”

“Why, you foolish Anna!” said the Queen, half-laughing, “am I such an
ogress that you are afraid to approach me? Come here at once. I have
worn a Thracian dress for days, and it is most comfortable, and not, I
think, unbecoming. Your father is a very sensible man to insist upon
it. Now leave off crying, or I shall think you are sorry to see me.
Ah, Count, I see you are laughing, because you remember how foolish I
used to be about things Thracian. Surely you will allow that I have
been punished for my fault; and may I not learn wisdom from the
punishment?”

“Madame, I would not venture to suggest that any action of yours
deserved punishment,” returned Cyril, as Princess Anna looked up in
surprise at the friendly tone in which the Queen addressed him,
“although I may rejoice over the change in your opinions. Is it your
Majesty’s pleasure that I should now leave you in order to inform
Prince Mirkovics of your presence here?”

“By all means,” said the Queen; but Anna Mirkovics added a frightened
“Pray be careful, Count,” which showed him that his mission would
hardly be a very easy one. He did not dwell on the thought, however,
as he set out along the road which the gamekeeper showed him, for his
mind turned naturally to his own affairs. Making use of a power on
which he was wont to pride himself not a little, he set to work to
isolate his affections from the rest of his personality, much as a
chemical investigator isolates a new element, and to look at them from
a distance, as he had done on that night in the forest. The result of
his observations was not very flattering.

“You are a nice moral young man, Cyril Mortimer,” he told himself.
“Somehow or other you have tricked that poor little woman into handing
you over her heart in exchange for the shabby second-hand article
which is all you have to offer; and yet you won’t give up a dirty
portfolio for her, though she is willing to risk her crown for you.
The fact is, you are a cad, and if Caerleon were here, he would say
you ought to be kicked. He might even go so far as to do it. But the
worst part of the whole sad affair, as the good people would call it,
is that you don’t intend to reform. You had rather be a cad than a
fool. And therefore, since you have come to that practical conclusion,
just leave off gassing about your caddishness.”

He set his teeth and walked on, turning deliberately from the thought
of Ernestine to that of the difficulties which must be faced in the
near future, although their exact nature was involved in some
uncertainty owing to the ambiguous attitude assumed of late by M.
Drakovics. In the secret of this attitude, Cyril felt convinced, there
lay some advantage for him, if he could only discover it.

“It’s quite clear that he has been up to something,” he soliloquised.
“I’m afraid he has taken good care to cover up his tracks; but if I
can hunt him out, I will. Not that I bear any malice against him, of
course; but I am badly in need of a fellow-criminal, with whom to
exchange crimes and pardon. What nuts if I can spot any of his little
dodges!”

Various ideas, springing from this aspiration, occupied his mind until
he reached the castle, and was admitted by the armed doorkeeper into
the great courtyard. On the raised terrace before the house sat Prince
Mirkovics and the older members of his clan, smoking, drinking coffee,
and talking. The Prince had spent his morning in performing the duties
of his station. He had dispensed justice to the people of his
district, inspected the work on his farm, given an eye to the
construction of a new road, practically the first to be made in that
part of the country, and enjoyed his siesta after the mid-day meal;
and now he was watching the evolutions of his mounted retainers, who
were going through a primitive form of drill, such as had no doubt
preceded the operations against Roum in the war of independence. His
astonishment on beholding Cyril was great.

“You here, Count?” he exclaimed, rising to greet him. “On a hunting
expedition, I suppose?” looking with some perplexity at his garb. “But
why not send to say you were coming, so that we might have got up a
bear-hunt for you? Come, sit down with us,” and he dragged him towards
the group. “You know my brother, the Bishop of Karajevo? and I think
you have met most of these gentlemen before?”

“Pardon me, my dear Prince,” said Cyril, releasing himself with
difficulty from the hospitable grip; “but I am not here on my own
account. I have the honour to announce to you that her Majesty the
Queen, in returning from Tatarjé to the capital with the King, has
arrived at the boundary of your estate, and hopes to enjoy the shelter
of your roof to-night.”

“The Queen in this district, and coming here!” cried Prince Mirkovics,
his face growing red and his grey moustache bristling wrathfully. “Are
you aware, Count, that when I last appeared at Court her Majesty
barely acknowledged my presence, and would not so much as grant me her
hand to kiss? Am I to be publicly insulted at Bellaviste, and then
bearded in my own house?”

“So far as I am aware, her Majesty has no intention of the kind,”
returned Cyril; “but in any case, Prince, you would not refuse
hospitality to a lady, who is Regent of Thracia to boot?”

“What business has she to be Regent of Thracia?” growled the Prince.
“Men should rule over men. Let her be content to make laws for her
silly Court.”

“Come, Prince, this is treason,” and Cyril laughed forbearingly. “You
don’t really wish me to return and tell the Queen that Prince
Mirkovics forgets the loyalty of a lifetime in the pique of a day?”

“No, I don’t,” roared the Prince; “but am I to submit to have my
authority set at naught before my own clan?”

“By no means. You are the King’s representative here, and have the
right to maintain your ancient privileges. I am quite sure that her
Majesty has failed hitherto to appreciate your position. Why not let
her see what it really is?”

“She shall see it. You have a wise tongue in a young mouth, Count.
Dmitri,” to his youngest son, “go and tell your mother to prepare the
guest-chambers for the King and Queen and their attendants, and let
all the rest of you get ready to ride with me to escort their
Majesties here.”

All was bustle immediately, and in a surprisingly short time a
gorgeous cavalcade left the castle, headed by Prince Mirkovics, Cyril,
and the Bishop. All the clansmen displayed their richest national
costumes with a kind of grim pride, wholly unmixed with any touch of
pleasure in welcoming their sovereign, for the slight offered to their
chief had been hotly resented by his followers. The array of stern
faces would have suited a foray better than a peaceful occasion like
the present, and Cyril wondered secretly how the Queen would bear
herself before these hostile and contemptuous mountaineers. When the
gamekeeper’s house came in sight, the troop halted, and he rode on to
announce the approach of Prince Mirkovics, returning with the answer
that her Majesty would be pleased to receive him. As the foremost
horsemen rode up to the steps, she appeared on the verandah, leading
the little King by the hand, with Princess Anna and Fräulein von
Staubach in the background. Excitement had given her a brighter colour
than usual, and her slight form showed to advantage in the velvet
pelisse with hanging sleeves, opening in front over a silken
under-dress, with which the faithful Anna had provided her. Her
chestnut hair hung in long braids from under a velvet cap studded with
gold coins, and Cyril perceived to his surprise that it was possible,
at any rate occasionally, for the woman with whom he had fallen in
love to look astonishingly beautiful. As for Prince Mirkovics, he
could only gasp with bewilderment, and seemed inclined to rub his
eyes, either at the sight of the Queen in Thracian costume or of his
own daughter in attendance on her. Remembering his duty, however, he
dismounted and advanced towards the Queen, saying, as he bowed low on
the steps--

“Lady, my poor house is at your service. Deign to cover it with glory
by resting there with the King your son.”

In his determined obstinacy, Prince Mirkovics had spoken in Thracian,
which his daughter translated to the Queen in a frightened whisper,
adding a translation to her father of Ernestine’s answer--

“Most willingly do I accept your hospitality, Prince, for I have
looked forward to it ever since leaving Tatarjé. In the time of
trouble we know our real friends, although we may have treated them
carelessly in the day of prosperity.”

“The loyalty of my family is not dependent upon the reward it meets
with, lady,” said the Prince, only half mollified.

“True; if I had not known that, I should not have sought your
hospitality to-day. But is that old fault of mine never to be
pardoned, Prince? See, I have done what I could,” she pointed to her
Thracian dress. “You would not comply with my rules when you came to
Bellaviste, but I have complied with yours.”

The charm of manner which could subdue even M. Drakovics was not less
potent in its effect upon the old mountaineer. Prince Mirkovics fell
on his knees and kissed the hand which the Queen held out.

“Madame,” he said in French, which he spoke to a certain extent,
“forgive me. It is I who am to blame. If your Majesty will be so
gracious as to honour my house to-day, when next you travel in this
direction your eyes shall not rest upon a man or woman who is not
wearing German clothes. Your pleasure shall be done.”

“Then my pleasure is that your people keep to their national dress,
Prince. Since I have seen so much of it, I have changed my mind; and I
shall change the rules of the Court as well, if only in memory of your
loyal welcome to-day.”

Much gratified, Prince Mirkovics presented his brother and other
relations to the Queen, and then offered his hand to conduct her down
the steps to the horse which he had brought for her. This was,
strictly speaking, Cyril’s duty; but the Queen signed to him to waive
his rights, and allow the old chief to mount her, which he did in a
wholly unexpected way, by lifting her in his arms and depositing her
on the gorgeous peaked saddle, which was like an arm-chair placed
sideways, with a foot-rest instead of a stirrup. The other ladies and
the little King were also provided with steeds; and when all were
mounted the troop of retainers formed in two lines, that the royal
party might pass between them, after which a tumultuous outburst of
cheers and firing off of matchlocks announced that the start had taken
place. Prince Mirkovics rode beside the Queen, with his daughter close
behind to act as interpreter, and next came the Bishop, keeping a
vigilant eye on the little King and his pony. This arrangement left
Cyril and Fräulein von Staubach to the escort of the Prince’s sons,
who had many questions to ask concerning the adventures of the
travellers, all of which Cyril did not see fit to answer fully. He was
glad that Fräulein von Staubach appeared disinclined to talk, and
rode on stolidly, replying merely in monosyllables when she was
addressed, for he was anxious by means of his own answers to impress
upon her that it was advisable to maintain a certain degree of
reticence respecting the events of the last five days. Shortly before
reaching the castle, however, when the cavalcade was traversing a
narrow forest-track in which only two could ride abreast, he was
surprised to notice that she manœuvred her horse so as to keep beside
him.

“What have you been saying to the Queen, Count?” she asked him
suddenly in English.

“I did not know that I was in the habit of submitting my conversations
with her Majesty to your censorship, Fräulein.”

“Ah, you evade my question? I will ask it differently. Have you had
the incredible cruelty and baseness to make love to her Majesty?”

“Allow me to quiet your apprehensions, Fräulein. Whatever has passed
between the Queen and myself has been honoured with her Majesty’s
entire approval.”

“Does that make it any better? You coward, to shelter yourself behind
her!” She paused to see whether she had produced any effect, but
finding Cyril smiling calmly, went on with a kind of sob, “I suppose
you will tell me that it is all my fault for bringing you in yesterday
evening. How could I dream that you would so far forget your duty as
to--I knew that the poor Queen had done so, and I thought your voice
would rouse her; but I had no idea--not the slightest--that you had
the presumption to return----”

“Yes,” said Cyril, interrupting her incoherent sentences. “It is
dangerous to play with fire, Fräulein, especially when there is
gunpowder lying about. An explosion is at least possible.”

“Oh, my poor mistress, have I brought this upon you!” wailed Fräulein
von Staubach, apostrophising the unconscious Queen, who was quite out
of hearing. “Why did I not guess what a serpent---- You have had the
meanness”--she turned suddenly upon Cyril again--“to demand that her
Majesty shall sacrifice her throne, separate herself from her child,
incur the fury of her relatives and the scorn of Europe--and all for
you!”

“It gives me great pleasure to assure you, Fräulein, that I have not
had the meanness to demand anything of the kind.”

“You have not asked the Queen to marry you?”

“I have not asked her Majesty to marry me.”

“Then what have you done?” incredulously.

“Your questions are somewhat searching, Fräulein. Forgive me if I do
not answer them in complete detail. Her Majesty has been good enough
to intimate that she considers herself engaged to me.”

“Coxcomb!” Fräulein von Staubach’s voice rose almost to a shriek.
“And yet you have the effrontery to say that she is not going to marry
you?”

“Pardon me, Fräulein; I said that I had not asked her. My intentions
are strictly honourable, I assure you.”

“You wish, I suppose,” with deadly coldness, “to give me to understand
that her Majesty proposed to you? Oh, I congratulate you on your
chivalry, Count! It is exquisite, inimitable. And you mean to drag her
down into misery and contempt?”

“I shall do nothing of the kind, Fräulein. As my behaviour during
this interview ought to have proved to you, I am a tolerably patient
person. I can wait.”

“Wait? and how long?”

“Years, if necessary, till a favourable opportunity offers itself.
There will be no misery or contempt, Fräulein, for her Majesty to
face, unless it is due to treachery on your part. I am in no hurry.”

“And this,” she said, with illogical fierceness, “you call being in
love!”

With this Parthian shaft the combat terminated, for at the moment they
emerged into the open space before the castle, and it was necessary
for them to take up their posts immediately behind the King and Queen,
in order to share with them in the offering of bread and salt which
Princess Mirkovics presented at the gate. With great ceremony the
visitors were conducted across the courtyard and into the house; but
before they partook of the meal which had been prepared for them, a
council of war was held, consisting of the Queen, Cyril, Prince
Mirkovics, and the Bishop, to deliberate upon the steps which ought to
be taken at once. It was decided that Prince Mirkovics should keep his
retainers under arms as a guard to the castle, in case the rioters
from Karajevo, discovering that their prey had escaped them, should
cross the river and attempt an attack; and that Cyril should leave the
next morning for Bellaviste, there to inform M. Drakovics of the
safety of the royal party and find out what measures were being
adopted to crush the rebellion, and then return to the castle with an
escort to fetch the King and Queen. The Queen took little part in the
discussion, sitting very upright in her chair, and gazing at the rest
with a peculiar solemnity of expression which the two Thracians found
somewhat disconcerting, although it increased their opinion of her
wisdom; but which Cyril interpreted as showing that she was almost
falling asleep, though struggling bravely against being overcome by
her fatigue. His diagnosis was confirmed a little later by Princess
Mirkovics, who announced that her Majesty would not appear at supper.
She had lain down to take a moment’s rest, and had immediately fallen
into such a deep sleep that she could not be roused, a result which
surprised no one who knew even a portion of the fatigues and anxieties
of the last few days.

The Queen was still asleep when Cyril started in the morning on his
journey to Bellaviste. Relays of horses had been prepared for him as
far as the railway, which he struck at a small country station, where
it was possible to stop the trains for the capital. He reached
Bellaviste in the course of the afternoon, and went first to his own
house, in order to change his Thracian clothes for more civilised
attire. To his great amusement, he found his official garb laid out in
readiness for him to wear, with the faithful Dietrich guarding it.

“Well, Dietrich, glad to see you again. How did you guess I was coming
back to-day?”

“Excellency, I have put out your clothes three times every day,--for
morning, and the Palace, and the evening. Your Excellency told me to
wait here for orders; and I have not left the house since I carried
the note which you gave me to his Excellency the Premier.”

“Oh, you delivered it, did you?”

“Into the Premier’s own hands, Excellency.”

“And what did he say when he got it?”

“His Excellency was much disturbed. He pressed his hand to his
forehead, and staggered from his seat, crying out, ‘He has stayed
behind!’ Then, remembering me, I suppose, he said, ‘My friend, your
master has risked his life in the hope of preventing a rebellion. I
fear you may never see him again.’ But I had your orders, Excellency,
and I returned here and waited.”

“Good,” said Cyril absently, for his mind was busied with what he had
heard. It was sufficiently puzzling, bearing in mind the telegram
which M. Drakovics had sent begging him to remain at Tatarjé, and
which, having been delayed three days in transmission, had arrived too
late to allow him to alter his expressed intention. “It looks as
though he expected me to come in spite of the telegram,” he said to
himself. “What can it mean? Surely the telegram did not turn up too
early instead of too late? Did Drakovics know of the plot, and want me
out of the way, but preserve appearances by sending a bogus telegram
which ought to have been delivered after my departure? No, it’s too
complicated; but I’ll keep it in mind, at any rate.”

As soon as he had changed his clothes, he went at once to the
Premier’s office, where M. Drakovics received him with an effusion
which seemed to his suspicious eye to be somewhat forced.

“Ah, my dear Count!” he said, holding out his hand, “I feared I had
taken my last leave of you. Since I see you in safety, I need not ask
after their Majesties. They are well, I trust?”

“Well, and safe under the protection of Prince Mirkovics. It’s all up
with the plot now, although your telegram arrived too late for me to
nip it in the bud as I should have liked. By the bye, I think it was
truly noble of you to send me a warning, when the success of the plot
would have suited your plans so well.”

“My plans?” M. Drakovics looked up quickly.

“Yes; of course it would have taken a load off your shoulders if the
King had been converted, and you had only to deal with him in an
Orthodox condition. But it’s no use crying over failed plots.”

“You will always have your jests, Count,” M. Drakovics was shuffling
his papers busily; “but I fear we have no time for more to-day. Since
the King and Queen are in safety, we may proceed, I suppose, to stamp
out the rebellion?”

“Quite so. What are your plans? Is this the general idea?” as the
Premier placed a document before him. “I see,--a simultaneous advance
by river and by rail. Who is going to command? Constantinovics? why,
he is a regular old-school Pannonian field-marshal. He will secure his
communications, and fool about with supplies, as if he were in a
hostile country.”

“We cannot afford to strike and fail, my dear Count.”

“Of course not; but do you anticipate a strenuous resistance?”

“To tell you the truth, I do not. You are aware that the rebels
pretend to have her Majesty in their hands? I believe that when their
story is proved false, the rebellion will melt away. But in any case
it must be crushed.”

“Quite so. By the way, I have the Queen’s express orders that nothing
is to be done to prejudice the safety of those of our people who are
in their power. There is my clerk Paschics, who was arrested when
passing through Ortojuk with us, and all the ladies and officials whom
we left at Tatarjé to cover the Queen’s flight. They are to be saved
at all costs.”

“It is unfortunate for us that they are in the hands of the rebels,
for they may be used to extort terms from the Queen.”

“I fear they are bound to be, if you will do everything in such a
leisurely way. Why, a small force of irregulars, starting from Prince
Mirkovics’s castle, and travelling, as we did, by the old road, could
make a dash on Tatarjé and capture it before any one knew that an
expedition had started.”

“Your ideas are too adventurous, Count. We cannot engage in a guerilla
warfare on our own soil, when we are blessed with generals competent
to direct a regular war. The matter is in the hands of
Constantinovics, who has drawn up his plan of campaign----”

“Which means ‘Hands off!’ to civilians, I suppose?” said Cyril,
laughing. “Well, I think I had better intrust to you, for
Constantinovics, this paper in her Majesty’s handwriting. It is a list
of the people who assisted or befriended us in the course of our
escape, and who are to be protected and rewarded in every possible
way. The Queen drew it up at the council yesterday.”

“The list appears to be a somewhat miscellaneous one,” said M.
Drakovics, glancing through the paper. “A charcoal-burner, an old
servant, the Jews of Karajevo, a mad revolutionary! My dear Count,
your adventures must have outdone the ‘Arabian Nights’ if you were
reduced to seeking assistance from such people as these.”

“We had not the luck we hoped for, certainly, and I was obliged to
modify our plans from time to time. You will see that Constantinovics
gets the list?”

“No, I will do better than that; I will intrust it to my nephew
Vassili, who is to accompany the expedition as my representative.”

“You did not tell me that we were all to be represented.” Cyril’s
suspicions rose again in full force at this piece of intelligence.
Vassili Drakovics was popularly supposed to be his uncle’s destined
successor as Premier and ruler of Thracia, and Cyril regarded him with
a distrust which was only tempered by contempt. “I almost think I
shall go in person,” he added carelessly, without appearing to look at
the Premier.

“My dear Count! just when it is so necessary that I should have you at
hand for consultations? And you are mistaken in thinking that
Ministers are to be represented individually on the staff of the
expedition. The fact is,”--M. Drakovics bent forward confidentially,
but there was a good deal of uneasiness in the way in which his hand
shuffled the papers,--“it is in my interests that Vassili is going.
There is a--a letter of mine which I fear may be put to a wrong use
unless I can get it back into my own hands.”

“A letter? Why, have you also been dabbling in conspiracy, Drakovics?”

The Premier’s sallow face grew a shade paler. “I am not joking,” he
said. “The letter is a perfectly innocent one, addressed to the
commandant of Tatarjé, in reply to a request about some office for
his brother; but I have heard rumours--indeed, with such a tissue of
falsehoods as they have been weaving, would they be likely to let slip
such an opportunity of dragging my name into the matter?”

“But you would get it back in any case when the rebels are tried, if
it had not been destroyed.”

“Ah, but how can I be sure that it will not fall into unfriendly
hands? The rebels may have made alterations in the original, or even
cut out my signature and attached it to a forgery. To leave it to be
produced at the trial would be to subject myself to endless suspicion
and annoyance. My honour is at stake, Count, and must be vindicated.
As to the letter itself, you shall see it when I have it back. But
where are you going now?”

“To the Palace, to find one of the ladies and give her a list which
Fräulein von Staubach intrusted to me of things I am to take back for
the Queen. The castle is rather a primitive place in the way of toilet
arrangements, I fancy. By the bye, we must get a carriage up there
somehow, for her Majesty is quite unfit to ride as far as the railway.
I suppose we must set the escort to push behind in the places where
there is no road at all, and harness their horses on in front. You
will see that the escort is detailed to start to-morrow? I will look
after the other things.”

“But I wonder,” he said to himself, as he quitted the Premier’s
presence, “what the truth is about that letter? There is something
fishy, I am sure. Drakovics has given himself away in his eagerness to
get it back, not to mention his engaging candour in telling me about
it at all. What is it? It would give me the very handle I want against
him if I could find out.”



 CHAPTER XVII.
 “THE MAN WHOM THE QUEEN DELIGHTETH TO HONOUR.”

Whatever M. Drakovics’s misgivings may have been with respect to the
letter of which the rebels had obtained possession, the measures which
he took to recover it were crowned with complete success, and he
appeared in Cyril’s office triumphant, three days after his colleague
had returned a second time to Bellaviste, in attendance on the Queen
and the little King.

“Everything has fallen out exactly as I prophesied to you, Count,” he
cried, “with the exception of one or two unfortunate accidents, such
as one could not hope to provide against. You saw, of course,
yesterday’s telegram from Constantinovics announcing that he and the
royal forces had occupied Tatarjé with very little opposition? Well,
here is a long letter from my nephew Vassili, giving details, and,
best of all, enclosing that letter of mine which caused me such
anxiety. I promised to show it to you; here it is.”

Cyril glanced at the document with languid interest. It was an
ordinary business letter in the Premier’s writing, addressed to the
commandant of Tatarjé, and promising to meet his wishes with regard
to the subject upon which they had been in correspondence. But for the
fact of its having been written by M. Drakovics’s own hand, there was
nothing remarkable about it; and except for the danger of its being
tampered with, it appeared quite inadequate to account for the
writer’s anxiety to recover it. Cyril returned it quickly.

“Many thanks, Drakovics. I congratulate you on getting the precious
thing back so soon. But what are the unfortunate accidents to which
you refer?”

“I must give you the gist of Vassili’s letter before you will
understand them. As I anticipated, the moment that the rank and file
of the rebels learned that they had been deceived in imagining that
they had the Queen in their hands, they lost heart. There was a little
fighting round the Bishop’s palace, led by the commandant and Colonel
O’Malachy; but the Bishop and the Mayor, when once their eyes were
opened, insisted upon a surrender. They had been doubly deceived,
first by means of this letter here, into supposing that I--why, I
cannot imagine--sympathised with their object, and then by the lady
who personated her Majesty.”

“Really,” said Cyril, “the Bishop must be singularly guileless for a
man of his age and political experience. It’s pretty evident that he
is too simple-minded for the position that he occupies.”

“That will be for the court to decide when he is brought to trial,”
replied the Premier, changing countenance a little. “In any case, he
submitted at once when he learned the truth, and gave assistance in
securing his fellow-conspirators. He even surrendered this letter,
which had been intrusted to his care. Moreover, the rescued ladies all
bear testimony to the consideration with which they were treated
during their imprisonment in his palace.”

“In other words, Bishop Philaret is one of those who aspire to run
with the hare and yet hunt with the hounds?”

“Possibly; but we may be thankful that he has shown so accommodating a
spirit. If he had been like the rest--but we are coming to the
unfortunate accidents I mentioned. During the night after the
recapture of the town, Colonel O’Malachy succeeded in making his
escape from the place where he was imprisoned, and the commandant
committed suicide.”

“Good gracious! there has been treachery at work,” cried Cyril.

“Impossible, Count. Both prisoners were searched before they were left
alone; but they must have contrived to secrete some tool or weapon.
The commandant was found with his brains blown out, and a discharged
revolver in his hand, and Colonel O’Malachy appears to have escaped
through the window and the garden at the back, by means of tying his
bed-clothes together into a rope. The two men were confined in a
private house, for the ordinary prison was full.”

“You may take my opinion as that of the average man,” said Cyril,
slowly and meaningly, “that there was foul play somewhere. A stout
elderly man like the O’Malachy, and lame too, could never escape
unaided from a window.”

“Of course, the whole affair will be most strictly inquired into, and
the sentries put on their trial,” said M. Drakovics. “Vassili can
testify that both the prisoners were secure when Constantinovics and
he visited them late at night. The thing is a mystery.”

“A very ugly mystery for all concerned, if it is not cleared up.”

“Oh, come, you take too dark a view of things, my dear Count. It will
be awkward for the poor wretches of sentries, of course; but how could
it possibly affect any one else? By the bye, this is something in your
department. Vassili says that the rescued prisoners--our friends, that
is, naturally--were to leave Tatarjé by rail this morning, which
means that they will arrive here to-night.”

“I will tell the Queen, and inquire what she wishes done,” said Cyril,
as the Premier rose to depart; but when he was left alone he sat still
for a time. “I must hear what the ladies have to say,” he told himself
at last. “They may be able to throw some light on the earlier stages
of the affair. But as to these two ‘unfortunate accidents,’ I have no
doubt whatever. It is true, of course, that the commandant’s brains
were blown out; but I think it extremely unlikely that the revolver
which did it was in his hand at the time. As for the O’Malachy, he was
helped to escape because he knew too much to be brought to trial, and
because, as a Scythian subject, it would have been dangerous to put
him out of the way. It looks very much as if the Bishop had been
squared, but that time will show.”

Banishing these speculations from his mind with an effort, he sought
an audience of Ernestine, and acquainted her with the approach of
Baroness von Hilfenstein and the rest of the members of the Court. She
was overjoyed by the news, and, as he had expected and hoped, directed
him to take a special train, the royal train, and meet them at a
station some thirty miles from Bellaviste, thus bringing them back in
triumph, as a mark of the Queen’s appreciation of their services.
There was no time to be lost if the transfer was to be effected
without undignified haste, and Cyril telephoned his orders immediately
to the railway officials, and found the royal train waiting for him
when he reached the station. In spite of his precautions, he was a
little late in arriving at his goal, and found the people whom he had
come to welcome waiting on the platform to welcome him, which they did
in many cases with tears of joy. When he had reassured them all
separately as to the safety of the King and Queen, and the fact that
their health was not likely to suffer permanently from the hardships
they had undergone (this was a point on which Mrs Jones, in
particular, showed herself almost impossible to convince), he
succeeded in getting them safely bestowed in the train, and himself
made one of a pleasant party in the royal saloon. Baroness von
Hilfenstein and her daughter had endless questions to ask about the
escape from Tatarjé, Stefanovics was all anxiety as to the feeling in
Bellaviste with regard to the rebellion, and every one else had some
inquiry to make; but at last Cyril succeeded in gaining a hearing for
his own question.

“Tell me what happened after we had left,” he said. “Not the vaguest
scrap of information has reached us about that.”

“Really,” said Baroness von Hilfenstein, “it all happened very much as
you said it would, Count. About half an hour after you had gone we
began to hear stealthy sounds, as though people were moving about
round the house, and presently there came a tremendous knocking at the
front door. The apartments of M. and Madame Stefanovics were situated
in the front of the house, as you know; and after telling his wife to
rise and dress at once, M. Stefanovics opened the window and asked who
was there. It proved to be the commandant, who said that he had
received intimation of a plot to seize the persons of the King and
Queen, and begged that they would allow him to conduct them at once to
the Bishop’s palace for safety.”

“Seeking safety in the lion’s mouth!” said Cyril. “I hope you did not
recall the story of the spider and the fly to the commandant’s memory,
Stefanovics?”

“No, indeed, Count,” returned the chamberlain. “I expressed horror at
the news and gratitude to the commandant, but declined to alarm the
Queen before morning. To that my friend replied that he durst not keep
his men in the grounds of the Villa, where they were so much exposed
to attack, and that he must get them safely behind walls in another
hour, if he had to take the royal party with him by force. As he
threatened to break open the door, I went down to open it, sending my
wife to warn the Baroness.”

“Yes,” interrupted Baroness Paula, “and Madame Stefanovics and my
mother came and dragged me out of bed and into the Queen’s room, and
made me dress up in her clothes, and told me so many things which I
was to do and was not to do that I was quite dazed. Then, before I was
ready, in stalked Mrs Jones through the private door, carrying in her
arms--what do you think? Why, the great doll in the uniform of a
Hercynian grenadier which the Emperor Sigismund sent to our King,
dressed up in his Majesty’s clothes. I really thought it was the King
until she showed me the face. Meanwhile, Madame Stefanovics had gone
to wake the other ladies----”

“And I whispered to each not to be alarmed by anything she might see,
but to behave just as usual,” said Madame Stefanovics proudly.

“And very soon after that we were ready,” continued Baroness Paula,
“and my mother conducted us out. The Queen’s crape veil quite hid my
face, and no one seemed to have a suspicion. The commandant was
waiting in the hall, and he bowed very low and regretted the necessity
for disturbing me at such an hour. I said that he was only doing his
duty, and that I was grateful to him for his fidelity--imitating the
Queen’s voice as well as I could. The gentlemen of the household were
all ready too, and we drove away from the villa with proper
ceremony,--the commandant had had the carriages prepared while we were
dressing. The soldiers marched on either side, and we reached the
Bishop’s palace without any alarm.”

“I can best describe to his Excellency the next development of the
plot,” said Pavlovics, the King’s chamberlain. “Rooms were provided
for us at the palace, Count, and we were left in peace during the
night; but in the morning the commandant appeared with a file of
soldiers in the apartments which had been allotted to us of his
Majesty’s household, and ordered that the King should be roused,
dressed, and brought to him. The Government, so he said, had decided
that for the safety of the kingdom it was imperative that his Majesty
should become a member of the Orthodox Church, and the Bishop was
already waiting in the cathedral to perform the ceremony of
confirmation. The Queen had agreed to the measure, but would appear to
resist it, for fear of the anger of her German relatives, and
therefore it would be best if it could be carried out without arousing
her Majesty. Thunderstruck, and not knowing what to believe, I asked
to speak to Mrs Jones, who declared she would not give up the King for
any such purpose, and that his Majesty was ill in bed. Going back to
the commandant, I told him this, and both Herr Batzen and I
endeavoured to induce him to abandon his intention----”

“Yes, indeed,” put in the old pastor, whose mild eyes had acquired a
look of startled surprise during the stirring events of the last
fortnight. “I represented to him as forcibly as I could the extreme
folly and wickedness of the course he proposed; but he pushed me
rudely aside, and thrust his way into the King’s room----”

“Where Mrs Jones stood in front of the bed, and defied him to
approach,” went on Pavlovics. “He called two soldiers to drag her away
(we were already under guard), and pulled off the bedclothes. To his
stupefaction and ours, there was no child in the bed, but only a large
doll. Mrs Jones, seeing her advantage, began to abuse him, assuring
him that the King was far away, and safe out of his reach, and that he
might take the doll, and welcome, and do what he liked with it, and
much good might it do him! Utterly astonished, they searched the room,
to discover whether his Majesty was concealed anywhere about it, and
then went away, to question the sentries. After a time an officer came
to tell us to go to the Queen, and inform her of the disappearance of
her son, and we prepared, very unwillingly, to do this.”

“Now it is my turn again,” said Baroness Paula. “When M. Pavlovics and
Herr Batzen had joined us, and we had explained things to them and to
the ladies who were not in the plot, and warned them to keep up the
farce, we were startled by the entrance of the commandant and some
soldiers. I stood up, and in a most regal voice demanded what they
meant by such an intrusion; but he answered politely that it was
necessary to discover who it was that had kidnapped the King, that the
criminals might be pursued and punished. He had a list in his hand,
and calling over the names, discovered that Fräulein von Staubach,
the King’s governess, and Paula von Hilfenstein, a maid of honour,
were missing. Then they left us, and we never saw the commandant
again, except at a distance.”

“They did not try to drag you into their schemes?” asked Cyril.

“No; they left us severely alone. Oh, it was fearfully dull,
Count--you can’t imagine how dull, for my mother would not allow me to
relax my dignity for a moment, lest there should be spies watching us.
She drilled me in my part from morning to night; and there I sat in
the Queen’s clothes, with the veil arranged so as to hide my face from
any one coming into the room. When we went out, I had the veil down,
of course.”

“But surely they did not let you go into the town?”

“Oh no; but each day we were allowed to walk for an hour in an inner
courtyard with some weeds in it. They took the sentries out of the way
for the time, and never allowed even the servants to cross the square.
But on the first day I felt certain that we were being watched, and I
pinched Madame Stefanovics’s arm--she was walking with me--and we both
glanced up, and saw some one looking at us out of a little window; but
I thought it was the Bishop, and she thought it was the commandant.”

“Both, no doubt,” commented Cyril. “Their suspicions had been roused
as to the genuineness of their capture. Did they ever try to induce
you to sign any document for them, Baroness?”

“No, never.”

“That shows that they were convinced you were not the Queen. I thought
so.”

“Oh, but wait and hear the rest. We never found out that we were
watched again, and we never saw any one in authority. Sometimes they
used to send messages to me, but always through one of the other
ladies, and the servants were always most respectful. They never came
into the room where I was. On the second day we heard a great noise in
the street, and the servants told some one who asked about it that the
Jews were being driven out, and then we heard nothing more until the
day before yesterday. We were terribly dull; but we knew that so long
as they continued to take me for the Queen, it meant that they had not
captured her Majesty, so we were happy. Then, that day, we heard
fighting--real fighting, with cannon, not like the driving out of the
Jews. We were all very much excited, and trying all the windows in
turn in the hope of being able to see what was going on, when the door
opened suddenly, and the Bishop came in, unannounced. Even at that
moment the rest remembered their parts, and I said in German, ‘Will
your Beatitude be pleased to inform me what is happening?’ But instead
of answering, he came close to me, and glared into my face, and then
said, ‘The Government forces are besieging us, madame. One of their
spies whom we have captured informs us of an extraordinary rumour,
that the Queen is at Bellaviste, and not here. Is this true? If it is,
cut short the farce, and put an end to this bloodshed.’ I had just
time to think that if the Queen was safe at Bellaviste there was no
need to play my part any longer; but before I could answer he pulled
aside my veil, and cried out, ‘You are not the Queen! Come with me
instantly.’ He gripped me by the wrist and dragged me away, out of the
room, down the stairs, and into the outer courtyard, which was full of
the rebels--soldiers and civilians mixed. Some were defending the
walls, and I caught sight of the commandant among them; but the
greater number were standing about in groups and quarrelling, while
every now and then a shell exploded at or near the gate. I realised
then that the Government troops must be in the town, and attacking the
palace itself; but I had no more time to think, for as soon as the
rebels saw the Bishop holding me by the wrist they gave a howl and
rushed towards me. I was terrified; but the Bishop called out, ‘Wait!
This is not the Queen. We have been deceived. The Queen has never been
in our hands at all, and there is nothing to fight for. Let us
surrender and save our lives!’ Then suddenly he tore off the widow’s
cap from my head, and the veil with it, so roughly that all my hair
came down” (Baroness Paula’s flaxen plaits were celebrated in Thracian
Court circles), “and they saw at once that I was not the Queen. He let
go my wrist for the moment, and my mother seized it--she had followed
us out--and dragged me back into the house and up-stairs again, and
the rebels were too busy with their own affairs to follow us. It was
not long before M. Vassili Drakovics came to us, and told us that the
Government forces were masters of the place, for the rebels had seized
the commandant and the Scythian officer who was helping him, and
insisted on a surrender. And that ends our adventures, Count.”

“I scarcely know whether to admire more the spirit with which you went
through the adventures, or the grace with which you relate them,
Baroness,” said Cyril, and followed up this compliment with others
addressed to the rest of the ladies, until they were all on the best
of terms with themselves; and even Baroness von Hilfenstein relaxed
into a smile, while averring that Count Mortimer was such a frivolous
person that she could never see how any one thought it safe to intrust
him with the management of affairs of state.

It would have astonished the good lady if she could have known of the
relief with which Cyril parted from his charges at the Palace, after
conducting them to the Queen’s presence, and went home to ponder his
earlier theories in the new light he had just obtained. Sitting at his
ease in his private sanctum, which no one but Dietrich was allowed
even to approach, he set to work to construct a hypothesis that should
fit the facts.

“Let us see how it works out,” he said to himself. “I don’t think
Drakovics originated the plot, for he would know that Hercynia and
Pannonia would have to be reckoned with if it ever came out. No; the
O’Malachy was the moving spirit once more. His big plot failed before;
but he foresaw that if he was content with a little one he might lug
Drakovics into it. It was very simple: Drakovics wanted the King
converted, but durst not take it in hand for himself; the O’Malachy
and the Tatarjé people were willing to pull the chestnuts out of the
fire for him--on conditions, no doubt. The final terms were contained
either in that letter he showed me, or, as I believe, in a much more
explicit one for which that was substituted by Vassili. The
opportunities of communication would be furnished at first by the
correspondence about the post for the commandant’s brother, and the
last touches were put by Peter Sergeivics. He had ample opportunity
for seeing any of the conspirators when he came to Tatarjé before
appearing at the Villa at all. Then Drakovics bethinks himself that it
is just possible something may turn up later to connect him with the
plot, and he sends me a vague and non-committal telegram as a
guarantee of good faith, arranging that it is not to arrive until
after I have left Tatarjé. It reaches me a little too early; but I am
already in possession of the facts--some of them, that is. Naturally
Drakovics is thunderstruck in the morning when he learns from Dietrich
that I have stayed behind. His only chance of success now is to let
the conspirators catch us before we reach Prince Mirkovics’s. Most
fortunately I gave him no details of our plans; but I am convinced
that he let the Tatarjé people know in what direction we were to be
looked for, so that we were waited for at Ortojuk even before our
meeting with the sub-prefect. Upon my word, instead of complaining of
bad luck, I am astonished at my own luck in getting them through at
all. If it had not been for that change of clothes at the farm, we
must have been caught.”

Rising from his chair, Cyril began to stroll up and down the room,
still thinking busily, and biting the end of his moustache.

“And the net result of this is,” he went on, “that to save his
schemes, Drakovics plotted deliberately against both Ernestine’s life
and mine, for he must have known what would happen if we were caught.
And now he will be in constant terror lest anything of this should
come out. He has bribed the O’Malachy with his freedom, and the Bishop
with--well, it does not all appear yet; I shall be interested to
observe what it is. The spy was sent in to warn the Bishop to throw up
the sponge, which he did very neatly. The mayor was probably a dupe, I
think; but the other three knew after the first morning that the Queen
had never been in their hands.

“And now, what is the upshot to be?” Cyril sat down again to consider.
“My dear Drakovics, I have never exactly loved you; but I had a
foolish fancy that you played fair towards your own side. That sweet
dream is now gone; but I don’t deny that this particular trick is
yours. You hold all the cards--you are a Thracian, popular, and in
power--and I am in a fix, in a hole, in a very, very tight place. You
will stick at nothing now to get rid of me; but I am not going to make
you a present of the rope with which to hang me. Nothing would suit
you better at this moment than to get wind of my little affair with
Ernestine, but I don’t intend that you shall. Until I have something
up my sleeve to play against you, you shall hear nothing about any
desire for the alteration of the Constitution. Bluff is no good here,
or I could play a glorious game; but there is too much at stake. You
would have me torn to pieces by a dirty ruffianly mob, would you? Wait
a little, my dear friend, only wait! But I should like to know,” this
was an after-thought, “what you bribed Bishop Philaret with, and how
far you committed yourself in your genuine letter.”

Strangely enough, both these pieces of information were in Cyril’s
hands some five days later, although unfortunately not in a shape in
which he could turn them to advantage As he sat in his office,
Dietrich brought him a note, which he said had been given him in the
street by a peasant, a stranger, for his master. There was no address
on the envelope, which was dirty and common, but the contents were
full of interest:--


 “My dear Lord Cyril,--I was greatly interested to hear of the letter
 discovered among the papers that the poor commandant had intrusted to
 the Bishop for safekeeping during our little affair at Tatarjé.
 Merely as a matter of interest, may I ask you to put these two
 questions to your friend Drakovics. Ask him where is the letter
 addressed by him to the Bishop and the commandant jointly, and
 promising them an amnesty and future favour if they managed the King’s
 conversion? and who is to become Archbishop of Bellaviste when the
 Metropolitan joins the majority? The earlier inquiry, as you have no
 doubt noticed, concerns the beginning of the present business, the
 later one its end, which is not yet. You will guess that I would not
 likely write this to you if you would be able to make any unpleasant
 use of it; but since you cannot do that, I would like to relieve you
 from the humiliation of being dragged at Drakovics’s chariot-wheels
 any longer.--From your well-wisher,

                                                    “/O’Malachy/,
                                     _Colonel_ à la suite _of the
                                     --th Regiment of the Line._”


Cyril’s first impulse on reading this was to curse the O’Malachy
aloud; but he restrained himself, and proceeded to tear the letter
methodically into strips and burn it. The exercise relieved his mind,
and he was able to look at things calmly again.

“It’s just like the old fool,” he thought, “imagining that he will set
Drakovics and me by the ears. That he will not do, for his testimony
would be of no value against Drakovics’s denial, and I don’t break
with my friend the Premier until I can pulverise him. There shall be
no minor explosions--at any rate on my side--to mar the effect of the
great _coup_. I can smile and smile and be a villain as well as he
can. He may have the laugh on his side at present, but the man laughs
longest who laughs last. Oh yes; I trusted him once, but never again,
my friend--never again!”

It was fortunate that Cyril’s soliloquy was uttered only in thought,
and did not publish itself in words, for just as he had reached this
point in his meditations M. Drakovics was announced. The Premier came
in looking vexed and somewhat sullen; but it suited Cyril’s humour to
welcome him with exaggerated cordiality.

“Come in, come in, my friend!” he cried. “Take this chair of mine. If
there was a more comfortable one, you should have it, but we are not
Sybarites here. To what happy chance do I owe the pleasure of
beholding your bright and cheerful countenance?”

M. Drakovics frowned. “I came to tell you, Count, that her Majesty
insists upon your having the Holy Icon. But doubtless this is no news
to you?”

“Haven’t heard a word about it,” returned Cyril, with perfect truth.
The Comradeship of the Holy Icon was the chief Thracian order of
merit. It took its name from a band of heroes who had guarded a sacred
picture of St Peter in the decisive battle which made Thracian
independence possible in the days of Alexander the Patriot, and its
membership was confined to those who had rendered signal service to
the reigning dynasty. To be admitted to the brotherhood on the
recommendation of his sovereign was a gratifying experience for any
subject; but it seemed to Cyril that to him, at least, it might also
be an embarrassing one. “Why should I have heard the news?” he asked.

“Why? when we all know the high esteem in which her Majesty is at
present pleased to hold you? You are basking in the sunshine of royal
favour just now, Count. I only hope for your sake that the brightness
may last.”

“Well, whether the Holy Icon comes to me by favour or not, I won’t say
that I think I haven’t deserved it,” said Cyril deliberately.

“It is usual,” said the Premier, with marked emphasis, “for the
recipient of such an honour to express his unworthiness--even his
reluctance to accept it.”

“Oh, come now; I did not expect that from you, Drakovics! You and I
are behind the scenes; we need not wear the mask for each other’s
benefit. But am I mistaken, or is it the case that you see the
unworthiness and feel the reluctance for me?”

“I felt it my duty, certainly, to remind the Queen that the Order was
intended for soldiers----”

“And her Majesty reminded you that you were yourself one of its most
distinguished ornaments?”

“And,” frowning, “that its members ought to belong to the Orthodox
faith.”

“It is unfortunate that neither her Majesty nor her predecessor in the
sovereignty of the Order have been Greeks. But in spite of flaws in
his argument, shall I desert my friend Drakovics at this crisis? Come,
Drakovics--my more than friend, my patron (shall I say?)--give me your
true reasons, and I will decline the honour. Have you not been my
political guide, philosopher, and friend since first as a raw youth I
entered Thracia? Do I not occupy in your affections a position second
only to that of the ingenuous Vassili? Can you doubt my gratitude to
my benefactor?”

“If I thought you were in earnest, I should suspect that you meant
mischief; but I know you are only joking,” said M. Drakovics sourly.
His ordinary feeling towards Cyril was a mixture of fear and dislike,
but when the younger man gave reins to his levity he positively hated
him. “Her Majesty insists on your admission to the Order, and the
chapter is to be held on Wednesday morning, so that you may attend the
Thanksgiving service among the other knights.”

“Then you withdraw your opposition?” Cyril shook the Premier warmly by
the hand. “Ah, how my mind is relieved! Believe me, my dear Drakovics,
I shall never forget this.”

Heartily disgusted, M. Drakovics withdrew, to confide to his nephew
that the Mortimer was more absurd than ever, and so much elated by the
honour about to be conferred upon him that it might be hoped he would
show his delight in some preposterous way, and ruin himself; to which
Vassili replied that he only trusted this might prove true, for that
in the Mortimer’s most foolish moments hitherto he had shown himself a
match for the wisest heads in Thracia. This was a consolation which
Cyril, smarting under the discovery of the way in which he had been
duped in the matter of the plot, would have hesitated to appropriate
to himself; but he was able to rejoice over the present mystification
of M. Drakovics as he turned again to his work. There was much to
arrange during the three days which remained before his admission into
the Order. All the arrangements for the great Thanksgiving service,
and the royal visit to the Hôtel de Ville which was to follow it,
were in his hands. The service had been suggested by the Metropolitan
himself, for it was beginning to leak out by this time that the Queen
and her son had incurred considerable danger in their return to the
capital, although the exact nature of the perils they had escaped was
not known; and Cyril had succeeded in overcoming Ernestine’s objection
to being present at an act of Orthodox worship, in view of the effect
to be produced on the people. Then Paschics, who had been discovered
in prison at Tatarjé, had to be received, rewarded, and promoted, and
the special gifts which the Queen intended to send to all the humble
friends of her adversity must be despatched to their intended
recipients by his hand. All this time, since the interview in the
gamekeeper’s house, Cyril had never seen Ernestine alone,--to tell the
truth, he shrank from doing so. He knew that what he had to say to her
would wound her deeply, and, as a diplomatic artist, he disliked
inflicting suffering before it was absolutely necessary. But on the
morning of the Thanksgiving service, when he was conducted into her
presence to be invested with the insignia of the Order of the Holy
Icon, he regretted his delay. The Queen’s face was flushed and her
eyes gleaming, and it struck him at once that she was meditating some
desperate step.

“I had better have had it out with her,” he said to himself, “for if
she is going to make a scene it will ruin us both. I will get things
settled this afternoon, if she will leave me so long. Perhaps after
all she is only excited by her victory over Drakovics.”

His conjecture appeared to be well founded, for Ernestine’s face grew
calmer as the Metropolitan and his assistant archdeacon droned through
a kind of litany in an unknown tongue. When it was over, M. Drakovics,
as the senior member of the Order, took Cyril’s hand and led him up to
the Queen, who rose from her seat, and, as the ritual prescribed,
holding the new knight’s hand in hers, turned to the rest of the
brotherhood--

“Comrades of the Holy Icon, I your lady present to you Cyril Mortimer,
Count of the Pannonian Empire, to be admitted one of your number. It
is for you to say whether he is worthy of this honour. As for me, I
can testify that he has risked his life in my service, and that
Thracia owes to him the safety of her King, that he is a gallant
gentleman, and a most faithful friend”--“Servant,” ejaculated M.
Drakovics, but she disregarded the correction--“to me and to my
house.”

The Queen’s voice faltered perilously, but she crushed down the rising
tears and looked round defiantly upon the knights. It was Prince
Mirkovics to whom it fell to answer her.

“Lady, we receive this our brother at thy hand with all joy and
honour, for who serves thee has served us, and he that is a friend to
thee and to thy house is our friend also.”

The last clause was interpolated, and not found in the ritual; but
Prince Mirkovics had saved the situation by his graceful acceptance of
the Queen’s amendment, and Cyril breathed more freely as he knelt
before her that she might invest him with the badge of the Order. The
Metropolitan was reading from the service-book with its massive
jewelled cover the solemn charge which was laid upon all the comrades
of the Holy Icon, and Cyril was waiting with downcast eyes to make the
prescribed response at the end, when he became aware that Ernestine
was looking intently at him. Her eyes seemed to burn themselves into
his brain, and the effort not to look up was positively painful. Nay,
more, it was useless, for her will overcame his for the moment, and he
glanced into her face. Their eyes met, and the knights and their
stately surroundings faded away. For an instant they were standing
again among the smoke-clouds in the burning house, with the roar of
the cataract in their ears--they two alone. Then Ernestine’s eyes
fell, the Metropolitan’s elaborate admonition came to an end, and
Cyril replied mechanically in the proper form, feeling as he did so,
for he could not see, that M. Drakovics, standing behind him, had
caught Ernestine’s glance, and had interpreted it correctly. She was
suspending the miniature copy of the Holy Icon from his neck now, by
means of its golden collar, and repeating the words of investiture
after the Metropolitan. The pause gave Cyril the chance he needed for
recovering his calmness; and when he rose from his knees, invested
with the mantle of the Order, and, standing at the Queen’s side, bowed
to his brother knights, there was not the slightest trace of emotion
in his face. The Premier gnashed his teeth; for one moment magnificent
possibilities had presented themselves to his mind.

After the investiture came the Thanksgiving service in the cathedral,
with the _Te Deum_ chanted as only an Orthodox choir can chant it, and
a sermon from the Metropolitan, brimming over with patriotism and
loyalty. Either the little King’s intercession for him had touched the
old man’s heart, or the plot had horrified him, as showing to what his
political schemes might lead; and Cyril smiled as he thought of that
other sermon of his not so many months ago. The service was
comparatively short, for there could be no visiting of shrines or
veneration of icons, such as would have been _de rigueur_ in the case
of Orthodox monarchs, and the royal procession made its way across the
square to the Hôtel de Ville. Ernestine had laid aside her widow’s
weeds for the occasion, and donned a black velvet dress and a veil of
priceless lace flowing from a diamond tiara, while her hair fell in
heavy curls on either side of her face. The little King was garbed in
a Parisian adaptation of the national costume, a fact that appeared to
awaken interest and curiosity among the spectators; but Cyril was
struck by the lack of genuine feeling displayed. It was evident that
the Queen was as unpopular as ever, and that the people regarded her
with no more exclusive affection than they would a neighbouring
monarch on a visit. M. Drakovics was the real sovereign, at least in
Bellaviste, and it appeared to Cyril that in case of a conflict of
wills, the Premier would receive public support far more readily than
the Queen.

It was not a cheering prospect, and Cyril threw aside the thought and
plunged into the business of the moment. The luncheon was a long
affair, with its speeches and toasts and many courses, and it was not
until late in the afternoon that the Royal party returned to the
Palace. It was Cyril’s duty to present for the Queen’s approval his
report of the day’s proceedings, for publication in the “Court
Circular” of the Government papers the following day; and although he
might have sent it through Baroness von Hilfenstein, his memory of the
morning was sufficiently vivid to determine him to seek a personal
interview with Ernestine. Her Majesty was expecting him, he was told;
and he passed on into the anteroom, where he found only Fräulein von
Staubach and Anna Mirkovics. While the latter went into the inner room
to announce his arrival, Fräulein von Staubach astonished him by
saying in a fierce whisper--

“If you are a man, say something kind to the poor Queen. She has been
breaking her heart over your coldness ever since we returned to
Bellaviste.”

Before Cyril could do more than look his surprise at advice so
contrary to that which he had last received from Fräulein von
Staubach, Princess Anna returned to say that the Queen was ready to
receive him, and he went on into the inner room, where Ernestine was
sitting listlessly in a great carved chair. She sprang up as he
entered, and made a step towards him; but as he paused at the door and
bowed, her face clouded again, and she approached him shyly, holding
out both hands.

“Have you nothing to say to me, Count?”

“I have the honour to present my official report for your
consideration, madame.”

“Your report? Give it to me. _That_ for your report!” and she flung it
with all her strength into a corner. “Count, what do you mean by
treating me in this way? You will not even look at me!”

“Madame, it is because I fear that to look at you would force me to
remember what it may be my duty to forget.”

“What should you forget? Not that we love one another?”

“Madame, I remember nothing that you may wish forgotten.”

“You don’t trust me yet?” She stamped her foot passionately. “It is
cruel, it is unfair! What have I done that you should be so unjust to
me? Stay!” she ran to a mirror, and pulling out the diamond-headed
pins which fastened her head-dress, laid the veil and crown on the
table, then with hasty fingers tore from the front of her bodice the
ribbons and badges of the Orders she had been wearing, and returned to
Cyril. “Now there is no Queen to whom you need be distant and
ceremonious. It is your own Ernestine, who asks you how she has
offended you.”

“My dearest!” began Cyril, raising her hands to his lips, but she was
not satisfied.

“You were not content with that in the burning house,” she said.

“Ernestine!” He caught her in his arms and kissed her; “do you think
it is fair to tempt me in this way? Flesh and blood can’t stand
against it, you little witch.”

“I like that name,” she said, with a happy smile. “I am very glad I
can tempt you, Cyril. It is like this morning. I made up my mind that
you should look at me, and you were obliged to do it. I willed your
eyes to meet mine.”

“Yes, to the great edification of Drakovics,” returned Cyril.

“What does M. Drakovics signify? I am not afraid of him.”

“Very well, dear. If you are indifferent to the consequences of his
knowing our secret, it is not for me to shrink from them.”

“Now you are unkind again. What do you mean?”

“Will you let me speak plainly, dear? I don’t want to be unkind; but I
must try to make you understand the difficulties that beset us. Since
returning to Bellaviste I have seen more and more clearly the
awkwardness of our position.”

“I don’t understand.” Ernestine had grown very pale, and she drew
herself away from him as she began to perceive that his backwardness
as a lover was due to policy rather than to timidity; but Cyril did
not flinch--

“I am afraid we can scarcely flatter ourselves that you have given
Drakovics much reason to love you, can we, dearest? Hitherto I have
imagined that prudence would keep him friendly with me, but since
returning from Tatarjé I find that this is not the case. He evidently
regards me as the obstacle which prevents him from attaining supreme
power, and he would stick at nothing to remove me from his path. Now
do you see why this is the most unpropitious moment possible for
giving him a handle against me?”

“But--but you say I have betrayed you already,” she faltered.

“No, dear; it is not quite so bad as that, though I could have wished
it had not happened. You have betrayed yourself,” Ernestine’s white
face become crimson as she covered it with her hands; “but Drakovics
can hardly make himself objectionable because you have done me the
honour to care for me. If he tries it on, I will make it hot for him.”

“Then you don’t intend to try and obtain an alteration of the
Constitution?” The misery in her eyes would have made most men promise
to tear the Constitution to shreds if she would only look happy again,
but Cyril was made of sterner stuff.

“The faintest whisper of such a thing would ruin us irretrievably,
Ernestine. We should set not only Drakovics and Thracia, but all
Europe, against us.”

“My beloved, I can’t make you understand that I care nothing for that.
I will marry you whether the Constitution is altered or not, and share
the consequences with you.”

“Your generosity overpowers me, dearest, but we must face facts. If I
suggest the alteration of the Constitution, I am hounded out of
Thracia, and we are separated for ever; while if you marry me as
things are, you become merely the King’s mother, a foreign princess.
You lose the regency by the mere fact of marrying,--if it was solely a
question of resignation, you might refuse to do it, and we could tide
things over somehow.”

“But I don’t mind giving up the regency--for you.”

“And quitting Thracia, and leaving Drakovics to do what he likes with
your child and his kingdom?”

“Oh no, no,” she said eagerly. “I remember; I have been thinking about
that. We will be married privately by Batzen, and then escape in
disguise--you and I, and Michael, and perhaps Sophie. I should not be
frightened in the least with you. Then we will go to England--no, not
to England; they are relations, and would not protect me against my
father and Sigismund--but to America, and throw ourselves on the
protection of the President of the United States. They always protect
people in America, and with the King in our hands we could make terms
with M. Drakovics.”

Cyril gazed at her animated face and sparkling eyes in wonder,
marvelling at the audacity and naïveté of the scheme. For a moment
his heart warmed towards her; then he saw himself the butt of the
world’s caricaturists, from San Francisco to Yokohama, and it hardened
again. “My dear child,” he said, “we are not living in the Middle
Ages. Drakovics would like nothing better than for us to carry out
your plan. He would proclaim the deposition of the King, and either
choose another or establish a republic.”

“Then you will not take any steps at all?”

“No step of that kind, certainly.”

“That means, then, that you wish our engagement to be at an end? I
must thank you for being so plain. Oh, what have I done? what have you
done? Why let me betray that I cared for you when you do not love me?
But I thought you did! I thought you did!”

“If you accuse me of deceiving you, madame, there is no more to be
said.”

“Oh, don’t speak to me so coldly; don’t look so angry! How can I think
you love me when you are content to give me up?”

“Madame, I had no thought of proposing such a thing. The idea had
never occurred to me for an instant.”

“Then what did you think of doing?” with renewed hope in her tone.

“I hoped, madame, that you might be content to wait----”

“Wait? Only wait? Why, that is nothing! But how long?”

Cyril hesitated, but her eager eyes compelled him to speak. “Until
your son is of age,” he answered reluctantly. He had intended to break
the news more gradually, but she had not permitted it. “Your regency
ends as soon as he is sixteen, as you know,” he added.

“And he is just four now,” she said hopelessly. “Twelve years! I
should be an old woman by that time.”

“Dearest, you will never grow old.”

“Don’t pay me compliments!” She brushed the remark aside with a
gesture of bitter contempt. “Have some pity for me. Think what my life
has been! Married at sixteen, and so unhappily. I know I was
wrong--dreadfully wrong--in much that I did, but it was not all my
fault. You know that you sometimes helped to make things harder for me
yourself in those days. And then--left alone to guard my child’s
kingdom for him! I am so lonely, so inexperienced, I need you to help
me--and you will not do it.”

“I had hoped that I should be always at hand to help you whenever you
needed help, madame.”

“If you call me that again you will break my heart. Don’t you see that
I want you close to me? I want to be able to see you and speak to you
without fear of making people talk. Every day I count the hours until
we meet, and then it is only for a moment’s discussion of business. I
am looking for you all day. My ladies cannot imagine what makes me so
restless. Baroness von Hilfenstein says that my nerves have suffered
from the strain of our adventures, and threatens to send for a
specialist from Vienna. How can I go on like this? You cannot really
mean that it is to last for twelve years?”

“If you cannot bear it, Ernestine, it is easy to end it. You have only
to hint to Drakovics that I have had the presumption to fall in love
with you, and he will get rid of me without any further trouble to
you”--“Oh no, no!” she moaned--“But if you prefer half a loaf to no
bread, I am here, and ready to help you in any way that I can.”

“Will you promise that whatever happens you will not forsake me? But
even then you are doing everything for me. I want to be able to help
you--to take care of you--to feel that I am doing something for you.”

“You are doing something very hard for me, dearest, in consenting to
wait. And after all,” this was contrary to Cyril’s better judgment,
“something may happen to shorten the time.”

“Madame,” said Fräulein von Staubach’s voice at the door, as a gleam
of hope shone in Ernestine’s sad eyes, “his Excellency the Premier is
crossing the gardens, and will be here in a moment,” and Cyril kissed
the Queen on the forehead, and hurried away.



 CHAPTER XVIII.
 FRIENDLY INTERVENTION.

When M. Drakovics entered the Queen’s anteroom he found Cyril there,
engaged in comparing notes with the two ladies as to the success of
the day’s spectacle.

“You have seen her Majesty, Count?” asked the Premier, as Princess
Anna went to announce his arrival to the Queen.

“Yes; the ordeal is over for me. My report had not the good fortune to
please the Queen, however. I shall have to write another; and as I am
to dine at the British Legation to-night, I ought to get it done
early. You have my most sincere wishes for better luck.”

“He cannot know!” murmured M. Drakovics, looking sourly after his
colleague’s retreating figure, but he was not satisfied. The discovery
which he had made that morning had struck him at first as most
opportune and important; but when he had had time to consider it
coolly he saw that it was by no means complete. One thing he
knew--that Queen Ernestine loved Count Mortimer--but he could not say
whether the Queen had perceived the nature of her own sentiments, much
less whether Cyril returned them, and this stood in the way of his
making any use of his knowledge. If Cyril had not fallen in love with
the Queen, M. Drakovics could do nothing, since to give utterance to
his suspicions would be only to make Cyril important and the Queen
ridiculous--and although the Premier would have cared little for
Ernestine’s feelings as a woman, he had a high sense of her dignity as
Regent of Thracia. His sole hope lay in surprising some admission from
one of the persons concerned, and he recognised that he was not likely
to succeed in this attempt with Cyril. To Ernestine, therefore, he
turned his attention, and his errand this evening, although veiled
under the pretext of inquiring her pleasure on one or two points of
procedure likely to arise in the course of the trial of the
conspirators, was in reality to seek to obtain some insight into the
state of her feelings. If he had been able to accompany Anna Mirkovics
into her presence, he would have needed little further confirmation of
his suspicions, but this boon was denied him.

“Madame, his Excellency the Premier entreats----”

“I will not see him,” said Ernestine shortly, turning from the window
with a face of such misery that the girl recoiled a step or two.

“But pardon me, madame, you have just granted an interview to Count
Mortimer, and M. Drakovics might think it strange----”

“You are right, Anna.” The Queen passed her hand wearily over her
brow. “Let him come in.”

“But you look so ill, madame, and your hair--forgive me----” She
glanced from the Queen to the jewels on the table, and hesitated, then
drew a chair into the shadow of the screen. “If you would sit there,
madame, his Excellency would not notice your paleness; and if you
would permit me to throw this lace scarf over your head---- No one
could be surprised that the weight of the crown had tired you.”

“Anna, wait!” Ernestine caught the girl’s hand as she arranged the
lace deftly to hide the disordered curls. “You know--you have
guessed--that--that Count Mortimer and I love one another. I am sure
that I can trust you; but no one else must know. Remain in the room
when M. Drakovics comes in. I am too tired--too miserable--to see him
alone to-night. Pretend to be putting the jewels away--I know that it
is not your business, but he will not think of that; only stay with
me.”

“Dearest madame, I would do anything in the world to help you!” said
the girl fervently, pressing her lips to the Queen’s hand, and pulling
the screen a little more forward as she spoke; and when M. Drakovics
came in, Anna Mirkovics stood at the table, taking out the pins from
the lace veil, and smoothing the folds of the costly fabric. The
Premier looked significantly towards her, but Ernestine forestalled
the protest he was about to make.

“Let me entreat you to be merciful, M. le Ministre. I have had more
than enough to-day of politics and state pageants, and my head is in a
whirl. Pray spare me further fatigue if you can.”

“And yet I understand that your Majesty granted Count Mortimer the
honour of an interview.” He fixed his eyes upon her as he spoke; but
she could have laughed at his attempting to entrap her in this clumsy
way.

“Oh yes, he came about his report, I believe,” she answered
carelessly. “And that reminds me---- The report did not please me
exactly; but remembering one’s own fatigue, one must be merciful to
others. Where is it, Anna? I was standing by the window at the time;
perhaps it has fallen into the corner. Thank you. May I trouble you to
be my messenger, monsieur? Will you give yourself the pain of leaving
this in Count Mortimer’s office, and telling him that it will do well
enough?” She held it out to him, and her eyes met his with absolute
calmness as she placed it in his reluctant hand. “And now, as to your
own business?”

“It is unimportant, madame. If I had been aware of your Majesty’s
fatigue, I would not have intruded upon you,” and with this wide
departure from the truth M. Drakovics covered his retreat from the
room. On the whole, he thought, it seemed probable that Count Mortimer
could not be aware of the Queen’s feelings towards him; but he could
not resist the temptation to burst in upon him suddenly in his office,
and try to startle him by the delivery of her message. But his
strategy was again in vain.

“Sent to say it will do, has she?” remarked Cyril. “Wish it had come a
little earlier, then. I am half-way through another report. Well, it
might have been worse. Awfully obliged, Drakovics.”

And he bowed the discomfited Premier out of the office, with a full
perception of the humour of the situation. Unlike some men, Cyril
could feel a certain amount of pleasurable interest in his own
misfortunes, as well as in those of other people, and his present
difficulties would have given him the keenest artistic enjoyment, if
it had not been for the danger of Ernestine’s betraying
unintentionally the state of affairs. Nothing more could be done for
the present, however, and he put aside the perplexities of his
love-affair with his official clothes, and prepared to spend a
pleasant evening at the British Legation, where he was the life of the
party. Sir Egerton Stratford and he were old acquaintances, since the
former had been sent on a minor diplomatic mission to Pavelsburg
during the year Cyril had spent there as attaché long ago, and in
private they enjoyed one another’s society, although officially it was
imperative to maintain a certain degree of reserve in their
intercourse, in view of the somewhat equivocal position occupied by
Cyril, as an Englishman holding high office in a foreign country. He
was not, however, to be allowed to go to rest that night quite
forgetful of his present circumstances. As he was leaving the
drawing-room of the Legation, Lady Stratford, a small, shy woman with
large grey eyes, whom the greater number of her acquaintances despised
as a nonentity, while a select few adored her as the most sympathetic
and enthusiastic person they knew, presented him with a written notice
of some kind.

“Have you seen one of these, Lord Cyril? I don’t know whether you will
be able to come to any of the meetings?”

“I’m afraid they are not exactly in my line,” returned Cyril,
wondering with great amusement why his hostess thought him likely to
be attracted by an invitation to a series of evangelistic meetings
shortly to be held in Bellaviste by a certain Count Wratisloff, a
Scythian religious reformer who had been banished from his own country
some years before. “I see that some of them are to be held here.”

“Only the ladies’ meetings,” said Lady Stratford, with her ready
blush. “The fact is, Sir Egerton met the lady who is to conduct them
when he was at Pavelsburg. She goes about a good deal with Count and
Countess Wratisloff, and I fancied you might know her--Princess
Soudaroff.”

“Princess Soudaroff! do I not know her, indeed? Why, she is a relation
of mine, Lady Stratford--at least she is my brother’s
godmother-in-law, and if that is not relationship, what is? I shall
certainly contrive to pay my respects to her when she is here, even if
I cannot find time to attend any of her meetings. But all the same,”
he added to himself, as he descended the stairs, “I shall keep it dark
about my little affair with Ernestine. The Princess is just the person
to urge me to throw up everything and marry her at once, and though I
should not do it, one doesn’t want a lot of fuss.”

But Cyril’s plans were doomed to disaster. It was not until three days
after Princess Soudaroff’s arrival in Bellaviste that he was able to
find time to call at her hotel, and as soon as his name was announced
by the waiter at the sitting-room door, the white-haired lady who was
sitting writing in the window rose to meet him, uttering a little cry
of joy, which showed him that his visit had been expected.

“My dear Lord Cyril, I am so glad to meet you again! I was just
writing a note to ask you to come and see me. You know that I spent
Christmas at Llandiarmid with the Caerleons? How well and happy your
dear brother looks!”

“You are too transparent for a diplomatist, Princess. Every line of
your face says how much better you think it would be if I married and
settled down like Caerleon.”

“That was certainly not in my thoughts at the moment; but it is
curiously connected with the subject on which I wanted to speak to
you. This morning I spent at the Palace, where I heard from the
Queen’s lips your story.”

Cyril’s face hardened. “I am sorry you should allow our affairs to
trouble you, Princess. I hoped I had succeeded in reconciling the
Queen to the only course possible in our difficult circumstances.”

“No, do not think that I am thrusting myself into your affairs. I will
tell you how they came to my knowledge. You know that Countess
Wratisloff and I are conducting a series of Bible-readings for ladies
at the British Legation in the mornings while we are here? Yesterday I
noticed among those present two ladies in deep mourning--both very
young, apparently, but one of them wearing widow’s weeds--who were
conducted by Lady Stratford to a seat in a corner, separated from the
rest. I was taking the meeting, and my subject was the Will of God. I
forget exactly what I said--I speak as it is given me to speak at the
moment--but I noticed after a time that the young widow appeared very
much affected, until, when I happened to say that ‘No love can look
for happiness which is deliberately founded upon the misery of another
human being,’ I saw that she was weeping bitterly under her veil.
Before the end of the meeting her companion induced her to withdraw,
and when the other people were gone, Lady Stratford came up to me.
‘Did you know that the ladies in black were the Queen and one of her
maids of honour?’ she said. ‘I wanted you to speak to Princess Anna
Mirkovics. She is the niece of the good Bishop of Karajevo, who has
been so nice about the Bible Society, but of course she had to go with
the Queen. I think she brought her to hear you--at any rate she wrote
the note asking whether her Majesty might come _incognito_. Didn’t you
think the Queen looked terribly sad? Poor thing! she is only as old as
I am, and she was left a widow when she was twenty-one. One cannot
wonder at her being so miserable, can one?’”

“Really,” said Cyril sharply, “Lady Stratford is more of a child than
one would have imagined possible for a modern married woman.”

“I wish there were more women as innocent as she is. It would never
strike her that the Queen’s grief could arise from anything but the
loss of her husband. But to continue, Lord Cyril. This morning I
received a note asking me to come to the Palace, as the Queen was
anxious to see me. I went, and was received with some coldness by an
elderly lady, who appeared to regard me with suspicion”--Cyril smiled
as he imagined the reception which Baroness von Hilfenstein would
accord to one whom she had been heard to call a Scythian fanatic--“but
the Queen was most gracious--indeed, when I was alone with her she
unburdened her heart to me. She loves you very deeply, Lord Cyril. Are
you fully awake to the strength of her love?”

“I hope, Princess, that I appreciate at its proper value the honour
which her Majesty has been good enough to confer upon me. I own that I
did not expect to be only one of many to whom she would be pleased to
communicate the intelligence.”

“Now you are doing her a grievous injustice. She made no attempt to
ask me to induce you to alter the decision which you announced to her
a week ago--deeply as I can see she grieves over it. No; it was quite
a different matter in which she wished to make use of me. She is aware
that you object to requesting private interviews with her, as likely
to arouse suspicion, and she did not know how to convey to you an
important piece of news, until she thought of asking me to bring it.
It seems that two days ago M. Drakovics, in the course of an
interview, took occasion to refer to the recent second marriage of the
Dowager Grand-Duchess of Schwarzwald-Molzau, of which you have no
doubt heard?”

“There is no parallel between the Grand-Duchess’s case and that of her
Majesty. The territorial rights of the Schwarzwald-Molzaus are
insignificant, and the present Grand-Duke is not a minor.”

“The parallel appears to exist in the mind of M. Drakovics. To the
Queen’s intense astonishment, he remarked, after some conversation on
the subject, that he had often felt of late that the Thracian
Constitution erred on the side of harshness in not permitting a
Queen-Regent to marry again. Disregarding her surprise at his words,
he went so far as to ask whether a modification of the article dealing
with the matter would be pleasing to her personally, adding that he
was an old man, and she could confide in him without fear of being
misinterpreted.”

“Drakovics is certainly an original character. One never knows where
to have him. And what--what--what did she say?”

“I think you may trust the Queen to protect herself when her dignity
is assailed.” Cyril breathed more freely. “She expressed amazement at
his entering upon such a subject with her, when it was obviously one
in the discussion of which she could take no part. Any steps to which
he might proceed must be taken entirely on his own responsibility, for
it was impossible for her to express an opinion in the matter.”

“Bravo!” said Cyril, much relieved. “I was really afraid that
Drakovics as the heavy father would get round her.”

“No; she has kept your secret, as you wished, although I think--I
hope--you have little idea of the unhappiness it causes her. Is it
necessary to be so cruel, Lord Cyril? ‘I dash myself up against him
like the waves,’ she said to me, ‘and it makes no more impression on
him than on a rock. My will is broken against his.’ Is it really
impossible that you should be married before the King is of age?”

“Absolutely impossible,” returned Cyril.

“Do you mind telling me the reasons?”

“For her, that she would be leaving her son to the tender mercies of
Drakovics; for me, that it would ruin my career.”

“I see; and you prefer your career to her?”

“Let us look at things on the lowest and most practical grounds,
Princess. I am a younger son; five hundred a-year from my mother is
all that I can call my own. Caerleon would do something for me, no
doubt; but I don’t want to take his money. Can you in cold blood
propose that the Queen and I should set up housekeeping on--say, at
the best--a thousand a-year?”

“But she must have a jointure--money of her own, perhaps?”

“Precious little; when you consider what she would lose on remarrying.
And suppose the Prince of Weldart, or the Emperor Sigismund, relented
so far as to allow us to settle down in strict seclusion in some
corner of their dominions. I cannot flatter myself that I am what you
may call a domesticated man; I have no interest in agricultural
pursuits; hunting bores me. Can you imagine that I should prove a
particularly amiable husband, shut up in some deserted village in
rural Germany, with nothing to do? I am not qualified to go about
conducting Bible-readings, like your friend Count Wratisloff, even if
I felt called--I believe that is the proper word--to do it.”

“But surely such a state of things could only last for a year or two?”

“It would last throughout our lives, and the lives of our children,
unless it was put an end to by a miracle. No, Princess--I am speaking
to you plainly--I would do anything for Ernestine that it is fair to
ask of a man; but spend my days as the morganatic husband of a
Princess who had disgraced herself by contracting a misalliance,
ostracised by every Court in Europe and by society everywhere, that I
will not do.”

The Princess looked at Cyril’s lowering brow and compressed lips in
perplexity. He was revealing to her a new side of his character, and
she scarcely knew how to approach him.

“Then you do not love her?” she said at last.

“I beg your pardon; I do love her. Now please don’t quote Caerleon to
me, and say that he was ready to chuck away a kingdom for the sake of
your goddaughter. I know he was, but that doesn’t make me resemble
him. No doubt it would be very nice if I did: life would be quite
idyllic and much less complicated if we all went blundering along like
Caerleon, with only room for one idea in our heads at one time; but in
my private opinion Caerleon was a fool. Pray don’t imagine that I
regret the way in which things have turned out, or think that any one
else would have suited him better as a wife than Nadia; but Caerleon
and I are two different people, and what he can do with a good grace
would be utterly impossible to me.”

“You cannot love her!” said the Princess sharply.

“Now it is you who are doing me an injustice. I love her--as I have
never loved any woman before. If she was not Queen--if she was a
peasant-girl--I would marry her to-day, and look forward hopefully to
living happy ever after. There would be some chance of it, too,” he
added meditatively, “for you would never find her in the same mood two
minutes together. One would have too much variety ever to be bored.”

“Please don’t talk like that,” the Princess looked pained. “The fact
is, Lord Cyril, your love is willing to give, but not to receive. One
of your English poets says something of the kind.”

“Ah, I fear I have got a little out of the current of English
literature of late years.”

“It is not very modern, I think. Oh, I remember--


  “‘I hold him great who for love’s sake
  Can give, with earnest, generous will;
  But him who takes for love’s sweet sake
  I think I hold more generous still.’


The Queen would give up everything for you, but you will not take it.”

“You are right, Princess. I will not take what she has no business to
give. Excuse my saying it, but you appear to forget that she and I are
not private individuals, and that all we do must be considered with an
eye to its effect on the political situation.”

“You think that I forget that? My dear Lord Cyril, it is the amount of
right on your side in this affair which is the perplexing element in
the case. If I had not felt that perhaps, after all, your view was the
more just, I should have pleaded with you for the poor Queen with all
my heart--I should have advised her to plead for herself until you
could withstand her no longer.”

“You have passed a good many remarks on me to-day, Princess. Allow me
in return to say that you are the strangest combination of fanatic and
sentimentalist that I ever met. Why are you so anxious to see us
married?”

“For her happiness and your good. But now explain to me this political
situation. Why should not the help of M. Drakovics be invoked to bring
about such a change in the Constitution as would permit of your
marriage?”

“Simply because Drakovics is not acting on the square. When King Otto
Georg died, the old man relied upon the Queen’s dislike of me to place
him in possession of absolute power; but finding that I was left in a
position practically as important as his own, in so far as the right
to advise the Queen and watch over the little King went, and also that
I could manage Ernestine better than he could, he has changed his
attitude towards me. He could tolerate me as a subordinate, but not as
an equal, and by no means as his political heir. That post is intended
for his nephew Vassili; and both uncle and nephew have improved the
shining hour by consolidating their position while I was away all
winter with the Court at the other end of the kingdom. Now you see
Drakovics’s little game. He suspects that Ernestine is in love with
me, but he can’t find out whether I return the sentiment. If he could
get her to assent to the alteration of the Constitution, he need only
inform the Powers of what was up, certain that I should have to quit
Thracia in no time. That would get rid of me, and leave Ernestine
perfectly helpless in his hands, while if she came after me and we
were married, he would get rid of us both. It is to his interest to do
that--in fact, to get us married--and so have the little King left in
his hands, to be converted or anything else, just as he liked.”

“But would it not be possible--I do not wish to suggest anything
presumptuous--to arrange a kind of treaty with M. Drakovics, by which,
even if it was necessary for the Queen to resign the regency, she and
you might remain in the country and watch over the little King? It
would of course be provided that his faith was not to be tampered
with.”

“No doubt it would be possible, were it not for the fact that the
first hint of such a treaty would give Drakovics just the information
he wants.”

“But he has no proof against you. You could not be removed merely on
suspicion, for you must have friends both in the country and in Europe
generally.”

“Few enough, I fear. I have been a little too successful for
friendship to flourish in my neighbourhood, you see.”

“But still, there must be some who would take your part. M. Drakovics
must know that. Surely he would prefer to gain his end without trouble
or scandal if possible? And then there would not be the difficulty of
leaving King Michael in his hands. The Queen would not consent to
that, and I could never advise her to do it; but if you and she
remained in the country as private individuals, taking no part in
politics, you would be able to superintend the child’s education, and
see that the treaty was not broken.”

“Taking no part in politics!” repeated Cyril, shrugging his shoulders.
“You evidently fail to perceive, Princess, that life without
politics--and political power--would be death to me.”

“Lord Cyril,” said the Princess earnestly, laying her hand on his arm,
“I want to entreat you to enter upon some settlement of this nature if
it is possible. It is very strongly impressed upon me that at this
moment you are standing at the parting of the ways. The two roads
which lie before you are those of love and ambition; but in this
instance love includes the whole higher side of life. You have
sacrificed much for ambition already, and I long to see you break the
spell, for greater sacrifices will be demanded of you if you make this
one. Bear with me; I am speaking as I would to your brother. It is not
for Queen Ernestine’s sake that I ask you to pause here; it is for
your own. This trial is bitter enough for her at the moment, but I
think she will develop into a nobler woman under it. But your
character must deteriorate under the influence of ambition--nay, it
has deteriorated already. You would once--even when I first met you, I
think--have shrunk from building your career on the foundation of
twelve years of splendid misery for the woman who loved you. You may
yet find yourself bartering for the chance of power your love for her
itself.”

“Your anticipations are not flattering, Princess.”

“I fear that they are none the less true for that. But there is
another danger, if you refuse to take this opportunity of casting away
your ambition. What will happen if the trial you are inflicting on
Ernestine strengthens her character in proportion as yours
deteriorates? You will be developing in different directions, and your
punishment at last may come through the very sufferings you inflicted
on her, in order to gratify your desire for power.”

“Princess,” said Cyril, standing up and shaking himself, “you have the
most extraordinary faculty for making a man uncomfortable that I ever
came in contact with. Your prophecies of evil make me feel quite
superstitious, and I don’t like it. I tell you what I will do for you,
more than I would do for any other woman--even Ernestine herself. You
may tell her from me that I place myself unreservedly in her hands. If
she asks it of me, I will throw up everything and marry her, and do my
best to make her a good husband. Perhaps she will kindly let me have
an answer as soon as possible, as I must begin to formulate a scheme
for getting round Drakovics if that treaty is to be entered into.”

“You are confiding in the Queen’s generosity,” said Princess
Soudaroff. “You feel convinced that she will shrink from founding her
happiness on the ruins of your career, although you do not fear to
found your career on the loss of her happiness.”

“Now you are looking a gift-horse in the mouth, Princess, which is an
ungracious thing to do. At any rate, I deserve to be released from
your reproaches now; and if Ernestine refuses my offer my conscience
will be absolutely clear.”

“I will request her to give her answer quickly. She asked me to
mention to you that it was always safe to trust Princess Anna
Mirkovics, in whom she has found it advisable to confide.”

“Yet another person? Well, may I entreat you to impress upon her on no
account to trust Drakovics in the very smallest degree--not if he goes
down on his knees and implores her with tears in his eyes to confide
in him. Let her keep up the tone she adopted at first. And now I must
really get back to work, Princess. You cannot conceive how refreshing
it has been to see you. I don’t know when I have enjoyed a call so
much.”

But when Cyril was in his office again the thought of the step on
which he had ventured fairly staggered him. If Ernestine should take
him at his word! He gazed round on the familiar pigeon-holes and
despatch-boxes like a man under sentence of death. They were the
outward and visible signs of his career, and he might be called upon
to leave them to-morrow! How he spent the hours between the sending of
his message and the receipt of the answer he could not have told
afterwards from his own recollection; but the amount of business which
he found had been disposed of inclined him to suppose that he had sat
up working all night. It was about noon of the next day that
Ernestine’s answer arrived, placed in his hands by Anna Mirkovics with
a bundle of less important papers. She gave it to him without any
indication of the value of the parcel; but as soon as she and her maid
had left the office he tore open the roll and took out Ernestine’s
note with hands that literally shook. One glance assured him that his
fears were groundless.


 “My Beloved,”--she wrote,--“Princess Soudaroff has just informed me
 of your generous offer. I know what it must have cost you; and
 although I have never for a moment dreamed of accepting it, I love you
 more, if that were possible, for making it. Dearest, I am ashamed of
 myself for the way in which I received your decision the other day. I
 know that it is wise and right, and that it is as painful to you as to
 me. Forgive me, and I will try to use these long years of waiting in
 becoming more worthy of you. You will let me see you alone sometimes?
 I will not cry or complain; but there are always so many things on
 which I want to consult you. I feel so lonely when I do not see
 you.--Your own

                                                      /Ernestine/.”


“Well, it is something to be believed in,” said Cyril to himself,
passing a hot hand over his damp forehead. “I felt sure I could depend
upon her, and yet my nerves are all to pieces. There is one thing, my
dear Ernestine, which it is unnecessary under present circumstances to
mention to you, and that is, that if you had failed me, I believe your
devoted lover would have blown out his brains.”

He tore up the note, and burned every fragment of it with scrupulous
care, then turned again with a sigh of satisfaction to the business of
everyday life. This was particularly engrossing just at present, and
it did not become less so as days went on. The chief subject of
interest--and difficulty--was the trial of the Tatarjé conspirators,
which was now being conducted by the various tribunals convened for
the purpose, and which presented features of great complexity. It
appeared natural enough that officers of the army, and state officials
like the Bishop and Mayor of Tatarjé, found in arms against their
sovereign, should be treated and sentenced as rebels; but the case was
complicated to an extraordinary degree by the fact that all the
prisoners declared stoutly that they had believed themselves to be
fighting under the orders of the Queen and her Government. So far as
they knew, the Queen was in their midst during the whole of the time
that they were under arms, having taken refuge among them of her own
free will, and the commandant had assured them that he had full
warrant and support from M. Drakovics for all that he did. It was true
that the Premier’s letter, that which his nephew had received from the
Bishop, in whose charge the commandant had placed it, did not justify
this assertion; but it was quite easy to believe that the
arch-conspirator who had perverted its meaning had also exaggerated
its terms. Hence it was evident that these men would be punished for
obeying what they honestly believed to be their legal orders, a result
which would be likely to lead to much difficulty with the army in
future, while to leave them without punishment would be to open a door
for the fabrication of similar excuses in other cases.

In the end, a way out of the dilemma was found in a compromise. The
delinquent officers were sentenced by court-martial to undergo the
penalties due to their offences, without taking into consideration any
mitigating circumstances; but when the sentences came up for
confirmation by the Queen, the royal prerogative of mercy was freely
exercised, and the culprits allowed to return to their regiments with
a censure and a warning. The Mayor of Tatarjé, who had also been a
dupe throughout the affair, was considered to be sufficiently punished
by being deprived of his office (he had not the army behind him to
demand his total exemption), but it was otherwise with Bishop
Philaret. The sentence passed upon him of six months’ suspension from
the duties of his post and seclusion in a monastery was neither
commuted nor lightened, since, as M. Drakovics explained, the supposed
Queen was in his palace the whole time, and it was his own fault if he
did not discover the deception. This righteous sternness on the part
of M. Drakovics exercised Cyril’s mind not a little. Still smarting
under the revelation made in the O’Malachy’s letter, he had been
cherishing a hope of unmasking the Premier and exposing the unholy
compact into which he had entered with the Bishop; but no opportunity
was given him, and he perceived that this was only a new proof of M.
Drakovics’s shrewdness. The younger man was not, however, to be
deprived of the honour of a struggle with his colleague and former
ally, for in the course of the Cabinet Council at which the measures
to be taken in the case of the Tatarjé conspirators were announced, a
strong and almost unprecedented difference of opinion declared itself.
The War Minister desired to divide the officers to be dealt with into
two classes, leaving the majority to be pardoned and reinstated, but
punishing with dismissal from the army a certain number, who had been
clearly proved to have met together secretly and plotted against the
Government before the outbreak. One of these was the brother of the
late commandant. To this proposal M. Drakovics opposed a direct
negative, refusing to consider any cases separately.

“Some rumour of your Excellency’s intentions has got about,” said M.
Georgeivics, the Minister for War, “and the feeling of the army is
much opposed to it.”

“I am happy to say that the army does not govern Thracia,” retorted M.
Drakovics, in what seemed a needlessly offensive tone.

“No,” said Cyril; “but you have discovered before the danger of
alienating the army. Why, then, outrage the feelings of the officers,
by compelling them to receive proved rebels as their associates?”

“Bah!” cried M. Drakovics; “these unfortunate youths played at treason
in their leisure hours; but that is no valid reason for excluding them
from the benefits of the pardon.”

“On the contrary,” returned Cyril, “it appears to me to furnish a very
strong reason. Several of them are by no means youths, but of field
rank, and if they are allowed to return to the army, the probability
is that they will not only go back to their old ways themselves, but
corrupt those under them. No wonder that the army fears for its
honour.”

“You are inciting the army to mutiny, Count!” cried the Premier.

“Not at all. It is you who are driving them to it.”

M. Drakovics glared at his rebellious colleague in speechless wrath,
while two or three minor members of the Cabinet endeavoured to throw
oil on the troubled waters; but it was Prince Mirkovics who at last
suggested a _modus vivendi_, although not until the Premier, with a
glance at M. Georgeivics and Cyril, had reminded those who differed
from him that their remaining in the Ministry was merely a matter of
choice. Prince Mirkovics proposed that the officers whose fate was
under discussion should, while they were allowed to remain in the
army, lose all seniority in their respective ranks, be deprived of
their decorations, and be declared ineligible for extra-regimental
posts or promotion; and this compromise was finally accepted, with
some unwillingness, by the dissentients, since the punishment, severe
as it was in itself, was still quite inadequate to the offence. It was
evident, however, that M. Drakovics was determined to maintain his
point; and even if Cyril and the War Minister had been prepared to
push things to extremity, the earnestness with which Prince Mirkovics
entreated them to accept his suggestion, and not to break up the
Government for the sake of this small matter, would have prevailed
upon them to pause. M. Drakovics accepted the compromise, and the
council broke up peacefully, although with some feeling of constraint.
As soon as he got outside, Cyril found himself seized upon by Prince
Mirkovics.

“Come to my rooms and drink coffee,” said the old chieftain, who
scorned to rent a house in Bellaviste, and always lived at a hotel
when his official duties called him to the capital.

Cyril accepted the invitation unsuspiciously; but when he arrived at
Prince Mirkovics’s rooms he was surprised to find that there were
other guests beside himself. The War Minister was there, and
Constantinovics, the general who had compelled the surrender of
Tatarjé, and several members of the Government who belonged to the
party of the Nobles, of which Prince Mirkovics was the acknowledged
head. The moment that Cyril perceived this he paused on the threshold,
but his host took him by the arm and drew him into the room.

“Come in, Count,” he said; “you are the man we want. We have for some
time been dissatisfied with the conduct of affairs, and this Tatarjé
business has brought things to a head. Do you honestly think it is all
right?”

“Really, Prince, you cannot expect me, a member of M. Drakovics’s
Ministry, to enter into a mutiny against him.”

“The army will mutiny if this sort of thing goes on,” growled
Constantinovics, a sturdy old soldier who had taken a prominent part
in establishing King Otto Georg on the throne. “There are widespread
rumours that a job has been perpetrated, and we want to know whether
it is true.”

“It is quite impossible for me to accuse M. Drakovics on the authority
of a rumour for which I can produce no proof,” said Cyril.

“Proof!” cried the General. “The suspicion of foul play is enough. The
whole thing ought to be inquired into.”

“No one could object to that, of course; but you must see, General,
the extreme impropriety of my suggesting such an inquiry into the
doings of my own chief.”

“Count Mortimer is right,” said Prince Mirkovics suddenly. “It is
important for him to remain in the Ministry, for he is the only man
who can cope with Drakovics, and we must not risk his being obliged to
resign. But remember, Count, when you make a stand as you did to-day,
that we are with you. Our object, like yours, is to save the honour of
Drakovics and Thracia. The Premier must be above suspicion. If he is
warned by to-day’s experience, it will be well; but if not, then
Thracia is to be considered before Drakovics.”

“It may interest you if I remark,” said Cyril carelessly, as he stood
at the window, “that you have all been watched here. I recognise two
or three of Drakovics’s spies on the other side of the street. I am
afraid you have let me in for trouble, Prince. My presence will show
that this is a political gathering.”

“You shall not suffer, Count,” said Prince Mirkovics. “Be sure that we
will stand by you. We cannot spare you at this crisis.”

“This is an unexpected gain,” said Cyril to himself as he departed.
“It gives me leverage, perhaps even a standing-place from which to
move my world. But Drakovics will be dangerous for a day or two.”

Contrary to Cyril’s expectation, however, the Premier made no attempt
to provoke him to further conflict, and the matter of the punishment
of the rebels was allowed to rest; but this surprising meekness on the
part of M. Drakovics did not in any way change his subordinate’s
opinion. “The old man has a card up his sleeve,” was Cyril’s
reflection. “When he plays it, look out for squalls!” It did not
strike him at the moment that the card in reserve was a Queen.

About a month after the dispute in the Cabinet, M. Drakovics, as was
his custom on most mornings, sought an interview with Ernestine. When
the matters to be discussed at the council at which he was to preside
after leaving the Palace had been decided, the Premier drew nearer to
the table at which the Queen was sitting.

“In accordance with your gracious permission, madame,” he said in a
low tone, “I have been sounding the Governments of the various Powers
with respect to the alteration of those provisions of the Constitution
which deal with your Majesty’s position in the event of remarriage.”

“My permission!” Ernestine flushed with angry astonishment. “I gave
you no such permission, monsieur. Pray what have the Powers to do with
the matter?”

“Permit me to remind your Majesty that the sanction of the Powers is
necessary before any article of the Constitution can be abrogated or
altered. As to your permission--I was wrong in using the word. I am
fully aware that the delicacy of your Majesty’s sentiments forbade you
to initiate any action on the subject, while leaving me at liberty to
act on my own discretion.”

“You have totally misunderstood me, monsieur; and I fear you have
placed me in a most unpleasant position. The Powers will naturally
conclude that I am in a hurry to marry again, whereas nothing is
further from my thoughts.”

“Will your Majesty permit me to express my sorrow that such should be
the case? It is now considerably more than a year since the lamented
death of the King, and I could regard the future of Thracia with far
more complacency if I thought that you, madame, were not to continue
to bear the burden of state alone.”

“I fear that your wishes have led you into a too hasty course of
action, monsieur. May I ask what was the effect produced on the Powers
by your inquiries?”

“Scarcely a satisfactory one, madame. The majority desired to know
more before expressing an opinion. If the name of any candidate for
your hand were submitted to them, they were prepared to consider the
matter; but if there was no suitor in the field, they thought the
inquiry premature.”

“Very much so. This is a most embarrassing state of affairs for me.”

“Surely not, madame. If your Majesty would intrust any name to me, in
strict confidence, the affair shall be conducted with the greatest
delicacy.”

“You will not understand me, monsieur.” Anger and confusion were
contending in her voice. “I have no name to intrust to you.”

“Among all the princes of Europe, madame----”

“I am not searching Europe for a second husband, monsieur. You must
understand once for all that I cannot fall in with your schemes on
this subject.”

“It is possible that a search is unnecessary, madame. The Scythian
Government has been good enough to make a suggestion.”

“I am extremely grateful. Who is the person suggested.”

“His Highness Prince Nikifor of Klausenmark.” The Klausenmark family
formed a kind of link between the imperial house of Scythia and
ordinary mortals, since it traced its descent from a Scythian
Grand-Duchess who had married a member of the German nobility early in
the present century.

“But he is little better than a simpleton!”

“True, madame, so they say. Your Majesty must surely be able to
suggest a more acceptable suitor?”

“You fatigue me with this constant reiteration, M. le Ministre.”
Ernestine spoke pettishly. “I have told you already that I have no one
to suggest. There is not a prince in Europe that I would marry if he
asked me--still less to whom I would send through you to ask him to
marry me.”

“Not a prince, perhaps, madame.” M. Drakovics spoke meaningly,
watching the changing colour of her face, “But if there is any
individual of a less exalted rank who has had the happiness to attract
your Majesty’s favourable attention, do not, I entreat you, hesitate
to confide the fact to me. The opposition of the Powers need not be
fatal, for many things forbidden by Congresses are effected by
diplomacy. Nay, the difference of rank might even smooth our path,
since, in the case of a person who was not of royal blood, there would
be no question of sharing the duties of the regency, while he would
yet be at hand to support and advise your Majesty in private. Is it
possible, madame, that you have such a prospect of relief from our
difficulties to suggest to me?”

For a moment Ernestine was tempted to yield to his importunity; but
the remembrance of Cyril’s injunctions prevailed, and she rose
suddenly from her seat at the table.

“We will not discuss this subject further, monsieur. I have told you
that it wearies me. Perhaps it will comfort you if I tell you that I
have no intention of marrying again until my son is of an age to rule
for himself.”

Brought to a standstill at the moment that he imagined his object
attained, M. Drakovics could not wholly conceal the expression of rage
and disgust that crossed his face. He suppressed it immediately; but
Ernestine caught sight of it, and rejoiced that she had not betrayed
herself. When he had left the Palace, she watched him from the window,
curious to see whether the look would return when he thought himself
unobserved. She did not catch it again; but she saw the Premier stop
suddenly, strike his hands together, and smile, and her fears were
stirred at once.

“He is plotting something against Cyril!” she said to herself, and
returning to the table, scribbled a tiny note, then called a footman,
and desired him to give it to Count Mortimer immediately, before he
left the Palace to attend the meeting of the Cabinet.



 CHAPTER XIX.
 A LITTLE TOO FAR.


 “/Dearest/,--Do not allow the Premier to take you by surprise. I have
 told him _nothing_.

                                                        /Ernestine/.”


This was all that was contained in the carefully sealed envelope which
Cyril received from the messenger as he descended the steps of the
Palace, but it was enough to put him on his guard. Lighting a match,
he burned the note to its last corner, and scattered the ashes abroad,
then hastened his steps towards the residence of M. Drakovics. What
might be in store for him he did not know; but at least he would do
his best to get it over before the Council met, and so spoil any plan
the Premier might have formed for denouncing him in the presence of
his colleagues. As he intended, he reached the house before any of the
other Ministers, and passing through the room in which the Cabinet was
to meet, came upon M. Drakovics in his private office beyond it.

“You are early, Count,” said the Premier, with a start. “Are you”--he
smiled unpleasantly--“the bearer of any message from the Queen?”

“No; I have not seen her Majesty to-day. But why should you ask, when
you have just been with her yourself?”

“You are too modest, Count. We all know that the post of Court
Minister is a far more important and confidential one--at least under
a female sovereign--than that of Premier.”

“Not quite up to the mark to-day, are you?” asked Cyril,
sympathetically, leaning forward to look at his chief more closely.
“Feeling a little bit run down, eh? You must take a holiday,
Drakovics. We can’t afford to lose you.” “If that doesn’t draw him,
nothing will,” he added to himself.

“I am in my ordinary health,” was the response, uttered with
ungrateful roughness, “and in any case, Count, you are not my
physician. You occupy a far more delicate and delightful position, as
keeper of the Queen’s conscience--or shall we say of her Majesty’s
heart?”

“May I ask what you mean by that remark?”

“The meaning is quite patent to my mind.”

“It is not so to mine. I must request an explanation.”

“You shall have it--in the presence of the rest of the Cabinet,” and
M. Drakovics rose to lead the way into the larger room, but Cyril
stood before the door.

“No, monsieur. As long as I thought your extraordinary remarks were
due to illness, or intended as jokes, I allowed them to pass; but
since they appear to conceal an innuendo of some kind, I insist upon
an explanation before you leave this room.”

“Stand away from the door, Count, or I will summon assistance.”

“No; you will not. It would be painfully undignified to be discovered
struggling with one of your colleagues on account of an insult which
you had offered him and were perfectly unable to justify. Here you
remain until you answer my question.”

“There is little to answer. I merely say that you made good use of
your opportunities of enjoying her Majesty’s society during your
escape from Tatarjé.”

“Or in other words----?”

“In other words, she is in love with you, and would like to marry you
and make you regent. But that she will not do so long as I am in
office. I think you will find it advisable to quit Thracia, my
friend.”

“Wait a moment, please. Your proofs?”

“Proofs? I have seen her look at you.”

“You are truly an observant person, monsieur; but the unsupported
evidence of your eyes will not carry conviction to the mind of every
one.”

“It will convince the Cabinet, and if you make it necessary for me to
proceed to extremities, the Powers. Nor is it my only evidence. After
my trouble in sounding the Powers on the subject of the Queen’s
remarriage, she refused even to suggest a suitor who would be
acceptable to her, or to consider the matter at all. Some influence
must be at work to cause this distaste for matrimony in her own rank,
and whose should it be but yours? You yourself will not attempt to
deny that things are as I have stated.”

“Most certainly I shall deny nothing. There is nothing to deny. You
have not produced a particle of proof in support of your extraordinary
story. In order to further your own designs, you have had the chivalry
to play the spy upon the words and looks of the unfortunate Queen, and
not unnaturally you persuade yourself that you have seen what you
wished to see--in one instance only. Take my advice, Drakovics:
consult your doctor, and make him order you a little rest. Delusions
of this kind are not things to be trifled with.”

“Delusions!” cried the Premier furiously. “The delusion is on your
side, Count, if you think you will turn me from my purpose. You have
had your explanation. Now the rest of the Ministry shall have it.”

“Very well. I gave you a door of escape; but if you will take your
punishment fighting, you will. Allow me to lay before you a little
story--shall we call it a hypothesis, or a concatenation of facts? I
am sure that a person of your penetration never imagined that I should
tamely accept the consequences of such an accusation as this. Picture
to yourself the feelings of the Cabinet when they hear the converse of
your account--when they hear that _you_ had conceived the idea of
marrying the Queen, and thus securing the regency for yourself; that
you had gone so far as to sound the Powers on the subject; that,
finding them wanting in enthusiasm for the idea, you suggested it to
the Queen, hoping to secure her influence on your side. Her Majesty
rejected the idea with contemptuous displeasure, and it was necessary
then to find a scapegoat on whom the blame could be laid, so far as
the Powers are concerned. You fix upon a colleague of whom you are
anxious to be rid, and you try to hound him out of the country by
means of this precious tale!”

“The whole idea is absurd,” said M. Drakovics faintly.

“Excuse me, it is no more absurd than your own. I also can produce
evidence quite as good as yours, if you drive me to it. If looks are
to be counted as proofs, many people will be able to depose that the
Queen has looked at you with dislike. Your correspondence with the
Powers, undertaken on your own initiative, is another link in the
chain, for you don’t expect any sane person to believe that you made
these disinterested inquiries on my behalf. Then I can show that after
a stormy interview with her Majesty you made this charge against
me----”

“How do you know that it was stormy?” was the helpless question.

“I was not sure of it, but you have confessed that it was so. You
intended to blacken that unfortunate woman’s name for the sake of
getting rid of me, did you? I will blacken yours to some purpose if
you try it on.”

“I had never any intention of saying anything against her Majesty.”

“Only to publish throughout Europe that she was in love with me? But
if you attempt to do it, I’ll make Thracia too hot to hold you; and if
anything happens to me, my executors will see that things are put
right.”

“There is no question of publishing anything. You and your Queen may
feel at ease on that subject, Count.”

“If you say anything of that kind again, I will denounce you
forthwith. You are living over a powder-mine, Drakovics. I am silent
as long as you are, but not a moment longer. Tell me, do you believe
that ridiculous tale of yours?”

“I cannot help believing what I saw with my own eyes.”

“Thank you. That is an interesting piece of information for my future
use. I think you can scarcely have intended to enlighten me on such a
delicate subject, did you? At any rate, whatever happens after this,
you will have the pleasure of knowing that you helped it on. But I
don’t fancy that I shall be imprudent enough to take advantage of your
kind disclosure.”

Absolutely confused, and quite unable to decide whether Cyril had or
had not been aware hitherto of the Queen’s feelings towards him, M.
Drakovics preferred not to answer, and made his way into the
council-chamber in silence, while Cyril reflected upon his triumph
with a satisfaction that was not wholly complete.

“Not a moral victory, by any means,” he said to himself--“very much
the reverse. Ernestine would be grievously wounded if she heard the
details of the fight; and as for Princess Soudaroff----! But it was
touch and go. Bluff was the only game, and either Drakovics had to go
under or I. I think he has had his lesson; but it will be awkward if
the Powers refuse to let the thing drop.”

That some of the Powers, at any rate, were suspicious as to the
motives with which M. Drakovics had entered upon his inquiry, Cyril
discovered some days later, when the Queen’s father paid a short visit
to Bellaviste. His Serene Highness Luitpold, Prince of Weldart, was a
gentleman whose proclivities were euphemistically termed by his
friends “artistic,” and who cultivated, for the sake of consistency,
an aureole of hair and a small pointed beard, which gave him the
appearance of a Vandyke portrait gone mad. He had just returned from a
tour in the East, where he had enjoyed himself extremely, although one
or two escapades of a somewhat juvenile character had given more
pleasure to himself than to his suite or his temporary hosts; and it
appeared that a hint had reached him from some quarter which induced
him to break his journey home by a visit to his daughter. He remained
at Bellaviste only two or three days, finding the city intolerably
dull, and the Palace even worse. With Ernestine he was on a footing of
distant acquaintanceship, coloured by mutual dislike, for his
treatment of her mother rankled in her mind, and he perceived the fact
and resented it. Court etiquette was happily successful in preventing
any public exposure of this family skeleton, however; and the
inhabitants of Bellaviste had no excuse for accusing their unpopular
Queen of unfilial conduct towards her father, whom, as the natural
enemy of their _bête noire_, the Princess of Weldart, they chose to
regard with affectionate approval. The visit was so wholly unexpected
that Cyril felt convinced it had been made, not by the Prince of
Weldart’s own wish, but in obedience to the dictates of a higher
power; and he was not surprised when the royal guest took advantage of
a ride, on which Cyril attended him, to ask one or two pertinent
questions at a moment when they happened to have out-distanced the
rest of the party.

“Do you think that your Premier’s health is to be depended upon?” the
Prince asked suddenly, _apropos_ of nothing.

“He has not seemed quite his usual self of late, sir,” returned Cyril
cautiously.

“That is precisely what I mean. I do not mind telling you that he has
done one or two strange things. Only a short time ago, for instance,
he addressed a confidential circular of a most extraordinary nature to
the Powers, dealing with matters which are not in the least likely to
occur, and with which he would have no concern if they did.”

“It is possible, sir, that M. Drakovics has acted so long as a kind of
deputy Providence in Thracia that he wishes to play the same _rôle_
with regard to Europe.”

“But that only shows that his mind must be affected--or at any rate
that he has lost his sense of the fitness of things. I will not
conceal from you, my dear Count, that the circular to which I allude
has produced a most deplorable impression at the Hercynian and
Pannonian Courts.”

“I am indeed distressed to hear it, sir. Am I right in supposing that
the circular foreshadowed some _rapprochement_ between ourselves and
Scythia?”

“Well, not exactly; but there seems to be little doubt that it was
issued in response to a Scythian initiative. Gods of Hellas! I am no
use in matters of diplomacy. Tell me, Count--you have had more
opportunity of studying my daughter’s character of late than I
have--have you seen anything to make you imagine that she cherishes a
_tendresse_ for that blatant Philistine, Nikifor of Klausenmark?”

“Nothing whatever, sir,” responded Cyril, with the most perfect truth.
“So far as I am aware, her Majesty has never even seen his Highness.”

“Ah!” said the Prince, obviously much relieved. “Then the whole thing
may be a mare’s nest evolved by Drakovics out of his own inner
consciousness. For the moment we--that is, the Emperors--I should say,
the Western Powers--were really perturbed. But this will reassure
them. After all, it is sometimes best to ask a plain question instead
of beating about the bush. By the bye, what is your opinion as to the
likelihood of the Queen’s marrying again?”

This was a question so plain as to be startling in its suddenness; but
Cyril met the half-suspicious eyes of the artist-Prince without
blenching as he replied, “I heard the other day, sir, from one who
ought to know, that her Majesty had declared her intention of
remaining unmarried, at any rate until the King is of age.”

“A very good idea, indeed. But that does not lessen the difficulty
about Drakovics. Since he has taken it into his head that she is
likely to marry again, he may go on stirring up uneasiness for years
by circulars of this kind. He is growing old, and we--I--greatly fear
that he is scarcely capable of taking the necessary broad view of the
political situation. Such affairs as this of the circular, for
instance, only disturb the harmony of Europe, and play into the hands
of Scythia, and we--I--could not allow the indiscretion to be
repeated. Could he not be induced to give up a portion of his labours,
even if he will not retire altogether? Is there no friend who would
suggest it to him? You are the person with whom he is on the most
confidential terms, I believe?”

“Your Highness does me too much honour. The only person with whom the
Premier is on confidential terms is his nephew--and political heir.”

“Ah, M. Vassili Drakovics?”

“The same, sir. The office of Mayor of the Palace has a tendency to
become hereditary, as you will remember.”

“Those days are past, Count. Be good enough to mark my words. There is
no room for hereditary Mayors of the Palace in the modern state.
Europe has tolerated Milos Drakovics as the liberator of Thracia; but
a Drakovics dynasty would not be borne. By the immortal gods! what a
view! Be good enough, Count, to summon here my secretary and the
servant who is carrying my sketch-book.”

The colloquy was evidently over, and Cyril, as he fell back to the
rest of the suite, leaving the royal amateur to discuss with his
secretary the merits of the view, and to make a few mysterious dots in
his sketch-book, which were to be worked up afterwards into a finished
picture by an artist who was attached to his household, was at no loss
to understand its drift.

“They want me to get rid of Drakovics for them,” he said to himself.
“They think that Thracia is not big enough for us both, but that they
may make use of one of us to destroy the other. Of course what they
would like best would be for us to wipe one another out--_à la_
Kilkenny cats--but I prefer the method of the survival of the fittest.
Well, as his artistic Highness would say, these things are on the
knees of the gods.”

Little as Cyril appreciated the part allotted to him in the European
concert, the Prince of Weldart was so well satisfied with the results
of his essay in diplomacy that he could not resist alluding to them in
the course of the next visit that he paid, which was to the Court of
his niece, the Princess of Dardania, at Bashi Konak.

“I do not remember whether you know anything of the Englishman
Mortimer,” he said to the Princess, forgetting the early episode of
her engagement to Cyril’s brother. “I had a good deal of conversation
with him at Bellaviste, and I must say that I am glad Ernestine has
him at hand.”

“Indeed?” asked his niece listlessly. “You think that he is to be
depended upon?”

“I should say so, certainly. Knows nothing of art, of course--like all
Englishmen--but faithful in a rude kind of way, because he has not
cunning enough to be otherwise. I think I never saw a man so dense in
the way of understanding any allusion that was in the slightest degree
veiled.”

“And you went out of your way to explain to him all your allusions,
uncle? How truly kind of you! I don’t wonder that Count Mortimer
showed you his best side. And you think him rudely faithful, do you?”

“I do.” The Prince was irritated by her questioning tone. “He has so
proper a sense of his position that even when we trenched upon
somewhat delicate ground he showed no self-consciousness whatever.
Well, there is no harm in my telling you what it was. Drakovics had
got it into his head--at least, so I gathered, for he would deal in
nothing but vague hints--that Ernestine wanted to marry this man
Mortimer. Of course the very idea was preposterous, and I let
Drakovics see what I thought of it; but to make sure, I determined to
watch them both, and I soon saw that there was nothing in it.”

“That was very satisfactory, I am sure.”

“Most satisfactory. I watched Mortimer when he was in Ernestine’s
presence, spoke to him of her when we were alone together--even, as I
said, hinted at the rumours that had reached me--but he never so much
as changed colour. Not a muscle moved, his eyes met mine without the
slightest confusion. He is an honest man.”

“Dear uncle! how pleased you must be to feel assured of that. And
Ernestine?”

“Yes. I watched her too, and there is nothing there either. There was
not a particle of difference in the way she spoke to him and
to--myself, I was going to say, but of course that is only a figure of
speech. You know that _empressé_ manner of hers--a smile and a blush
for every one? It is by no means regal; but it would make her popular
in any country but Thracia, I believe. Still, Ottilie, I am going to
give you a piece of advice. You have daughters; do not bring them up
as children of nature. Nature is at a discount in Court life, and it
detracts from their political--or shall I say matrimonial?--value.”

“You are becoming quite a philosopher, uncle. I assure you that
Bettine and Lida will be as finished pieces of art as I can make
them.”

“Ah, your mother was a sensible woman, my dear niece. But I am no
philosopher--merely an unworthy devotee of art. And that reminds me;
you will not forget to let your little cherubs sit to me to-morrow?”

“You do not think I could forget such an engagement as that, uncle?”
reproachfully. “I have wished for years that I had the opportunity of
having the children painted by a really first-rate artist.”

“My dear Ottilie, you flatter me. But what my humble powers can do to
perpetuate on canvas the charms of childhood---- Ah, your good husband
summons me. He wishes to show me the statue he purchased at the late
Exhibition. I have never considered him a judge of art, but still----”

“Then Drakovics thought she wanted to marry him?” said Princess
Ottilie to herself as her uncle left her. “That shows there was
something in it. But it must not be allowed--or, in any case, only as
a last resort. Count Mortimer is honest and simple-minded, is he? I
think his excellent acting almost deserves success. But he must not
know that I have heard--nor must Ernestine. Still, Lida’s crown is in
danger; I must see what is going on. I think I will offer to pay
Ernestine a visit, and take Lida with me. Yes; that will be best.”

But circumstances prevented the Princess of Dardania from carrying out
her intention immediately, and before her visit to Bellaviste took
place important political changes had occurred in Thracia. The
beginning of this period of transition was marked to Cyril by the
sudden apparition of his valet Dietrich at his bedside one morning,
with the news that the Metropolitan, who had been ailing for some
time, had died in the night. The intelligence would not have appeared
startling to Cyril in ordinary circumstances; but at present, with the
O’Malachy’s letter fresh in his memory, it was full of excitement for
him. Now, if ever, M. Drakovics must show his hand.

At first the course of affairs appeared to be unchanged by the
Archbishop’s death. The Queen, who had learnt to respect the old man
the more for his return to loyalty after his one outburst of
fanaticism, took the little King, who had conceived a whimsical liking
for the prisoner he had released, to the cathedral, where the body lay
in state, and she even consented to sprinkle the corpse with holy
water--a concession which produced an excellent impression on the
people. But when the gorgeous funeral ceremonies were over, and
Archbishop Dionysius slept with his predecessors in the vault next to
that of the Kings of Thracia, there arose a question as to who should
be his successor. The appointment of ecclesiastical dignitaries was
managed in Thracia in such a way as to meet as far as possible the
claims of both church and state. The Metropolitan was chosen from
among the existing Bishops by the Synod of the kingdom; but it was
understood that he was previously nominated by the Government, while
the assent of the sovereign was necessary before he could be
considered duly elected. At the present juncture the person to whom
all looked as the natural successor to the late Metropolitan was
Bishop Andreas of Karajevo, Prince Mirkovics’s brother, the senior
Bishop, and a man eminently fitted for the responsible position of
ecclesiastical head of the realm. But Bishop Andreas was unpopular
among the clergy generally, and more especially among the less
educated and more fanatic portion of them, owing to his liberal views,
which were evidenced not only by his attempt to protect the persecuted
Jews in his diocese, but also by his refusal to curse the emissaries
of an English Society who had been discovered selling Bibles in
Karajevo. In more ordinary circumstances, however, the feeling against
him would not have been allowed to sway the action of the Synod, far
less that of the Government; but now rumours began to be current that
M. Drakovics did not intend to nominate him for the vacant post--nay,
more, that he was about to name Bishop Philaret of Tatarjé in his
stead. As soon as this was said openly, Cyril scented battle close at
hand, and prepared with zest for the meeting of the Cabinet at which
M. Drakovics would announce his selection. Two hours before the
Cabinet met, however, he received an urgent message from Ernestine,
desiring him to come to the Palace at once; and, guessing that the
rumour had penetrated to her, he obeyed. He found her alone, and in a
state of much excitement.

“You have heard what they are saying about the Bishop of Tatarjé?”
was her greeting, almost before the door was shut.

“Yes; it has been hinted at for several days.”

“And you never told me? Do you think it is true?”

“I fear so. Drakovics would not have allowed the rumour to get about
if it had not suited his purpose.”

“Very well. What do you intend to do?”

“In what way?”

“When the Cabinet meets, for instance. Will any of the other Ministers
sustain you in a protest, or are they all the slaves of M. Drakovics?”

“I could count on Georgeivics, certainly, and on Mirkovics and the
nobles; but I would not reckon too much on the effect of a protest,
Ernestine.”

“You mean that they would shrink from maintaining their protest by
resigning office?”

“Not necessarily. I mean that their resignation would not stop
Drakovics.”

“But not the resignation of half his Cabinet?”

“By no means. You forget that under the delicious system of
dictatorship by which Thracia is governed, Drakovics, for all
practical purposes, is the Cabinet. If all the rest of us resigned
to-day, he would fill our places to-morrow with creatures of his own,
and go on merrily.”

“But not in defiance of the opinion of the country?”

“He has the Legislature behind him, and the great mass of the
people--so long as he is in power. We have the nobles and the mountain
clans--possibly the army as well--who would be useful in a civil war;
but Europe would never let us get to that.”

“Don’t talk of it!” said Ernestine, with a shudder. “Well, then, if
the Cabinet can do nothing, the responsibility falls on me. If M.
Drakovics ventures to ask my assent to Bishop Philaret’s nomination, I
shall refuse it.”

“You must do nothing of the kind. Why, the political heavens would
fall!”

“Let them. M. Drakovics shall find that he has gone too far. I have
stood a great deal for the sake of peace; but when he tries to force
on me the man who laid that plot for Michael’s conversion, and who
issued knowingly the lying proclamation which might have cost us all
our lives--for I am convinced, and so is Paula von Hilfenstein, that
he knew the truth the whole time--he must learn that it is beyond
endurance.”

“My dear Ernestine, I don’t think you foresee the gravity of the
situation that would be created. Drakovics would resign.”

“That is exactly what I want. I shall make you Premier instead.”

“I am deeply grateful for your kind thought of me; but I should expect
to have a voice in the matter, and it would be a negative one.”

“What!” her eyes gleamed with indignation; “you refuse to help me? But
you must help me--you shall. I have always deferred to your wishes
hitherto, now I insist on your yielding to mine.”

“My dearest”--Cyril kept his temper admirably--“you will always find
me ready to help you in any enterprise that has the faintest chance of
success; but I am not the man to throw everything away for a miserable
fizzle.”

“I do not know that word,” said the Queen, with great dignity. They
were speaking English.

“I am sorry my words do not please you. They enshrine a weighty truth,
even if it is an unpleasant one. You know what fiasco means, I
suppose, and you can guess that I should object to figure in such an
exploit?”

“No; you would not--for me,” she said, with sudden softness, crossing
the room to where he sat, and laying her hands on his shoulders. “Dear
Cyril, you will not leave me to fight this battle all alone?”

“Never, dearest; but you must allow me to choose the ground. Is that
settled?” He looked up at her, but her face showed no signs of
yielding, and he went on. “Unfortunately for your heroic scheme, it is
just what Drakovics has been counting upon, and he has laid beautiful
traps for us in every direction in case we adopt it.”

“In what way?” asked Ernestine doubtfully.

“You may not have heard, as I have frequently of late, expressions of
astonishment at the way in which Drakovics has neglected to bring in
the Estimates this year, although the legislative session is nearly
over. It is evident that he had private knowledge that the
Metropolitan’s illness was more serious than was generally supposed,
and laid his plans accordingly. To use a classic phrase, there are
three courses open to us, and whichever we adopt, he stands to win.”

“But how can this be?”

“It is tolerably simple. Let us first suppose that you dismiss him,
and that I take office, supported by Mirkovics and his party. But the
Legislature is delivered over body and soul to Drakovics, and refuses
to pass our Estimates. We resign, and you have no option but to send
for him again. Next, we might dispense with the Estimates, and proceed
to dissolve the Legislature at once. Then we should find ourselves
without money to pay the army or carry on the government, or--which is
more important--to carry through a general election. The provincial
treasuries dare not hand us over the revenue until they have been
authorised to do so by the Legislature.”

“But I thought it was usual to make some arrangement----”

“Between the incoming and outgoing Premiers, as to the passing of the
Estimates? Yes; but that is in civilised countries. You must remember
that Drakovics does not want to smooth our path, nor to help us in
appealing to the country--quite the contrary. Well, your third course
would be to dissolve the Legislature at once, leaving Drakovics in
power, which would be the maddest thing of all. You know that in this
part of the world it is the Government that wins in a general
election, and Drakovics would simply pursue the usual tactics, and
romp in gaily at the head of the poll.”

“But is there nothing that would enable us to outmanœuvre him?”

“Oh yes: a sum of money sufficient to assist us to pay current
expenses and conduct the election without the help of the Estimates.”

“Is that all? Why, I will sell my diamonds.”

“The merest drop in the ocean, dear.”

“Then,” Ernestine lowered her voice and glanced round guiltily, “let
us pledge the crown jewels.”

“My dear child, who would advance us anything on such security?
Moreover, you forget that Drakovics holds one of the keys of the chest
in which the regalia is kept, and he is scarcely likely to see the
matter from our point of view.”

“Cyril!” Ernestine sprang to her feet again, and her voice was full of
resolution, “rather than yield to him I will dismiss him and dissolve
the Legislature without summoning a new one, and govern the country
through the permanent officials.”

“Alas! my dear innocent child, you are a constitutional monarch, and
the Constitution is guaranteed by the Powers, and adored, in theory,
by the people. Why, Drakovics would have you and Michael deposed and
conducted across the frontier just in time to meet the representatives
of Europe coming to sit in judgment upon you, and there would be an
end of your dynasty.”

“But can you suggest no means of getting this money? Think of
something.”

“Really, I am not a magician. We might mortgage the kingdom to Scythia
for the required sum, no doubt; but that would not help matters much,
even if Drakovics did not manage to let the Three Powers have an
inkling of our little scheme.”

“Cyril, you are joking!” fiery indignation thrilled in her tones. “It
is cruel, unmanly, shameful--at such a time.”

“My dearest, if I saw any hope of success I would say so. There is
just one man from whom it might be possible to obtain the money; but I
should be obliged to go to Vienna and interview him, and I dare not
leave the kingdom for three days at this crisis. I am certain that I
should find you and Michael and the Germans belonging to the Court
encamped on the other side of the frontier when I returned. However,
some opportunity may offer, and if it does, you may be sure I will
take it.”

“Then you will do nothing now?” her voice was tragic.

“Yes, you very exacting person; I will resign my seat in the Cabinet
for your sweet sake, for it will do no practical good whatever. When
you have Vassili Drakovics comfortably established as Court Minister,
perhaps you will regret the past. Adieu, madame; I kiss your hand for
the last time as one of your Majesty’s Ministers!”

He almost expected a burst of remonstrance from her; but although her
lips quivered, she looked at him steadily.

“I shall feel it more than I can tell you,” she said; “but it has come
to this, that I must ask the sacrifice of you and of myself. I cannot
accept Bishop Philaret as Metropolitan, for that would be to barter my
boy’s prerogative for a few years of peace. Rather than do that I
would abdicate.”

“Well, we shall be a pleasant party to cross the frontier,” said Cyril
lightly, and took his departure. As he approached M. Drakovics’s house
some one tapped him on the shoulder, and, looking round, he saw Prince
Mirkovics.

“You have heard this rumour?” asked the old nobleman.

“About the archbishopric? Yes.”

“And you think it is true? I see you do.”

“I fear it must be. It is too preposterous to be an invention.”

“And the reason? You think it is the result of some compact arising
out of the Tatarjé business? So do I. Count, that stand of which we
spoke some time ago ought to be made to-day. You will lead us? You
perceive that I am handicapped by the fact of my brother’s interest in
the matter.”

“I will speak, certainly, and join you in resigning, if we get as far
as that. I may tell you in confidence that her Majesty is with us, and
declares she will refuse her assent to the nomination of Philaret; but
we must do all we can to prevent its coming to a constitutional
struggle.”

“You are right, Count. Any honourable compromise, then, but no
surrender on the main point.”

The members of the Cabinet were not kept long in suspense by their
chief. After the transaction of some routine business, M. Drakovics
announced briefly that he was about to nominate Bishop Philaret to the
Synod, for promotion to the metropolitical see, and made as though he
would pass immediately to the next matter. But this was not allowed,
and it is scarcely probable that he expected it would be. An
astonished question from one of the nobles whom the rumour had not
reached opened the ball, and then Cyril spoke, followed by the other
members of his party. The claims of Bishop Andreas, the notoriously
pro-Scythian sympathies of Philaret, his part in the late plot and the
doubtful justification he had offered, the certainty that his
appointment would be painful to the Queen and displeasing to the
majority of the Powers, were all set forth, to be replied to by the
Premier in a few sentences which were contemptuous in their brevity.
Bishop Andreas was unpopular, while his rival was a favourite with the
clergy, Bishop Philaret had received due punishment for his innocent
participation in the plot, and should now be treated with
leniency,--these were his chief arguments, and when the dissentients
still protested, he hinted darkly at reasons of state which rendered
it necessary to make the Bishop of Tatarjé Metropolitan. This was a
question of confidence, he declared, and those members of the Cabinet
who were not prepared to support him would do well to leave it, since
he could easily govern Thracia alone, but not when surrounded by
half-hearted traitors. After this plain speaking the meeting broke up
in confusion, and adjourned to the following day.

The breathing-space before the final struggle was spent by Cyril
largely in consultation with his fellow-dissentients; and they
succeeded in arranging the terms of a compromise, which, if M.
Drakovics could be induced to accept it, might yet avert the danger of
a strife between the Crown and the representative of the people. How
the Premier had spent the time became evident to the Ministers as soon
as they left their houses to attend the adjourned meeting of the
Cabinet, for the streets and the market-place were filled with excited
crowds, led on in many cases by priests, who clamoured for Philaret as
their archbishop, and greeted the hostile party with hootings and
threats.

“Rather an interesting commentary on the supposed secrecy of our
deliberations,” observed Cyril to Prince Mirkovics, as they paused for
a minute on the Premier’s steps. “There is no one who could have
imparted what passed yesterday to the public except Drakovics
himself.”

They went on into the council-chamber, where M. Drakovics received
them with a countenance of more than Roman sternness, in which,
however, there lurked a perceptible touch of anxiety. The play was for
high stakes, and it was evident that he feared lest his opponents had
thought better of their hostility, in which case he would have lost
the opportunity of getting rid of them. He looked visibly more
cheerful when they displayed no inclination to fall in with his views,
although his anxiety returned for a moment when Prince Mirkovics
presented his proposed compromise. A message had been sent to Bishop
Andreas, who had returned to his diocese, and was now busily engaged
in reducing it to order, to inquire his views on the subject of the
vacant see, and he had replied by a strong expression of his
determination to remain where he was, lest the malcontents should
imagine that they had driven him out. Since this answer removed the
favourite of one side from the contest, the proposal was that M.
Drakovics should also withdraw his candidate, and that both parties
should agree to the nomination of Bishop Socrates of Feodoratz, a man
of moderate political views, who was a _persona grata_ to all but the
extremists among the clergy. To the indignation of the Mirkovics
party, the compromise was brusquely declined without even a show of
argument, and the Premier reiterated his resolve to nominate Philaret,
and none but Philaret, to supply the vacant place. To this there could
be but one reply, and Cyril, the War Minister, Prince Mirkovics, and
three other members of the Cabinet rose and retired from the council,
with the announcement that they were about to tender to the Queen
their resignation of the offices they held.

Emerging from the doorway of M. Drakovics’s house, the dissentient
Ministers found themselves a target for all the abuse of the crowds
collected in the square. Their purpose in thus withdrawing in a body
was evident, and they were saluted with a storm of execration. Prince
Mirkovics and the other nobles were hailed as mountain-rats (feeling
runs high in Thracia between highlander and lowlander), M. Georgeivics
as a brutal tyrant (under his _régime_ the discipline of the army had
much improved), and Cyril as a poverty-stricken foreigner, who lived
by doing dirty work. So violent were the mob that at first it was
impossible to pass through them, and the Ministers stood at the top of
the steps while a force of police, who had been energetically doing
nothing on the opposite side of the square, proceeded languidly to
their assistance.

“You smile, Count?” said Prince Mirkovics to Cyril.

“Doesn’t it strike you as funny,” was the reply, “that these fellows
would treat Drakovics in the same way next week if he was in our
place? I have known----” the words were cut short by a man who bounded
suddenly up the steps. A gleaming knife was in his hand, and with a
cry of “Die, traitor!” he struck furiously at Cyril, who raised his
left arm mechanically to ward off the weapon. The blow failed of its
intended effect, but gashed his arm from wrist to elbow, leaving his
coat-sleeve hanging in shreds. Realising that he had missed his aim,
the man uttered a curse and lifted his knife a second time; but Prince
Mirkovics, recovering from his momentary stupefaction, drew a pistol
from his girdle and shot him dead. A low murmur broke from the crowd;
but they were too much astonished by the turn events had taken to
attempt to follow up the attack.

“Who can he be?” asked M. Georgeivics, bending over the body of the
would be assassin. “A theological student, evidently, and an
extremist, from his shaggy hair and beard; but why should he single
out Count Mortimer in especial?”

“He is a theological student and a fanatic,” said Cyril, “and he did
his best to betray us when the King and Queen were escaping from
Tatarjé. No doubt he knew me again. But when you have feasted your
eyes sufficiently on his body,” he added faintly, “perhaps one of you
will tie something round my arm?”

With a murmur of compunction, Prince Mirkovics twisted a silk
handkerchief into a cord, and fastened it tightly round the injured
limb, from which the blood was flowing fast, then increased the
pressure by inserting the handle of his knife under the bandage and
screwing it round.

“We must get you to a surgeon at once,” he said. “Can you walk?”

“If you will give me your arm. I don’t want them to think I am dead
yet. By the bye, Drakovics,” he turned to the Premier, who was
contemplating the scene from his doorway, “it would be advisable to
choose your instruments better on the next occasion.”

“My instruments! Do you then accuse me of planning this outrage,
Count?”

“I make no accusations, monsieur. The facts suffice.”

And taking Prince Mirkovics’s arm, Cyril proceeded to descend the
steps with as much dignity as his loss of blood would allow. Happily
they had not far to go before reaching a surgeon, and the people made
way for them with sullen acquiescence. It was of course out of the
question now to go to the Palace and tender their resignations; but
Cyril’s colleagues waited for him outside the surgeon’s house,
intending to escort him home, lest another attack should be made upon
him. Before he was out of the doctor’s hands, however, Prince
Mirkovics entered the surgery.

“Her Majesty is at the door, Count,” he said. “It seems that she was
taking a drive, and that some rumour of your misfortune reached her.
She drove here at once, and seeing me, asked for particulars. I have
relieved her anxiety; but she insists on conveying you to your house
in her carriage. As she says, her escort will be a protection for
you.”

“But we don’t want to get her associated with us in the minds of the
people,” said Cyril hastily. “Tell her that I have sent for my own
carriage--anything.”

“I--I think that perhaps you had better comply,” said Prince
Mirkovics, with a shade of embarrassment in his tone. “Her Majesty
appeared to be most anxious about you, and says that she will wait
until you come.”

“Then perhaps it is as well that I am ready,” said Cyril, rising with
some difficulty from the doctor’s chair. “Prince,” he added hurriedly
as they passed through the hall, “you will have to temporise for two
or three days, for I foresee that I shall not be up to much. Put
forward all you know in the way of compromises if the Queen tries to
mediate, but concede nothing, of course. Simply keep things hanging
on; you understand?”

With some bewilderment Prince Mirkovics signified his comprehension,
and Cyril was helped out of the house and into the Queen’s carriage,
where she and Anna Mirkovics, who was her companion, made him as
comfortable as they could. As soon as the carriage was in motion, she
bent across to him eagerly, speaking in English--

“Oh, thank God you are not killed, as we heard at first! But how could
you be so incautious as to let M. Drakovics see that you suspected him
of trying to murder you? It is simply tempting him to do it again.
Such imprudence is not like you.”

“But I did not suspect him of anything of the kind. You don’t imagine
that I should let him see it if I did? It was merely a declaration of
war. There can be no peace between us after that.”

“If you thought he had done it, I would have had him hunted down like
a wolf,” she said fiercely.

“My dear child, don’t be excited. Look about now and then, and make
remarks on the weather, and bow to the people. I want to say something
very important, but no one must guess.”

“Very well,” said Ernestine, bowing pleasantly to a passing lady of
her acquaintance for the benefit of the curious crowd that lined the
pavements.

“You are not to be frightened when you hear that I am worse, and you
are not to attempt to see me. You may send to inquire, of course; but
whatever the answer may be, you will know that the illness is nothing
but a diplomatic one. If that makes you appear unsympathetic, it will
be all the better for us.”

“You are very unkind,” she replied, with a dazzling smile to a woman
who was holding up her child to see the Queen pass.

“I am talking business. Another thing is, that you must manage somehow
to defer the acceptance of our resignations for three days from
to-morrow. Make Stefanovics your messenger, and let him come and go
between Drakovics and Mirkovics and the other four, trying to arrange
a compromise. He may try the wildest schemes he can think of, but he
must spin the matter out. If you come to an absolute deadlock, consult
Paschics; he will communicate the difficulty to me, if it is possible.
Only remember to do nothing definite for three days.”

“What are you going to do?” asked Ernestine, looking down the street.

“That I cannot tell you. All that you know is that for three days I
shall be so ill as to be able to do nothing, and that I can see no
one.”

“I think you might trust me a little more,” she said reproachfully.



 CHAPTER XX.
 IN QUEST OF THE WHEREWITHAL.

On reaching his own house, Cyril’s first act was to summon Paschics,
who was now his secretary, and explain the situation to him very
thoroughly, adding directions which were to be followed in case of the
occurrence of various contingencies. When Paschics was primed as to
his duties, Cyril unfolded his own plans.

“No doubt you have guessed by this time, Paschics, that I intend to be
absent from Bellaviste while I am supposed to be ill in bed. Only
yourself, the doctor, and Dietrich will be in the secret, and you must
see that no one else discovers it. Take care that the blinds in my
bedroom are kept down, for the Premier is very likely to try to spy on
me from the window of one of the houses opposite. The Queen has
expressed her intention of sending the Court doctor to attend me, and
we shall be able to work the trick with him, for he and I are old
friends. You will give out, of course, and the doctor will support it
by bulletins, that the injury is far more serious than was at first
supposed, and that I am in a very nervous and feverish state. I can
see no one, and discuss no business; but if Prince Mirkovics and his
friends are very persistent, you may allow yourself to be induced to
consult me, and after a suitable interval bring them an answer from
the notes I told you to take of what I have been saying since I came
in. You understand?”

“Perfectly, your Excellency.”

“As to my purpose in leaving in this way, I will tell it you, in order
that if anything happens, you may know in what direction to make a
search for me. I am going to Vienna, to the Chevalier Goldberg.”

“That old Jew?” murmured Paschics in dismay.

“Precisely. He is the only man who can help us at this pinch, and I
rather think he will. He has a way of flinging his money about without
expecting any return that is quite picturesque. Five or six years ago
he paid King Otto Georg’s debts, and so enabled him to marry. That was
a free gift, but I don’t propose to ask him to repeat it. A loan
without interest for three months will meet our present difficulty.”

“But to put yourself in the power of a Jew, Excellency!”

“My good Paschics, who is not in their power? I own that I should have
been glad if any other expedient had offered itself, but this crisis
calls for desperate remedies. If the Chevalier listens to me at all,
he will keep the secret a good deal more honourably than many
Christians would; and if he refuses to make or meddle in the matter,
at least I shall have done all I can. But in either case no one must
know.”

“But how does your Excellency intend to leave Bellaviste? You are
aware that a guard of police is now stationed outside the house for
the purpose of ensuring your safety?”

“I am. The noise they make would alone keep me from being unconscious
of their presence. Well, if the worst comes to the worst, they must be
squared; but they are quite capable of being squared by both sides, so
that we must do our best to find a more hopeful way of getting out. By
the way, Sir Egerton Stratford has not yet called to inquire for me,
has he?”

“No, your Excellency. Baron Natarin is the only one of the foreign
representatives who has come as yet, and he happened to be riding past
when he heard of the attack made on you. He proffered his most cordial
felicitations on your escape.”

“Yes; trust Natarin to do the right thing promptly, however bitter the
pill may be to swallow,” said Cyril, more to himself than to the
secretary. “Well, Paschics, if the British Minister calls, ask him to
come in and see me. If he should happen to send one of the gentlemen
belonging to the Legation instead of coming himself, you may intimate
that I should be much obliged if Sir Egerton would pay me a visit, as
I wish to confide an important document to his keeping. Be careful not
to let the message be overheard. We don’t want the British Legation
burnt down in the night, that M. Drakovics may lay hands on the
document. You may let it be understood that there is considerable
anxiety felt as to my condition, and that I am inclined to take a
despondent view of it myself. One more thing--when you bring Sir
Egerton in, step very softly.”

“At your Excellency’s orders,” said Paschics, as he departed,
considerably exercised in mind by the directions he had received. When
he was gone, Cyril sat down at his writing-table and wrote a long
letter to Caerleon, after finishing which he took a fresh sheet of
paper, and began to draw up a document of more formal appearance.
Before he had come to the end of this, footsteps on the stairs
announced the arrival of some visitor; but it seemed that Cyril did
not hear them, for when Paschics gave an almost inaudible knock at the
door, and entered the room noiselessly, he sprang up with a violent
start.

“I beg your Excellency’s pardon,” said Paschics, much perturbed by the
effect of his prudence; “but I thought you might be resting, and I
ventured to come in before announcing his Excellency the British
Minister.”

“Ask Sir Egerton to come in,” said Cyril, passing a hand over his
brow, “and remain outside, Paschics. I shall want your signature to a
paper in a minute or two. Come in, Stratford, and don’t mind my being
a little shaky. My nerves are a bit upset, I fear.”

“You have no business to be sitting up writing,” said Sir Egerton
bluntly. “Why are you not in bed?”

“Because I could not rest until I had got through some business. I
want your help in connection with a legal document.”

“Nonsense! you want a doctor, not a lawyer. What is Danilovics
thinking of to let you go on like this? You are almost in a fever
already.”

“That is all the more reason for settling my affairs while my mind is
clear. I want you to witness my will.”

Sir Egerton jumped. “Your _will_? My dear Mortimer, pull yourself
together. You don’t think you are going to die of a cut in the wrist?”

“Next time the aim may be truer,” was the gloomy reply.

“Next time? Who wants to attack you again, now that the fellow who
stabbed you is dead? You mustn’t let yourself get nervous.”

“My dear Stratford, if you felt persuaded that you were not intended
to leave this house again alive, perhaps you would be slightly
nervous.”

“What in the world have you got into your head now? Why, you have a
police patrol at your very door to protect you.”

“To protect me?” Cyril laughed mirthlessly. “Yes, they would prove
efficient protectors, no doubt---- What’s that?” he sprang to his
feet.

“Nothing,” said Sir Egerton, with a cruel lack of sympathy in his
tone. “Man alive, you don’t think any one will attempt to assassinate
you while I am in the room with you? For pity’s sake, don’t show the
white feather in this way.”

“It is not like you to hit a man when he is down, Stratford.”

“Good gracious! have I lost my head or have you? Here, I’ll witness
this precious will of yours, if you will only sit down instead of
walking about the place like a troubled spirit. Richard III. was
nothing to you. How many murders have you got on your conscience?”

“I wish you would not use that word.” Cyril shuddered. “You seem to
forget that to a mere murderer it would not signify; but I am the man
to be murdered--that makes all the difference. Murder--ugh! Here,
Paschics,” he opened the door a very little way, “come and witness my
signature with his Excellency.”

“Now look here, my friend,” said Sir Egerton, when the will had been
signed and witnessed, and Paschics had departed again; “you call your
doctor in, and take a peg, or a sleeping-draught, or anything that
will settle your mind a little. You have made your will, so just put
these ideas out of your head, for you are on the high road either to
fever or madness the way you are going now.”

“There is one thing I must do. You observe, I put the will and this
letter into an envelope directed to my brother. Now I wish you to take
the envelope, and send it home under cover with your next despatches,
so that it may not be interfered with in the post. I can die happy if
I know that you will see to its reaching Caerleon safely. You would
not refuse the entreaty of a dying man?”

“A dying fiddlestick!” cried Sir Egerton angrily. “Mortimer, you must
be mad already. These delusions are altogether too absurd. Look here,
I don’t like leaving you like this. You know perfectly well that I
can’t offer you hospitality at the Legation in the present state of
affairs; but if you like to sign your resignation of all your offices,
and order your servants to pack up for a return to England--for
good--and claim my protection as a British subject--why, I’ll take you
back with me now.”

“And expose Lady Stratford to the dangers my presence at the Legation
would entail? No; I may be in a funk, but I am not quite such a cad as
to allow that.”

“I don’t believe you are in a funk, that’s the worst of it, for if you
were you wouldn’t say that,” said Sir Egerton irritably. “You have got
some maggot into your head, and I don’t believe you are responsible
for your words. Try to be reasonable for a moment. Would
Drakovics--even if he hates you to the extent you imagine--be likely
to invite annihilation from Europe by attacking the Legation?”

“No; but before this he has made use of the mob to execute his plans,
and left them to take the consequences. Stratford, what was that?” and
Cyril seized his friend’s arm, and pointed to the window-curtain.

“Only the cat,” was the answer, given with deep disgust, when Sir
Egerton had shaken the curtain vigorously, thereby dislodging the
animal, which was ensconced in the folds. “Stop this sort of thing,
Mortimer. You will make me quite creepy presently. Would you like to
know what I am going to do? I am going straight off to fetch Dr
Simcox, to make him certify you a lunatic; then I shall remove you to
the Legation. No one could object to my receiving you there in your
present state, and when you are a little better, I shall pack you off
home, with one of the staff to look after you.”

“You would let yourself in for all kinds of complications. No,
Stratford; I see one way in which you could help me, if you really are
ready to do so, but I could not dare to ask it.”

“Oh, go on. I can see that it has made you more cheerful even to think
of it.”

“I want you to get me out of the city.”

“But good gracious, man, who is keeping you in it? I am sure Drakovics
would be only too delighted if you went. Go this moment.”

“And be attacked and murdered in the streets, even supposing that I
could succeed in crossing my own threshold safely?”

“What in the world are you driving at?”

“Do you mean to say that you do not see why the police are placed at
my door? They are to prevent my leaving the house; or if I should
succeed in doing so, to follow me out and stir up the people, who
don’t need much stirring up just now, to finish me off.”

“I suppose this means that you want me to provide you with a
disguise?”

“No, Paschics and I can manage that; but I want you to take me out of
the city disguised as your footman, on the box of your carriage.”

“What, as Layard did the Spanish chap? But he got hauled over the
coals terrifically for doing it. Still----”

“Still, you would do it, if only for the sake of getting rid of me
from Thracia? After all, there is no reason why it should ever become
known. I shall not tell, nor will you, and your coachman and footman
can be paid to hold their tongues.”

“I don’t quite see how you propose to work it out.”

“Your footman is about my size, and fair. To-morrow you come in state
to inquire for me, and send him on some errand while you come into the
house. He is instructed to go back to the Legation at once, instead of
returning to the carriage, and I come out of the house after you, and
take his place. The police will only think that they did not notice
him going in. Then you take me past the gate and some little way into
the country--say to Mikhailoslav--where Paschics will be waiting for
me with another disguise, and thus exit Count Mortimer from the
Thracian stage.”

“You really intend to chuck things here, then?”

“That depends on circumstances--and my nerves.”

“By the bye, do you imagine you will be cool enough to go through this
elaborate performance to-morrow? A slip might have disagreeable
consequences.”

“My dear Stratford, when you offer a condemned man a chance of life,
do you think he is going to waste it by playing the fool?”

“Oh, all right. I will turn up about three to-morrow. And take my
advice; get a good night’s rest and some cooling medicine.”

Sir Egerton could not quite succeed in hiding the contempt in his
tone, and when Cyril held out his hand, he pretended not to see it,
and took his leave with merely a stiff bow; but his lack of courtesy
did not seem to discompose his host. When the door had closed behind
the British Minister, Cyril leaned back in his chair, and laughed long
and silently.

“My dear Stratford,” he said, “I wonder whether you dislike me more at
this moment than you will do when you see me back again, and know that
you have been sold.”



“Vera,” said Sir Egerton, entering his wife’s boudoir on his return to
the Legation, “do you want the carriage to-morrow?”

“The large carriage? No, but you promised to take me a drive in the
dogcart.”

“So I did. I’m afraid I had forgotten. The fact is, Vera, I have
promised to get Mortimer out of the city. The fellow has lost all his
nerve--he is in a regular blue funk, thinks every one is going to
murder him, a most ghastly state of mind--and I am to get him past the
gates disguised as Wallis. One couldn’t help feeling a little sorry
for the poor beggar, though it made me pretty sick to see an
Englishman carrying on in the way he did. I can tell you I let him
have it once or twice, I was so disgusted.”

“You mustn’t be hard upon him, Egerton. Every one has not such nerve
as you. And you had plenty of practice in bravery, too, at
Kubbet-ul-Haj.”

“You funny little woman! that is quite one of your ideas. Do you know
that I sometimes wish I was back at Kubbet-ul-Haj now, with all the
danger, instead of making mountains of talk out of molehills of fact
in these wretched miniature states?”

“Oh, but you will be Ambassador at Czarigrad or Minister at Estevan
one day, and then there will be great things to do again. I should be
miserable if I thought you would be kept here always, Egerton.”

“Do you know that you are a very heartless person, Lady Stratford, and
that to gratify your ambition you would like to send your husband into
danger? But I shall have the consolation of insisting upon your
accompanying me.”

“As if I would ever let you go alone! But that reminds me, Egerton,
that it will be much better if I come with you to-morrow when you are
smuggling Count Mortimer out of the city. It would look far more
natural, for you scarcely ever use the large carriage without me.”

“I can’t have you mixed up in this sort of thing, Vera.”

“But surely no one will know anything about it; and if my coming helps
to avert suspicion, it will make it much safer. How far are you going
to take Count Mortimer?”

“To Mikhailoslav, he suggested.”

“Then I must go, of course. Don’t you know that is the village where
they make that pretty pottery, and I promised to send mamma a crate of
it for her garden sale of work? I was going to propose that we should
go there to-morrow in the dogcart.”

“You are not suggesting that we should take Mortimer in the dogcart? I
think the carriage would be safer.”

“Yes; the people stare at the dogcart so much more, and he would be
such a conspicuous figure on the back-seat. We will have the large
carriage, Egerton, and I am coming.”

“‘’Tis yours to speak, and mine to hear!’ Can you be ready at a
quarter to three? We must not prolong poor Mortimer’s agony
unnecessarily.”

“Oh yes, I will be ready. But what do they say now about the crisis?”

“I hear to-night that the Queen will strain every nerve to prevent the
disruption of the Cabinet. And well she may, for the nobility are all
with Mirkovics, and his secession is likely enough to lead to a war of
classes. How Mortimer can bring himself to desert his party at such a
moment I cannot imagine. We must hope that after a night’s rest he may
take a more cheerful view of things--or even be so much worse as to be
unable to be moved.”

The next morning’s bulletins appeared to promise the fulfilment of Sir
Egerton’s slightly uncharitable wish. It was made known that Count
Mortimer was in a high fever, and that his state caused his physicians
the greatest anxiety. Dr Danilovics shook his head with awful
solemnity when questioned, and hinted gravely at the overworked and
nervous condition of the patient, and the possibility that the knife
used by the assassin had been poisoned, until Cyril’s death was hourly
expected in the city, and Paschics was almost driven out of his mind
by the necessity of reassuring the Queen and Prince Mirkovics, in
answer to their anxious inquiries, without telling too much.

“It scarcely seems worth while to go, Vera,” said Sir Egerton to his
wife, as they descended the steps of the Legation and entered the
carriage; “but I promised the poor fellow, and I shouldn’t like him to
think I had played him false. Besides, it’s just possible that this is
only a blind.”

Arrived at Cyril’s house, Sir Egerton went indoors to write his name
in the visitors’ book and interview Paschics, while Lady Stratford
waited in the carriage. As the minutes passed, and her husband did not
return, she became noticeably impatient, and called the footman to
her.

“Your master seems likely to be some time, Wallis, so take this note
for me now to the Maison Parisienne, and wait for a parcel, that we
may not lose time when Sir Egerton comes out.”

The footman, who had received his instructions beforehand, and knew
that he was to leave the shop by a different entrance, and return
immediately to the Legation, departed with the note, an object of
interest to the people who were gathered before the house. It was a
saint’s day, and the truly orthodox had closed their shops or left
their work and betaken themselves to pleasure, which at the present
moment meant politics. A considerable number had found entertainment
all day in standing and watching the different foreign and official
personages who came to inquire after Cyril’s health, and they had
remained to converse with the police who were guarding the house, so
that there was a considerable crowd to criticise the British
Minister’s carriage, and the pale little lady inside it. Happily for
her peace of mind, Lady Stratford knew too little Thracian to
understand their comments on her personal appearance; but presently a
boy in the crowd, finding the entertainment a little monotonous,
created a diversion by throwing a cracker--a species of ammunition
with which he and his fellows were well provided in honour of the
saint of the day--under the horses’ feet. The stately coachman had
much ado to keep his seat as the animals began to kick and plunge,
while the police displayed remarkable assiduity in chasing the boy,
instead of trying to restrain them. But the noise had been heard
indoors, and Sir Egerton ran hastily down the steps, followed by his
footman, who sprang at once to the horses’ heads, and succeeded in
calming them, although he was only able to use one hand. The police,
having given up the pursuit of the boy in despair, returned panting to
greet Sir Egerton, with profuse apologies for their failure and
assurances of future zeal in tracking and punishing the culprit, but
he cut them short somewhat curtly.

“That will do,” he said to the commissary. “Vera, were you frightened?
Shall we give up the drive?”

“Oh no,” said Lady Stratford bravely, although her pale face was a
shade paler than usual. “I shall not be frightened when you are
here--and besides, I don’t want to disappoint mamma.”

“Mikhailoslav,” said Sir Egerton to the footman, who touched his hat
and climbed to his place, and the carriage drove off. The streets were
full of people, gathered in groups in front of the newspaper offices,
the Legislative Chamber, and the houses of the Ministers, all
discussing the political situation. An interesting episode was the
apparition of M. Stefanovics in one of the Court carriages,
proceeding, with a face of solemnity that would have befitted a
European crisis, to the house of one of the seceding Ministers on an
errand from the Queen. Every one turned to stare at him, and the
British representative passed without much notice, although he himself
did not fail to observe that public opinion, judging from the scraps
of conversation he overheard, was extremely hostile to Cyril and his
colleagues, and that there were crowds in the churches, in which
special services were being held to pray for the triumph of M.
Drakovics and Bishop Philaret, and the humiliation of the foreigners
who sought to trample on the Orthodox Church.

The gate was passed without difficulty, and after a long country drive
the carriage reached the village of Mikhailoslav. Here Sir Egerton and
his wife descended to visit the pottery works, sending the footman
back along the way they had come with some message. It had been
noticed by the crowd outside Cyril’s house that shortly after the
departure of the British Minister a horse was brought round to the
door, and M. Paschics came out and rode away for a constitutional,
while during the next two hours anxious inquirers were received by the
doctor, who explained that he had insisted on the secretary’s
obtaining some fresh air and exercise, lest his health should break
down under the strain of his devoted attendance upon his Excellency.

About an hour later, the train which left Bellaviste every day for
Vienna was boarded at a country station by a handsome Polish
gentleman, with blue eyes and black hair and a beautifully waxed dark
moustache. It was evident that he had lately been engaged in a duel,
for his left arm was in a sling, and he was escorted to the train by
an elderly man, apparently his second, who did not leave him until he
had adjured him to see a good surgeon as soon as he reached his
destination, and also entreated the rest of the passengers not to
allow him to do anything imprudent. During the long journey the Pole
made himself a universal favourite. He seemed able to speak all the
languages represented on the train, with the single exception of
Magyar, and he was full of good stories. The slight reticence which he
showed respecting his late adventure was only natural under the
circumstances, and was resented by no one, and when he was left with
his bag on the platform of a small station not far from Vienna, on his
way to visit an Austrian friend, it was with lively regret that his
fellow-passengers looked back at him as the train moved on, and saw
him standing bare-headed and bowing to them with inimitable grace.

It could only have been about an hour and a half later that a
rubicund, wiry-looking Englishman, whose hair and whiskers were of a
reddish sandy tint, and who wore a loud check tourist suit of original
and surpassing hideousness, appeared at the inn of another village not
far from the station at which the Polish gentleman had got out, but
not connected with the railway. His arm was in an extemporised sling,
and he was carrying a knapsack with some difficulty. It seemed that he
had been on a walking tour, and had received an injury to his arm when
trying to separate two men who had drawn their knives in a drunken
brawl at his inn the night before, which had led him to determine to
drive the remainder of the way to Vienna. A carriage was soon
forthcoming, and after a meal at the inn, he proceeded on his journey
to the capital, where he took up his quarters at one of the leading
hotels, produced a passport, in perfect order, made out in the name of
Ivory White, Esq., of Lowburn, Homeshire, England, and allowed it to
become evident that he had plenty of money, although he did not care
to lavish any of it on Vienna tailors. As soon as the formalities
requisite before he could be considered a _bonâ fide_ traveller in
the Austrian understanding of the term were completed, he asked the
porter for the address of the Chevalier Goldberg, whom he mentioned
that he had met in England, and without seeing whom he refused even to
pass through Vienna. The porter smiled incredulously as he marched off
in the direction indicated, observing the manners and customs of the
natives with the dispassionate criticism of an intelligent Briton in
foreign parts, and quite unconscious of the amused or shocked glances
levelled at his knickerbockers, his Norfolk jacket, his cap, and his
gaiters.

“They are all mad, these English!” said the hotel autocrat
meditatively; “but a madman’s money is as good as any one else’s,
_nicht wahr_?”

Arrived at the _appartement_ of the Chevalier Goldberg, which was
situated on the second floor of a palatial building largely inhabited
by co-religionists of the owner, Mr White found that it was by no
means such an easy matter as he had considered it to obtain an
interview with the millionaire. It was evident that the plea of
friendship was too common to admit an unaccredited stranger to the
presence of the great financier, and it was only by dint of a stolid
refusal to leave without seeing him that the Englishman succeeded in
meeting even the Chevalier’s secretary, an accomplished Hebrew, who
lavished all the resources of eloquence and mendacity on the task of
getting him to go away, but in vain.

“Take him my card, and see what he says. If he prefers not to see me,
of course I shall not force myself upon him; but I am convinced he
would never forgive me if he knew that I had been in Vienna and not
paid him a visit,” was Mr White’s ultimatum.

“But the honourable gentleman has given me a blank card!”

“Of course I have. That’s my little joke--my name is _White_, don’t
you see? The Chevalier will know it at once. Sir Raphael Meldola and
he have had many a laugh over it with me in the smoking-room.”

With a sour smile at the Englishman’s childishness, the secretary
carried off the card, and informed his employer that there was a
madman in the anteroom who insisted on sending in a blank card. Would
it not be advisable to send for the police, without irritating the
lunatic or allowing him to suspect anything? But the Chevalier
Goldberg astonished him by taking the card from his hand and
scrutinising it carefully, even lighting a match and holding it close
to it. Then, apparently satisfied, he allowed the card to catch fire,
and held it in his fingers until it was almost consumed.

“Bring Mr White in,” he said. “He is my very good friend.”

Deeply disgusted, the secretary obeyed, hearing the visitor’s hearty
English accents as he closed the door of the great man’s sanctum upon
him.

“Well, Chevalier, and how are you? I couldn’t bring myself to pass
through Vienna without looking you up. All right, eh?”

“Leafe my secretary out off account for de moment, and pity my
curiosity,” said the financier, lowering his voice. “How iss it det
you turn up at Vienna in goot health when we hear from de papers you
are in a dyink state at Bellaviste? Are we to imachine it a miracle,
or iss it only a _ruse de guerre_?”

“The latter, I fear.”

“Den you are enxious for secrecy, off course? Come into my cabinet
here. Now it iss impossible for us to be oferheart. It iss a metter
off money, neturally?”

“It is, like most of the matters that are brought to your notice, no
doubt. You have not forgotten the last time I paid you a visit?”

“I hef not, my frient. It cost me too much,” and the Chevalier laughed
encouragingly. “But you are always welcome, ess I told you at det
time.”

“My errand then was connected with the marriage of my sovereign. You
had been good enough to intimate that you were willing to pay the
debts which King Otto Georg had contracted before being called to the
throne, and which, while he could not well ask the country to
discharge them, hampered him in his negotiations with the Court of
Weldart. It fell to me to bring you the schedule of the various
amounts, and otherwise to arrange the matter with you, and you were so
kind as to express approval of my methods.”

“So!” observed the Chevalier assentingly. “I said det if you hed
defoted yourself to de high finence instead off politics, you would be
wordy to belonk to de Nation.”

“I know. I have never forgotten the compliment, for it struck me as
overpoweringly flattering, coming from you. Now I want to ask a rather
impertinent question. Do you mind telling me your reason for paying
Otto Georg’s debts?”

“My reasson?” the Chevalier raised his eyebrows and looked at his
visitor with a whimsical smile. “Perheps I wished to preserfe de
belance of power in de Balkans--Thracia wass anti-Scythian den, you
know--or perheps to place de house off Schwarzwald-Molzau under an
obligation to me. Or perheps I wass concerned only in throwink away my
money--in makink sure det so many hundret thousand florins at least
should not return to me doubled. But why do you ask?”

“Because I am interested in knowing whether your kindness for Otto
Georg extends to his widow and child.”

“Aha! and it iss a metter off money? Dere are oder debts newly come to
light, and de persons concerned threaten an exposure, and I am to pay
down my goot florins in order det de wife and child may nefer know how
naughty de fader and husbant wass? But dis iss to atteck morelity,
dear Count.”

“No, Chevalier, you are a good deal out. It is a much bigger thing
this time--more in my line of business, you will say, than yours.”

“It iss political, den? My frient, I hef always said det Thracia wass
too small to hold you. Gif me an outline off your plot. You are aimink
to seize Czarigrad, and drife de Roumis out off Europe, det you may
set your younk master on de throne off de Cæsars?”

“Wrong again, Chevalier. My plot is not quite so large as that. This
is the situation at present,” and Cyril went on to describe the state
of affairs in Thracia in much the same terms as he had used to the
Queen three days or so before, his host listening intently, and
putting in a shrewd inquiry now and then.

“I see,” he said at last; “you wish me to finence dis mofement? I am
to profide de millions det must be forthcomink if de refolution iss to
succeed?”

“No,” said Cyril, “I don’t want you to throw away your money this
time. What I need is a loan, not a gift.”

“A loan? But a loan iss a metter off business, not off friendship. Wid
loans one must hef security, formelities off all kinds. What security
do you offer?”

“My word.”

“Ah, but det iss not sufficient. You are not an Enklishman now, my
dear Count, you are too clefer. By de way, you did not arranche
beforehent for your attempted assessination, did you, when you thought
it adfisable to take dis little trip to Vienna widout attrectink
attention?”

“No, I didn’t. I am really sorry, Chevalier, for it would have rounded
off the whole thing beautifully. The affair was a pure coincidence,
for the idea had not occurred to me.”

“And you would hef left such a plen dependent on coincidence?” said
the Chevalier reproachfully. “Det shows a leck of experience such ess
I should not hef expected in you, my dear frient. But you see det your
wort iss not sufficient security for a loan, dough de money iss at
your serfice ess a gift.”

“Well, let us call it a gift to be returned without interest in three
months,” said Cyril. “I can’t consent to anything else, Chevalier.
Thracia would be demoralised if such a river of gold was set flowing
without the need of repayment. At any rate, I am not proposing to
double your money for you in this case. You will sacrifice the three
months’ interest on the sum.”

“Det iss true. But why do you offer me no prifileches, no concessions,
in return for dis secrifice?”

“Because you are the only man in Europe who is not on the look-out for
such things. Whatever you were when your money was in making,
Chevalier, you are now a pure philanthropist--a universal provider for
needy royal families--and in order to fall in with this taste of
yours, I have forborne until this moment, when your mind is made up,
to remind you that my colleagues and I are all strongly opposed to the
anti-Semitic movement, and that the Queen is most anxious to improve
the condition of your co-religionists.”

“And you take it for granted det I will gif you dese millions in
return for a few fafours shown to de Thracian Chews!” cried the
Chevalier, with hands uplifted in admiration. “Well, tell me, my
frient, how shell de money be paid?”

“Have you an agent within reach who is thoroughly to be trusted, and
yet is not known to be in your employment? If you have, he had better
return to Thracia with me. He might travel as a Vienna surgeon called
in for consultation, and I as his assistant, and he would naturally
take up his quarters at my house, remaining there until I have seen
Mirkovics and the rest, and ascertained whether they will agree to my
terms. If we succeed, I intend you to get your money back, Chevalier,
whatever happens to me; if we fail, I fear you will have the
satisfaction of knowing that you have really chucked your florins into
the mud.”

“You will not fail; but do not think I want de money beck. Det iss de
worst off it for me. Well, I will send Stockbaum wid you; he iss de
men you need. You will introduce him to your frients?”

“As the agent of a syndicate from whom I am obtaining the money, I
think. One must explain things a little, and yet not outrage your
modesty by letting the whole truth come out, Chevalier. I can arrange
with him the details as to the payment of the money into my account as
well, for we must not arouse suspicion by making any undue display of
bullion.”

“You are right. See here. Stockbaum telegrephs me one wort, and
immediately I esteblish in Frankfort de office off dis syndicate. I
arranche wid my achents to do business wid dem, and so your drafts are
honoured in Bellaviste. Do not fear; de syndicate shell hef an
abundant credit.”

“You are a born plotter, Chevalier. That idea of the Frankfort office
is a master-stroke. But I fear you will have the other Balkan states
trying to do business with you--or even Drakovics, if he gets an
inkling as to the source of our wealth. He will want to turn us out,
of course.”

“When you are once esteblished in power his prospects will not be goot
enough to raise money upon,” was the dry answer. “And so you are to be
Premier, Count? You are not afraid off what de worlt will say?”

“Scarcely, I think. What will be said?”

“Dey will say you are de Queen’s lofer.”

“I have no doubt that they would say I was secretly married to her if
they thought that would damage either of us more; but it would not be
true.”

“Ah, you will not let yourself be drawn efen by your frient! You are
de right men, Count. When we go beck to Pelestine--you know det I am
to be de paymaster off de migration, because I do not mind throwink my
money away--you shell come wid me and be my _vakil_, ess dey call it
dere. You and I, we will bemboozle de worlt. We will buy de Land”--the
Chevalier pronounced it “Lent”--“from de Roumis, and cheat dem out off
de purchase-money!”

“If I am not otherwise employed at the time, I shall be happy to take
a hand in your nefarious schemes, Chevalier,” said Cyril, laughing, as
he rose to depart.

“Now see,” said his host, “to-night you take a goot night’s sleep, and
in de mornink--no, det iss too early; in de afternoon--I come for you.
In de kerrich you chanche yourself from Mr White into de doctor’s
assistant, and I drop you at de railway station, where you find
Stockbaum. Den you go beck to Thracia.”

In pursuance of this plan, two men of medicine left Vienna by the
Bellaviste train on the following day. The elder belonged indubitably
to the Hebrew persuasion; the younger wore his hair somewhat long, and
displayed spectacles and a short brown beard. They reached Bellaviste
when the dusk had fallen, exactly three days after Sir Egerton and
Lady Stratford had driven out to Mikhailoslav, were welcomed at the
station by Paschics, and accommodated for the night at Cyril’s house.
The next morning it was announced that the Vienna doctor gave such a
cheering account of the invalid’s condition that he might be allowed
to see his friends, and within an hour of the publication of the
bulletin, the other dissentient Ministers had assembled at the house,
and an informal council was held. Cyril, propped up with cushions in
an arm-chair, with the injured arm in a sling, looked quite
sufficiently ill to justify the alarmist rumours of the last few days,
although it was the fatigue of his journeys, rather than the pain of
his wound, which he had scarcely felt after the first moment of its
infliction owing to his mental excitement, that ailed him at present.
Paschics was placed on guard outside the door, and after the room had
been carefully searched for concealed spies, Prince Mirkovics opened
the proceedings by informing Cyril that the Queen’s attempts at
mediation had failed. Nothing less than the abject submission of his
recalcitrant colleagues would satisfy M. Drakovics, and negotiations
had therefore been broken off.

“Very well,” said Cyril, “then I suppose we shall go to the Palace to
present our resignations to-morrow. My doctor will not allow me out
to-day. Have you any idea, Prince, what is to happen next?”

“I presume that Drakovics will reconstruct the Cabinet, and request
her Majesty’s assent to Philaret’s nomination. She will refuse, and he
will resign.”

“I wish we could be sure he would. It will be his aim to make her
dismiss him, so that he may have a cry with which to go to the
country. We must contrive to force his hand in some way, so that the
onus of his resignation may fall on him and not on her. But we can
talk of this later. Let us imagine Drakovics out of the way, and the
stage clear. You will take the responsibility of forming a Cabinet, I
suppose, Prince?”

“I?” cried Prince Mirkovics, much perturbed. “I have never thought of
such a thing, Count. I am not a statesman. I can only govern my
district and vote with my leader. How should I face the diplomacy of
Europe, to say nothing of the opposition of Drakovics at home? You are
our leader. When we asked you to head our revolt, did you think that
we intended to rob you of the honour of victory? We are all prepared
to serve under you.”

“We should most certainly have declined to join in the revolt against
Drakovics under any other conditions,” said Georgeivics, the War
Minister, and the assertion was corroborated by the rest. Cyril bowed
to them collectively.

“I won’t express my sense of the honour you have done me just yet,” he
said, “for I also have a condition to make before I accept the
position.” The faces round the table lengthened perceptibly. “You are
all aware that our taking office without any money at our disposal
would be a mere farce?”

“It would be a protest,” said Prince Mirkovics; “and we may hope that
it will be the first step in breaking down the tyranny of Drakovics.”

“Yes; but it would simply mean our retirement from public life if it
failed--and it is bound to fail if we dissolve the Legislature and
proceed to fight an election without money. No, I have a proposal to
lay before you, gentlemen. A personal friend of my own--who was also a
friend of our late sovereign--has promised to advance me the funds
necessary to carry on the Government until we can vote our own
Estimates. He asks no interest--the transaction is a personal favour
to me--but I cannot accept his offer unless I have your promise that
in case anything happens to me--for life is uncertain here at election
time--you will see the sum that has been advanced duly paid into my
account, so that it can be restored to him. For that, of course, I
shall leave directions.”

The rest turned and consulted together for some little time, then
Prince Mirkovics said hesitatingly--

“Count, we are not in the least impugning your honour; but we feel
that we must in our own defence have a satisfactory answer to this
question. Does your friend expect no consideration--in the way of
concessions or of political power--in return for the inestimable
advantage he offers us?”

“None,” returned Cyril. “He is not a politician, nor is he a company
promoter. He is an amiable enthusiast, with a foolish belief in myself
and in the future of Thracia. By the way, the agent of the syndicate
through which he proposes to act--Outis, Niemand, & Other, of
Frankfort--is in the house, disguised as a Vienna doctor. If you like,
we will have him in.”

The suggestion was gladly accepted, and Herr Stockbaum was introduced
and duly catechised. His employers, he said, were a cosmopolitan firm
of bankers--Messrs Agathangelos Outis, Theodor Niemand, & A. N. Other,
for Cyril had been unable to resist employing the familiar cricketing
tag for the edification of his friends--and they had been authorised
to place the sum named at the disposal of Count Mortimer. Questioned
as to the person from whom they had received their instructions, he
professed himself unable to reply, observing cynically that it was
evidently some one who liked to fling away his money. As to the fear
that some return might be expected, he pointed out that this could be
obviated by Cyril’s holding with the Premiership the post of Foreign
Secretary, instead of that of Finance Minister, which M. Drakovics had
always kept in his own hands. The proposal commended itself to the
meeting as much as it did to Cyril, who had originated it in private,
and the Ministers dispersed in a very cheerful frame of mind.

“Stay and lunch with me, Prince,” said Cyril to Prince Mirkovics. “I
can’t invite every one, or my doctor will interfere; but there are a
few things to settle still. By the bye, Georgeivics, are the troops
ready for action? If Drakovics should take it into his head to spring
his resignation and a riot upon us simultaneously, we should be in a
tight place, especially since the police will be on his side.”

“They are ready,” responded the War Minister. “Constantinovics is in
charge of that portion of our programme. The excited state of the town
during the last few days has furnished a pretext for keeping the
Carlino Regiment to barracks, and they could be under arms in a few
minutes. They would patrol the streets until the arrival of
reinforcements from Feodoratz.”



 CHAPTER XXI.
 PARLEYINGS WITH CERTAIN PEOPLE.

“The more I think of the state of affairs,” said Cyril to Prince
Mirkovics, when they were alone, “the more I am convinced that we must
hurry things on. If possible, we must see that Drakovics resigns, and
has not to be dismissed; but that is not so important as the necessity
of preventing his bringing on a constitutional crisis. His aim will be
to get up a strife between the Crown and the Legislature, which might
end in her Majesty’s being deprived of the regency, and every day that
passes adds to his power for mischief.”

“But how would you propose to force his hand, as you said just now?”

“We must bring things to a head as soon as possible--have no more
haggling negotiations. Whether Drakovics resigns or is dismissed, he
must go quickly, or he will oust the Queen--not to speak of ourselves.
In some informal and unofficial way it must be brought to his
knowledge that the Queen will refuse her assent to Philaret’s
nomination. Of course he guesses that she will; but I hope that the
thought that the matter was arranged with us would sting him to
action. It will probably have to be done by means of an indiscretion.”

“An indiscretion, Count? On whose part?”

“Yes, a calculated indiscretion. The difficulty is to decide who shall
commit it, since of course it would entail removal from public
life--at all events for a time--or from the Court, according to the
individual concerned, and that is rather a large order. One can
scarcely ask such a sacrifice from any one. But let us leave the
matter for the present; I will think it over. Luncheon is ready, I
see. You may have noticed that I have a new footman? My servants were
complaining of the extra work caused by my illness and the consequent
troops of visitors, and therefore I imported this fellow in a hurry.”

But although Cyril had suggested leaving the consideration of politics
for the present, it seemed that he was unable to dismiss the subject
from his mind; for almost before he had been supplied with the invalid
fare prescribed for him, he glanced across the table at Prince
Mirkovics.

“I suppose there is no doubt that her Majesty will refuse her assent
to the nomination of Philaret?” he said.

“None whatever. Stefanovics gave me the assurance in the plainest
terms.”

“It is possible that he exceeded his instructions.”

“On the contrary, he repeated to me her Majesty’s words at her own
desire. Nothing could be more definite than the statement of her
determination. But, my dear Count”--as the servant left the room for
an instant--“are we wise in speaking so freely before this new footman
of yours? He may understand French.”

“Impossible,” returned Cyril carelessly. “He told me so himself; and
he had no motive for concealing the truth, since his wages would have
been higher if he had been able to speak a foreign tongue. In a
polyglot household like mine, the man who knows most languages is the
most useful. We have no reason to be afraid of him. But, by the
bye”--the footman had now returned into the room--“do you think that
her Majesty will have the courage to provoke a conflict with
Drakovics. It will need a good deal of pluck.”

“She will not shrink from it,” was the emphatic reply. “She has gained
remarkably in force of character of late, and her behaviour during
this crisis has extorted universal admiration. She may not become more
popular on account of her courage and tact, but she will be more
respected. No; she will not fail us.”

“Ah, it is well to be assured of that,” said Cyril, and he changed the
subject deftly. It was not until the footman had once more left them
alone that he leaned back in his chair and remarked with a smile,
“Well, my dear Prince, our business is done, and that without any
complications or outside help.”

“To what are you alluding, Count?”

“To the necessity for allowing Drakovics to become aware of her
Majesty’s attitude. That new man of mine is one of his spies--sent
here to learn our plans. He has not discovered very much of them; but
I hope he has heard enough about the Queen to bring about the
explosion we want.”

“Then it is I who have committed the indiscretion?”

“Do not be so hasty, Prince. There is no indiscretion at all. You
don’t imagine I would have allowed you to say anything important?”

“But surely I might expect to have been informed beforehand----?”

“Not at all. You are not a good actor, Prince, and it would have been
evident that you were playing a part. Now you have spoken with the
most complete good faith, and Drakovics will ask no more.”

“But suppose that he will not resign, even now?”

“Then I shall be compelled to advise her Majesty to end the deadlock
by herself nominating either Bishop Socrates or your brother to the
vacant see, on the ground of the Premier’s long delay. The crisis must
come then.”

“You are playing a desperate game, Count.”

“Quite so, Prince. We are in a desperate position.”

The remainder of the day passed uneventfully. Late in the afternoon
the Vienna doctor left Cyril’s house to return home, just after the
police on guard had been relieved. His assistant, so they gathered
from the doctor’s words to Paschics at the door, had gone on first to
the station in order to make arrangements for the journey. A second
reassuring bulletin as to the condition of the patient appeared in the
one evening paper of which Bellaviste boasted, and it became generally
known that the retiring Ministers would resign their portfolios on the
following day.

The ceremony at the Palace in the morning was a brief and formal one.
The Queen, who looked pale and grave, uttered the stereotyped words of
regret and farewell that the occasion demanded, and when the public
audience was over, requested Cyril to remain behind in order to
explain to her the system on which he had been accustomed to manage
the household details which came into his province. Going to his
office to fetch his books, he returned to find her in the room in
which she had held her first interview with him as Regent, with Anna
Mirkovics on guard in the anteroom. Ernestine was walking up and down
impatiently when he entered, but turning as he closed the door, ran to
meet him.

“Put those down!” she said imperiously, taking the books from his
hand, and throwing them on the table. “I am not in the least
interested in them; I want _you_. Oh, Cyril, you must not let yourself
be kept out of office long. I could not endure it. How I have lived
through these four days without once seeing you I cannot tell.”

“But I warned you beforehand,” said Cyril.

“Not that it would be so long, and besides---- Oh, I know I disobeyed
you, Cyril; but I was really frightened when I heard what Dr
Danilovics said. I made Baroness von Hilfenstein go and question M.
Paschics, and happily he was able to assure her that he thought the
doctor was taking too gloomy a view of your case. That satisfied me,
for I knew he could not say more, as she is not in our secret. But if
it had been true what they said, nothing should have kept me from you.
I would have come and nursed you; I would have refused to let you die.
The world might know the truth, and welcome! I am not ashamed of
loving you.”

“Sometimes I almost wish you were,” said Cyril, looking into her
earnest face. “I don’t want to scold you, Ernestine; but you might
have ruined us both----”

“But I did not, after all, so you must forgive me. And I am keeping
you standing while I talk! Sit down here--yes, in my chair--and let me
put this footstool for you. Yes, I will wait upon you--I love to do
it. Dear Cyril, won’t you say that you are pleased to see me again?”

“Is there any use in saying what your Majesty knows already?”

“I should like to hear it from your own lips. You have found the days
a little long, haven’t you?”

“Very,” responded Cyril, with perfect truth. “They seem to have had a
lifetime crammed into them.”

Ernestine looked perplexed. “I should have thought they would seem
empty,” she said hesitatingly.

“A lifetime of misery, dearest, of course. You cannot imagine how fast
the brain works under such circumstances.”

“I believe you are trying to tease me,” she said, detecting in his
tone something that, if not exactly false, was assumed; but as she
bent forward to look into his face, the raised voice of Anna Mirkovics
struck on their ears from the anteroom.

“Monsieur, I tell you that her Majesty is engaged in going through the
household books with his Ex----with Count Mortimer. I cannot imagine
that she will receive your Excellency at present.”

“Perhaps you will have the goodness to inquire her Majesty’s wishes on
that point, mademoiselle,” replied the voice of M. Drakovics. “My
business is of the gravest importance.”

“I hope your Excellency will excuse me to her Majesty for disturbing
her in this way,” was the reply, given in the same distinct tones, as
the maid of honour approached the door of the inner room, and knocked
as loudly as she dared without arousing the suspicions of the
intruder. But her precautions had not been in vain. Cyril had grasped
the situation at once, and risen from the Queen’s chair. “Sit here,”
he said to Ernestine, and drew another chair to the table for himself.
When M. Drakovics was ushered in, his former colleague was sitting
surrounded by account-books, and looked up with mild surprise as he
entered. The response was immediate. After the first glance at Cyril,
the Premier seated himself, unbidden. Ernestine’s eyes flashed, but
she took no notice of the solecism save by rising from her own seat,
an example which Cyril followed instantly, leaving M. Drakovics no
choice but to imitate him.

“You wished to see me, monsieur?” said the Queen.

“I was anxious to obtain the settlement of a very important point,
madame, or I would not have ventured to interrupt your interview with
Count Mortimer.”

“I am ready to give you my attention, monsieur; but I must ask you to
be brief. The details of these accounts are somewhat intricate, and I
am determined to understand them myself before they are handed over to
Count Mortimer’s successor.”

“Nothing could be more praiseworthy than such a spirit, madame. I will
not detain your Majesty longer than is necessary to attach your
signature to this paper--the mandate authorising the Synod to proceed
to the appointment of a Metropolitan.”

“But this is a matter that needs consideration, monsieur. I cannot
consent to make the appointment hurriedly in the midst of other
business. I should prefer to see you about it at another time.”

“There is no time like the present, madame.” The Premier’s tone was
dogged, even menacing, and Ernestine’s colour rose.

“That is a matter for me to decide, monsieur. If you will be good
enough to leave the paper, I will read it at my leisure, and give you
my decision to-morrow.”

“Madame, I cannot consent to leave about important state papers for
the eyes of persons unconnected with the Government. If your Majesty
wishes to discuss the subject of the nomination, I have the honour to
be your adviser--and not any person who has thought fit to dissociate
himself from me.”

“I do not understand you, monsieur. I am not prepared to discuss the
subject at this moment, and I do not intend to sign the paper without
consideration. You may be sure that it shall not leave my possession.”

“If you wish for plain speaking, madame, you shall have it. I decline
to leave the document for the inspection of Count Mortimer, with the
certainty that as soon as my back was turned he would advise your
Majesty to act contrary to my recommendations.”

“Your language is very strange, monsieur. I thought you had just
recognised the fact that Count Mortimer is no longer one of my
advisers.”

“Then how comes it, madame, that you have entered into a conspiracy
with him to defeat the measures I feel it my duty to bring forward? Do
you imagine I am ignorant of the determination you have expressed to
refuse your assent to this document, and thus force me to resign
office? You may be a very clever woman, madame; but you have not yet
succeeded in hoodwinking me.”

“What is the purpose of these remarks, M. Drakovics?” The question
came sharply, as Ernestine looked at the Premier with icy disdain.

“To show your Majesty that I am not a man to be trifled with. This
paper which I hold is of the nature of an ultimatum. If you sign it, I
remain in office; if you refuse or temporise, I resign--and you take
the consequences.”

“Thank you, I will take the consequences. _Bonjour, feu M. le
Ministre_!”

The crisply spoken words came on M. Drakovics like a thunder-clap, and
appeared literally to take away his breath. He glared round helplessly
for a moment; then his eyes fell on Cyril, fingering his account-books
unconcernedly, and he made a step towards him as though to seize him
by the throat. Ernestine placed herself between them involuntarily,
and by the movement drew down his wrath on herself.

“You will take the consequences? Ha, ha! do you know who I am and who
you are, madame? You owe your crown to me, as your husband did his. I
fear you have forgotten the days before you came to Thracia. Do you
realise that I brought you from a German principality about as large
as your palace garden here, from a Court which was the scandal of
Europe--that I seated you on the Thracian throne--do you realise this,
I say?”

“I had imagined that it was the King who did all that,” said Ernestine
coldly, as he broke off, foaming with rage; but the warning tone in
her voice only served to excite him afresh.

“I made you, and I will break you!” he cried furiously. “I might have
done it before. Perhaps you did not guess that it was I who persuaded
your husband to patience when he was goaded into wishing to seek a
separation on account of your conduct towards him? That is new to you,
is it? It was not for your sake I did it--it was for the sake of
Thracia, that no slander might touch my country’s royal house. But it
might have been well if I had allowed my master to take the course he
proposed. Then at least I should have been spared the knowledge that I
had bestowed my charity upon a treacherous, heartless coquette”--this
was not quite the word which M. Drakovics used--“scheming to place her
lover on the throne from which she had successfully removed her
husband.”

“Drakovics!” cried Cyril, springing forward, but Ernestine waved him
back.

“This is my affair, Count. M. Drakovics, you may go; and never venture
to present yourself in my presence again. Your services are dispensed
with.” M. Drakovics hesitated, tried to speak, then recoiled, unable
to face the eyes burning with indignation which seemed to pierce him
through and through, and departed; while as he went he heard the
Queen’s voice saying in very different tones, “And now, Count, let us
return to our account-books!”

But the words were the last effort of which Ernestine was capable.
Cyril, stepping forward to close the door behind the fallen Minister,
returned to find her cowering in her chair, with her face turned away
from him.

“My dearest,” he said, putting his hand on her shoulder; but she
shuddered and shrank from him.

“Don’t touch me!” she cried. “I can’t bear it. You heard what he
called me, Cyril?” her voice rose almost to a shriek.

“He was really not responsible for his language at the moment, dear.
And you faced him splendidly. You certainly had the best of it.”

“That he--or any one--should be able to say such a thing to me!” she
wailed, not heeding his attempts at comfort. “I know that I behaved
wrongly to my husband--that I was hard, cold, proud--but never in word
or thought was I--and that other thing he said--Cyril. _Cyril_, say
that you don’t believe it.”

“Believe it? My dearest, the man doesn’t believe it himself. He
wouldn’t have said it if he had been in his right mind, but he wanted
to hurt you, and he said the first thing that came into his head,
though he knows that no human being would credit it for an instant. It
would stamp him as mad if he ever uttered it to any one.”

“No, no; I don’t mean that, though I should die of shame if I thought
that any one knew it had been said. It is that he said it to me, and
that you heard it. Oh, you can’t understand; it hurts, it hurts! Say
something to me; make me forget it, or I shall go mad.”

Little as she imagined it, Cyril understood her feelings perfectly. He
knew that she was quivering in every fibre under the insults hurled at
her, knew how much the agony was increased by his own presence when
they were uttered; and his own heart, which did not often interfere
with his policy, supplied an additional sting, which Ernestine would
not have inflicted even had it occurred to her mind--she owed it to
herself that it was in the power of M. Drakovics to torment her in
this way. For the moment, as he stood beside her with his hand on her
shoulder, the thought was in his mind that, come what might, he would
save her from further torture of the sort. He would cast away duties
and prospects and high hopes and marry her at once, and face the world
at her side, let that world say what it would about his motives. But
the impulse was only momentary. Give up everything when his hand was
even now grasping the prize, leave the field again to Drakovics when
the day was his own at last, and for the sake of a woman? No, a
thousand times no; although she was the woman he loved, and who loved
him. After all, one must risk one’s queen in the game as well as one’s
pawns.

“My darling,” he said gently, in response to her passionate outburst,
for he could well afford to lavish upon her the small coin of kindness
when the treasure of his ambition was untouched, “you are making me
very unhappy by talking in this wild way. Can you imagine for an
instant that I could remember a thing you wished forgotten? I will
forget it completely if you will only banish it from your own mind, so
that I may not be reminded of it by the look on your face. After all,
it was aimed at me as much as you. Consider that it was addressed
altogether to me, and help me to forget it. It hurt me far more than
it did you.”

“Oh no, it could not do that,” sobbed Ernestine, but she allowed him
to raise her head from the arm of the chair and lay it on his
shoulder, and her tears became less bitter as he soothed and kissed
her. Let no one under-estimate Cyril’s chivalry and self-control at
this moment. He was wasting precious time in comforting her--time on
which his political future might depend. There were a hundred things
to do if he consulted his own interests, but he recognised that she
possessed a claim upon him, and not a word or movement showed that he
was putting strong constraint upon himself in remaining with her. To
reward his patience, it was Ernestine herself who opened the way for
the discussion of mundane matters.

“What have you done to your moustache?” she asked curiously, when she
had dried her eyes, and could look at him again. “It seems to be a
different shape, and surely the colour has changed?”

“I didn’t know you were such a keen observer,” said Cyril, taking off
the false moustache he had worn since returning from his journey to
Vienna, for he had been compelled to sacrifice his own to the
efficiency of his various disguises. “You must put down the change to
my illness--or to political exigencies if you like--but no one else
must know, or we may have disastrous revelations. Shall I let it grow
again, or not?”

“Of course. I don’t like you without it. It makes you look cruel,
Cyril. But don’t let us talk of politics. I hate the word.”

“I am sorry to hear that, dear, for I am afraid that unless we can get
through a little political business our lately departed friend may
steal a march on us. I won’t mention him more than I can help,” as a
shudder ran through her, “but if we are to make this escapade his
last, we must strike while the iron is hot.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Ernestine, helplessly.

“I suppose we are to take it for granted that Drakovics will not be
regarded as a possible Minister of the Crown in future?”

“Can you insult me by imagining that after what has passed I would
ever receive him again as an adviser?”

“I did not imagine it for an instant, but your assurance was
necessary. With your permission I will give directions for the issue
of a special Gazette, setting forth that the Premier has resigned
office on account of failing health.”

“Resigned? Failing health? I dismissed him--and in your
presence--because he had grossly insulted me. What can you mean?”

“My dear Ernestine, the man was obviously out of his mind. He must
have the benefit of the fact, and so must we.”

“I don’t understand, but he is not to be allowed to escape
punishment.”

“Quite so. His punishment will be the most severe you can
inflict--dismissal. It will not make it the less bitter for him if we
call it compulsory resignation, but it will smooth the way for us. If
we do not stop his mouth, he will raise the country against us
to-morrow.”

“But I don’t see how your special Gazette will stop his mouth.”

“There is something else to be done as well. If you will allow me, I
will send Stefanovics to him at once, with a message which must be
delivered either to him or to his nephew, and only to them. If he will
resign office promptly and without any fuss, on the ground of his
health, you will overlook his conduct of to-day in consideration of
his past services to Thracia, and permit him to retain the honours
which have been conferred upon him, although he must remain at a
distance from the Court. Moreover, we will give him a suitable
pension, and find some permanent post under Government for Vassili. If
he refuses, he will lose everything, and we shall take legal
proceedings against him, of course _in camerâ_, for insulting the
Crown.”

“He will prefer to appeal to the people,” said Ernestine decisively.

“I think not. In the old days he would have done it like a shot, and
most effectively--the patriot Minister cast off in his old age by the
ungrateful family he had raised to power, stripped of his well-earned
honours, and persecuted revengefully by those whose unprincipled
conduct he had sought to restrain. But he is not what he was, and I
believe his outburst just now showed that he knew the game was played
out. He has lost his nerve, he is in bad odour with the Powers--and he
is afraid of me, while it is obvious that you and he can never work
together again.”

“But it is not fair! You wish to allow him to escape altogether.”

“Not at all, pardon me. He has fallen; but I do not wish him to drag
us down with him.”

“Oh, do what you like,” said Ernestine pettishly. “Make your own
arrangements. It seems to me that whatever happens, I have always the
worst of it. I should have thought----” tears choked her voice.

“If your Majesty will excuse me,”--Cyril’s tone was severely
businesslike, and he ignored the tears altogether,--“I will proceed to
take the steps I have mentioned, and also to communicate them to my
colleagues. You will not require my presence again to-day, perhaps?”

“Yes, I shall,” was the angry reply. “You are to come back as soon as
you have sent your messages. I could not be so cruel as to detain you
longer now.”

Cyril made no answer, and departed with an absolutely unmoved face.
When he returned, after despatching his business, he observed that
Ernestine had evidently improved the interval by what an Englishwoman
would have called “having a good cry.” She was calm again now, but in
a frame of mind which could only be described as injured, and Cyril
braced himself for a tussle.

“You wished to see me, madame?” he remarked.

“Sit down,” she said imperiously. “I don’t want you to be ill again,
in spite of your unkindness to me.” She paused for a reply; but as
Cyril only bowed in acknowledgment of the favour, she found it
impossible to remain silent. “I am quite convinced,” she went on,
“that you care far more for politics than you do for me. If I died
to-day, I believe your first thought would be how to get yourself made
regent to-morrow.”

Still no answer, and she became desperate.

“If it is not true, at least you might say so. You don’t--you can’t
mean me to understand that you have only made--made use of me as a
step to your own advancement--that you have never cared for me at
all?”

“That is enough, Ernestine,” said Cyril bitterly, rising from his
seat. “It is indeed generous and noble in you to taunt me with the
difference in our positions. I thought that you believed me
disinterested, if no more; but I see that I was mistaken. I will make
no attempt to defend myself--how can I? It is quite true that at your
entreaty I broke with Drakovics, and resigned office. This has led, as
it happens, to the prospect of higher office, and therefore it is
clear that I acted with that in view. I will not deny it; I will only
say that I did not expect to find my action cast in my teeth by the
woman for whose sake it was taken.”

“What are you going to do?” she asked, frightened.

“I am going to see Mirkovics, and hand the Premiership over to him.
Then I shall leave Thracia as soon as possible. I promise you that you
shall not be offended by the sight of me longer than I can help.”

“Cyril!” She came flying after him, and fairly dragged him from the
door. “You are not to go--you shall not. Forgive me. I was so
miserable I scarcely knew what I was saying. I am a wicked, ungrateful
woman. What can I do to show you how sorry I am? Oh, you are not going
to leave me?”

“You have said too much,” returned Cyril resolutely, unclasping her
hands from his arm. “I am afraid we have been mistaken in each other,
Ernestine; but what I can do to mend matters shall be done.”

“If that means that you will leave Thracia, it shall not be done,” she
retorted. “I forbid you to go. You belong to me, and I will not give
you up. Dear, you have not forgotten that journey of ours? You know
how unreasonable and angry I was so often then, and yet you found out
afterwards that I loved you even when I was most cross. Won’t you
believe it now?”

“Believe it or not, I cannot stand such accusations as you are
bringing against me. My meekness is not equal to the strain.”

“I am glad it isn’t. I could not have been proud of you if it was. It
was despicable of me to say what I did, Cyril. I can’t expect you to
forgive it, I know. Only stay here, for I cannot do without you, and
then you will forgive me in time, for you will not be able to endure
seeing me so miserable. Promise me, dear, promise me--just that you
will stay.”

“If you are content that I should remain here without forgiving
you----”

“But I am not. I shall be perfectly miserable until you do. Ah, you do
forgive me. You know that it is only because I love you so much that I
cannot bear anything to come between us. I am jealous of politics,
Cyril; I am afraid they may separate us from one another. I know it is
wrong and foolish; but it is because I love you. You will forgive me?
I will try to conquer the feeling, and I will never, never say again
what I did just now. Like M. Drakovics, I was mad for the moment.”

“I don’t want to seem hard on you, Ernestine--on my honour I
don’t--but you make it very difficult for me to stay here. I can never
feel sure that you will not take offence at some necessary move of
mine and do something that will shatter my plans and make a fool of me
in the face of Europe. You see what I mean?”

“Cyril, you don’t think that I would let any one else see that I was
displeased with you? My dearest, I would uphold you to the world if we
were in the midst of a quarrel. Only try me; and see if anything would
make me forsake you. Do you know that I had a letter from my mother
this morning, scolding me for having taken you back to your house in
my carriage when you were wounded--just as Baroness von Hilfenstein
scolded me when she heard of it? How delighted I should have been to
be able to tell them the truth! But since you will not allow that, I
have written to tell my mother that I should despise myself if I had
neglected to do such a small service to a man who had been attacked
solely on account of his faithfulness to Michael and to me.”

“You quixotic little person! Don’t defy the proprieties too boldly, or
we shall have a commission of inquiry consisting of your mother and
aunts coming here to investigate matters, which might lead to alarming
discoveries.”

“I should not mind. You cannot say that I should forfeit the regency
if it became known that I was engaged to you.”

“No; but my remaining here would be very strongly felt to be an
impropriety, and besides, dear, you don’t seem to see that we--or at
any rate I--have more in view than simply being able to marry at the
end of eleven years or so without damage to Michael and his kingdom.”

“Why, what is that?” she asked, surprised.

“I want our marriage to be recognised. If your cousin Sigismund--who
is very strong on these matters--chose to regard it as morganatic, all
Europe would go with him.”

Ernestine’s eyes blazed. “Let it!” she said; “I don’t care. You and I
know what we mean to do, and when we are married we will go to England
and live in a cottage, and be simply Mr and Mrs Mortimer. There are no
morganatic marriages there, are there?”

“You would at least be Lady Cyril Mortimer, so there is no need to
contemplate quite such a descent,” said Cyril, disregarding the
question. “But I think you must see that it would be more satisfactory
to me if the marriage was recognised.”

“I would not have you degrade yourself by appealing to Sigismund for
any favour--or even any right--whatever.”

“There is no question of appealing to any one. My aim will simply be
to establish myself in such a position that either Sigismund or the
Emperor of Pannonia will have no difficulty in recognising our
marriage--or might even be glad to do it.”

“But how would you do that? Have you any plan?”

“I have some sort of an idea.”

“Cyril, you are wonderful! I will never grumble at your devotion to
politics again, since I know what is involved. Oh, there is Michael!”
as youthful footsteps crossed the anteroom at a run, and the handle of
the door was violently agitated. “He will want me to tell him a story
now that his lessons are over. Say good morning nicely to Count
Mortimer, my little son. Then I will not detain you longer, Count.”

“Poor dear little woman!” was Cyril’s thought as he left her. “She is
so easily managed that it seems almost a shame to try it on with her.
But it was really necessary to make that no more scenes of jealousy
should occur at inconvenient times.”

He went back to his house, passing on the way Sir Egerton Stratford,
who was taking an afternoon ride. It gave Cyril intense pleasure to
respond to the startled and almost mechanical salutation of the
British Minister, and he anticipated with glee the explanation which
could not be long delayed. But he had no time to call at the Legation
at present, and there was a good deal of business to be arranged
immediately with Prince Mirkovics and the rest of his colleagues, in
view of the important political changes to be announced on the morrow.
When he had got rid of them he returned to the Palace, where he had a
long interview with Stefanovics in his office, after which he prepared
to go home, thinking that he had accomplished a pretty fair day’s work
for an invalid. But his time for rest had not yet arrived, for just as
he was on the point of locking his desk for the night, Baroness von
Hilfenstein entered the room, to his great astonishment.

“What can I do for you, Baroness?” he asked. “Pray sit down.”

The old lady complied, but seemed to have some difficulty in declaring
the object of her visit. At last she spoke in a kind of gasp.

“Count, I have been making up my mind for some days--since I saw how
political events were tending, indeed--to seek this interview with
you, but I have found no opportunity hitherto. At last, fearing that I
should be too late, I asked her Majesty’s permission not to appear
this evening, pleading a headache, and thus succeeded in finding you
alone. May I ask if it is settled that you take office to-morrow, and
if you have any hope of retaining it?”

“It is a little unusual to communicate political details of this kind
to any one outside Cabinet circles,” said Cyril, “but to you,
Baroness, I cannot hesitate to speak freely. So far as anything human
can be said to be settled, it is settled that I enter upon office, and
(although this is not generally known) I have strong hopes of being
able to maintain my position.”

“Would it appear to you extremely strange, Count, if I entreated and
advised you very strongly to give up your intention, and to return to
England for good?”

“I fear I should regard it as inconceivably strange, Baroness.”

“Nevertheless, that is what I am here to do. Can you not imagine a
reason?”

“Really, Baroness, I am unable to do so.”

“Think. Is there nothing, no possible complication, in your
circumstances, or in those of the--Court, which might make it
undesirable for you to remain?”

“I fear I am very dense, Baroness, but I do not see anything of the
kind.”

“Then I must speak plainly. I know that you are a gentleman and a man
of honour, Count, and therefore I need not entreat you to keep what I
say a secret. I trust you as I would a son of my own.”

Cyril bowed, in much perplexity. “Is she going to tell me that her
daughter has fallen in love with me?” he thought. “That would be a
complication with a vengeance!”

“On the evening on which you left Tatarjé, Count,” the Baroness went
on, “you may remember that in view of your plan of escorting her
Majesty in disguise to a place of safety, I told you that I was afraid
of circumstances. Now I have reason to believe that my fears were
justified. Need I speak more plainly?”

“I begin to understand you, Baroness. You would imply that her Majesty
does me the honour to regard me with more than friendly feelings?”

“You are right, Count. I have observed a change in her Majesty’s way
of speaking of you since our return from Tatarjé, but that I ascribed
simply to natural gratitude. Her anxiety when you were wounded,
however, and the grief she displayed on learning of your serious
condition, have made it evident to me that--that her feelings towards
you have changed in the direction you indicate.”

“I can never sufficiently admire, Baroness, the delicacy and
discretion with which you are handling this most difficult topic. But
you must consider that you have revealed to me a most astonishing and
gratifying fact. What steps do you expect me to take in consequence of
this revelation, if I may venture to inquire?”

“Can you ask, Count? To a nobleman of your high character there is but
one course open--to sever immediately and for ever your connection
with the Court, and thus render it easy for her Majesty to forget this
temporary indiscretion.”

“I see; and you do not think that such a course might tend to bring
matters to a climax?”

“Count! her Majesty is a Princess of Weldart, and knows that _noblesse
oblige_. She could only be grateful to you for the delicacy of your
conduct.”

“And my feelings in the matter, Baroness----?”

“It is quite impossible that you can have any feelings in the matter,
Count. The crisis is one which demands a correct attitude, not fine
feelings.”

“Thank you, Baroness. It is unfortunate that you should have pointed
this out a little late in the day. Who knows but I might have been
able to assume a correct attitude if I had been warned in time! But as
it is--I know that you are a woman of honour, and will keep what I say
a secret. Are you prepared for a shock, Baroness? I do not want to
startle you too much. The Queen and I have been engaged ever since our
return from Tatarjé--nearly a year ago now.”

“_Lieber Himmel_!” was the shocked exclamation of the Baroness. “I
wish you had not told me,” she broke out, after a few moments of
horror-struck silence.

“Not at all,” said Cyril politely. “We shall be glad to think that you
are a sharer in our secret.”

“I do not doubt it, Count. But do you consider what is my duty in the
matter?”

“I know what I should consider your duty, my dear Baroness, but
whether you will see it at first in the same light is open to
question.”

“And what is your view of my duty, may I ask?”

“To go on as before, seeing and knowing nothing. Anything else could
do no good, and would only make the Queen miserable.”

“You appear to disregard the absolute necessity of my laying the
matter before her Majesty’s family, that they may exercise their
influence to bring about your removal from Thracia.”

“But why should I be removed from Thracia?”

“Because it is absolutely impossible for you to remain here.”

“How? If we have been engaged for nearly a year without so much as
rousing your suspicions, it seems to me quite possible that we should
go on in the same way.”

“When you have the presumption to aspire to the hand of her Majesty?”

“Precisely. Now, Baroness, listen to me. The Queen does not propose to
marry me until the King is of age, and the regency at an end--which
means a twelve years’ engagement. You will be at hand to watch over
the decorum of the whole thing--as you have been doing unconsciously
hitherto. Now isn’t it better to acquiesce in that quiet and peaceful
state of affairs than to hound me out of Thracia, and then discover
one fine day that the Queen had escaped to join me?”

“But you cannot marry her Majesty.”

“Pardon me, Baroness; we differ on that point. I mean to try.”

The Baroness sat nonplussed for a time. “After all,” she murmured,
“eleven years may bring about many changes.”

“Quite so. It is natural that our hopes with regard to any such
changes should differ, but we will not quarrel over that.”

“You are inducing me to betray my trust, Count.”

“I would not do such a thing for the world, Baroness. Only remind me,
and I will see that the Queen relieves you formally of your duties
before our marriage takes place. You shall not be forced to
countenance it in your official capacity. As a private friend of both
parties, of course----”

“I am overwhelmed,” said the Baroness, not in allusion to Cyril’s
considerate offer, as he opened the door for her. “I could never have
suspected this of you, Count.”

“Ah, Baroness, we live and learn--some of us. Others live and love.”

And he went back into the office to laugh quietly over the disdainful
pose of the Baroness’s head and the contemptuous swish of her skirts
as she swept away from him. He had no fear that she would betray him,
or even attempt to prejudice Ernestine against him. The whole affair
was a crime that admitted of no palliation--but the good lady had a
tender corner for him in her heart.

To his great relief, Cyril found that no further interviews were
demanded of him that night, for he was so tired that he made no
objection when Dr Danilovics arrived, in a towering rage, to conduct
him home. The doctor’s lectures on the proper treatment and correct
behaviour of invalids during the drive back to Cyril’s house might
have edified a whole medical school, but they were lost on their
present auditor, for Cyril was fast asleep in the corner of the
carriage when he reached his destination.

“Take charge of him,” said the doctor wrathfully, delivering the
invalid over to Paschics and Dietrich; “I wash my hands of him. What
can a self-respecting medical man do with a patient who acts like a
madman, and expects nature to cure him--especially when nature does
it?”

In spite of his own indiscreet behaviour, and thanks to the
unprofessional conduct of nature, Cyril slept well, and awoke
refreshed in the morning, to hear from Dietrich that the British
Minister had called to see him, and on being told that he was not up,
had said that he would come again in an hour.

“He means to have it out,” said Cyril to himself. “Well, one can’t say
that life has been dull during the last few days. It’s only a pity
that all this pleasurable excitement can’t manage to distribute itself
a little more.”

When he went down to his study, he found Sir Egerton waiting for
him--not sitting down, as would have been the case on ordinary
occasions, but standing wrathfully in the middle of the room, like
Nemesis armed with a riding-whip. As Cyril entered, the British
Minister stepped forward with a stiff bow.

“Good morning, Count Mortimer. Your sudden restoration to health is as
astonishing as it is gratifying. You may have observed that I was
surprised to see you yesterday. As a matter of fact, I had heard it
said that you would accompany your colleagues to the Palace, but I
imagined that the report had been spread by your servants in order to
put off as long as possible the discovery of your escape.”

“I am sure you can’t have been half as glad to see me again as I was
to see you. A friendly face----”

“Excuse my interrupting you. Five days ago, by representing yourself
to be in a state of abject terror almost amounting to madness, you
induced me to smuggle you out of the city, on the understanding that
you would not return to Thracia. Now I find you back again, and
apparently quite restored to health. I should be glad to know what all
this means.”

“Simply that three days’ rest and change gave tone to my nerves and
set me up again. You forget that I expressed my intention of returning
if that should prove to be the case, Stratford.”

“Sir Egerton Stratford to you in future, if you please.”

“I beg your Excellency’s pardon most humbly. Well, then, Sir Egerton
Stratford, may I ask to what you object in my return?”

“You were no more ill at that time than you are now. You had some
scheme in your head for capturing the government, and you made a
catspaw of me to enable you to carry it out. Instead of getting you
out of Thracia, I have in some way or other made you a present of the
Premiership. I don’t pretend to understand how you have worked it, but
it is quite clear that I played into your hands and ensured the
success of your plot.”

“Not at all. You are judging yourself too hardly. You did a kindness
to a poor beggar in a tight place. Well, don’t try to get behind that.
You may be sure that I shall keep your act of charity dark, and I
don’t think you’ll want to publish it abroad, though I fancy you had
some idea in your head of preventing me from returning to Thracia by
making known the manner of my leaving it, eh? If I had not been so
anxious to keep you from getting into trouble I should have taken you
into my confidence, so be grateful.”

“You know perfectly well that if you had told me your intentions I
should have refused entirely to take any part in furthering them.”

“Ah, well, perhaps that was one of my reasons for reticence. But you
shouldn’t go back on your good deed now it’s done.”

“I have not asked advice from you, Count Mortimer, and after what has
happened, I am scarcely likely to take it. You succeeded in getting my
help in a discreditable job by means of a dirty trick, which was
successful because I regarded you as a friend and an honourable man.
Now that you are proved not to be the one, it is impossible for you to
continue to be the other. I wish you a very good morning. In future,
if you should take the trouble to call at the Legation, Lady Stratford
will not be at home.”

“I knew Stratford would be fearfully wild when he realised that he had
been had,” reflected Cyril, as the British representative departed,
“but I didn’t expect he would put on frills quite to such an extent. I
suppose he can’t get over my having worked on his feelings. Well, the
best of friends must part. But it will be a bore not to be able to
drop in at the Legation in the evenings.”



 CHAPTER XXII.
 THE EDUCATION QUESTION.

The _coup d’état_ was complete. M. Drakovics had accepted the
ultimatum conveyed to him by Stefanovics with a submission which was
as touching as it was generally unexpected. It was true, he said, that
the overwork and excitement of the last few weeks had so affected his
health that in a moment of irritation he had lost command of his
temper, and addressed the Queen in terms which were wanting in the
respect due to her position. That this one indiscretion should blot
out the remembrance of long years of faithful service to the Crown and
to Thracia was only just, and he would retire meekly into private
life, not to leave it again unless summoned by some peril threatening
his beloved country. This pathetic farewell was not, of course,
intended for the public ear. The ‘Gazette’ and other newspapers
announced merely that the Premier’s resignation was due to the state
of his health, but a more detailed explanation was necessary for the
benefit of the Ministry and of the foreign Courts which were connected
by ties of relationship or of traditional policy with that of
Bellaviste. By these Courts the news of the fall of M. Drakovics and
of Cyril’s accession to power was received and acknowledged without
comment or opposition--a fact which would have confirmed Cyril, had he
needed confirmation, in the belief that the end was not yet. The
Powers were waiting for some further development of the situation.

As for the members of the Drakovics Cabinet, they accepted the state
of affairs, for the most part, with great philosophy. One or two of
the more violent partisans of Bishop Philaret resigned rather than
become involved in the nomination of Bishop Socrates as Metropolitan;
but the rest, the most important of whom was M. Milénovics, the
Minister of Public Works, transferred their allegiance to Cyril
without difficulty. A possible cause of unpleasantness was also
removed by the resignation of Vassili Drakovics, who had occupied the
position which in England would be called that of Parliamentary
Under-Secretary to his more distinguished relative. If he had not
taken this step, it would have been difficult to know what to do with
him, since to allow him to remain in the Treasury would have been to
keep M. Drakovics informed of the financial circumstances of his
successors, with which it was most undesirable that he should be
acquainted; but his appointment to the lucrative, if slightly
incongruous, post of curator of the National Museum in Bellaviste
immediately upon his resignation, satisfied all parties. The populace
of Bellaviste, finding the streets patrolled by troops, public
meetings prohibited, and a strict censorship maintained over the
Press, realised that the new Administration was as well able to
protect itself as the old one had been, and that it did so in much the
same way, and they acquiesced contentedly in the change.

Cyril was far too prudent to expose his slender forces to defeat in a
Legislature elected to support M. Drakovics, and the only business
which he laid before the House was the voting of a valedictory address
to the ex-Premier--a patriotic duty to which no opposition could be
offered. As soon as the address had been voted, the Legislature was
dissolved, and Thracia found itself in the throes, somewhat artificial
in the case of a Balkan State, of a General Election. Thanks to the
custom of the country, according to which it was unnecessary for a
Minister to occupy a seat in the Legislature, Cyril and the majority
of his colleagues were not troubled by any need of looking after their
own positions; but the fight was none the less carefully organised.
During the time which elapsed between the dissolution and the actual
election, Cyril worked out his dispositions with the greatest
precision, observing with amusement that M. Drakovics was still acting
the part of the sulky Achilles, evidently waiting until the sinews of
war should fail the opposite party. His expectation that victory would
fall into his hands without an effort on his part was so obvious that
his inaction began at last to alarm the more nervous of Cyril’s
colleagues, who thought that the ex-Premier must have some great
_coup_ in preparation. Their leader succeeded in calming their
apprehensions by reminding them of the solid financial basis on which
the Cabinet rested, but not before the uneasiness had spread to the
Palace, where M. Drakovics was regarded much as a foreign foe would
have been.

“Cyril,” said Ernestine, when her Prime Minister sought an interview
with her one day, “are you sure we shall win?”

“I never prophesy unless I have got a straight tip, but I see no
reason why we should not win.”

“But elections always seem to be so uncertain.”

“They need not be so here, at any rate. It is the natural thing for
the Government to win, and I believe it will.”

“But isn’t there something not quite right about that?”

“There might be in England, but not in Thracia. What good is a
Government if it is not to tell the people how to vote?”

“But suppose they won’t vote as you tell them?”

“What should make them turn rusty? And besides, the local authorities
throughout the country have received the warning they have always been
accustomed to get from Drakovics, that any district which elects an
Opposition candidate will immediately suffer a change in its governing
body. Of course other precautions have been taken as well, but that is
sufficient to show them that we mean business.”

“But did not M. Drakovics himself begin his career by winning an
election against the Government candidate?”

“Yes, but the Government was caught napping first, and then bungled
the whole thing. I don’t intend to repeat either mistake.”

“If he comes back there will be a struggle between him and me, for we
cannot both rule in Thracia after what has happened. But if your
precautions are so complete, Cyril, what is M. Drakovics depending
upon? You don’t think that he has really accepted his defeat, and
means to retire altogether?”

“Not in the least. He is counting on our cash giving out. He knows to
a piastre what he left in the treasury, and can calculate what we
could raise in the way of advances out of our own pockets, and
perhaps--as you once suggested--by selling your jewels. He thinks, no
doubt, that we shall be stranded just about the time that the
elections come off--I refrained purposely from hurrying them on in
order to give him a little pleasurable excitement--that we shall try
frantically to borrow money all over Europe and be unable to do it,
that the army will mutiny for want of pay, and that the permanent
officials everywhere will turn to the man who was so long responsible
for their salaries, and that he will have a walk-over. That is as may
be.”

“But how is it that we shall not be stranded?”

“Ah, that is a state secret.”

“But it ought not to be kept a secret from me.”

“I’m afraid it must be, in this case. You see, if your mother or any
of your relations ask you where we got the money, I want you to be
able to answer with a clear conscience that you don’t know.”

“But why should they ask? I daresay Ottilie will--she is always
interested in politics--but I don’t think it would occur to my
mother.”

“Not unless she was put up to it, but it would not surprise me if she
was. Did I understand you to mean that the Princess of Dardania is
coming here?”

“Yes; she has been talking of it for some time, but in her letter this
morning she says that she hopes to come as soon as the elections are
over, and to bring the children as well.”

“‘When the hurly-burly’s done; when the battle’s lost and won’? Does
she intend to stay long?”

“Not long in Bellaviste, I think, but she talks of taking a villa at
Praka for the summer. They have no sea-coast in Dardania, of course,
and it will be so good for the children to spend a month or two by the
sea. It will be delightful for me to have her so close. I daresay I
shall take Michael and two or three attendants, and stay with her for
a week or so.”

“Very delightful. I suppose, Ernestine, that it is no use----”

“Now, Cyril, I know that you are going to say something against
Ottilie, and I don’t want to hear it. You have a prejudice against
her, and I am sorry for it, but I can’t give her up because you and
she don’t get on.”

“‘Don’t get on’ is a mild term for the relations existing between her
Royal Highness and myself. You know that she detests me, and that she
would do anything in the world to injure me?”

“You don’t imagine that I would let her turn me against you?”

“Quite the contrary. I fear that you may defend me so vigorously when
she speaks against me as to arouse her suspicions and give her an
opening for action. When you saw her last you and I were at daggers
drawn, you know, and the sudden change of front----”

“But what would it signify if she did suspect? If you would only allow
me, I would tell her everything, and enlist her on our side. I am sure
she would sympathise with us.”

“Undoubtedly! No, Ernestine--I am speaking seriously--I must put my
veto upon that. If you inform the Princess of Dardania of our
engagement, you are deliberately ruining our hopes.”

“I would never tell her without your leave, of course. But you will
persist in regarding Ottilie as an intriguer, and she is my favourite
cousin, an excellent wife, and the best mother that I know.”

“I would not attempt to deny it. But perhaps you will allow me to
point out that she practically governs Dardania, since her husband is
only too well pleased to go out hunting while she does his work. She
has got him into hot water several times through her
endeavours--which, I will do her the justice to say, are generally
successful--to add to the power and influence of the principality, and
she has a finger in every pie in Europe. Not an intriguer! My dear
Ernestine, that woman is one of the great intriguers of the world.”

“At least, she is my cousin,” said Ernestine, much vexed, “and
therefore deserves consideration at your hands. Well, we will not talk
of her, Cyril, since we cannot agree, and I will remember your
warnings, but I cannot behave coldly to her--far less have nothing to
do with her, as you evidently wish. She and I have always been special
friends.”

With this the subject was dropped, and Cyril found political affairs
sufficiently engrossing for some time afterwards to cause him to
forget his old enemy. His forecast of the conduct of M. Drakovics
proved correct. Immediately before the elections there was a
recurrence all over the kingdom of the activity of the ex-Premier’s
party, although their leader himself continued to remain in
retirement. Deliberate bids were made for the support of the army and
of the Government officials, as Cyril had prophesied, and riotous mobs
assembled as though at a preconcerted signal in all the larger towns,
and perambulated the country. If M. Drakovics had been right in his
calculations, he would have snatched a complete victory, but so well
had the secret of the Chevalier Goldberg’s millions been kept, that
the chief source of his opponent’s strength was absolutely unknown to
him. The army remained loyal, the officials fulfilled their bounden
duty in promoting the return of Government candidates, the priests who
had inculcated rebellion were arrested without provoking an
insurrection, and the mobs melted away at the sight of the troops. The
Ministry met the Legislature with a majority almost equalling that
which had first raised M. Drakovics to power, and Europe awoke to the
fact that Count Mortimer was established as Premier of Thracia. To the
Powers which had expected to see a conflict in which both aspirants to
office would find political destruction, leaving the way open for the
administration of advice _ad libitum_ to the Queen, and even (for a
consideration) of help in money or men, the reality was startling, but
there was nothing to do except to submit to circumstances. The
Mortimer Ministry was in possession, and it had evidently come to
stay.

Already, before the dissolution, Bishop Socrates had been nominated as
Metropolitan, and duly elected by the Synod. Until the elections were
over he held his post as it were on sufferance, feeling not at all
sure that he might not find himself suddenly superseded by Bishop
Philaret; but now he settled down to improve the discipline of his
diocese, his labours being much lightened by the depression which had
fallen upon the more vigorous malcontents, owing to the collapse of
their hopes. Very shortly after the meeting of the Legislature the
Estimates were introduced and promptly voted, the greatest admiration
and praise being expressed for the patriotic conduct of the new
Premier, who had, as it was now understood, advanced from his own
pocket a sum large enough to tide the country over the election. This
sum, for which he was firm in refusing to accept any interest, was
duly repaid to him, and by him handed over immediately to Herr
Stockbaum, whose employer wrote at once to say that he had never
believed Cyril would be able to repay the money, and he had therefore
written it off as a bad debt. Merely to avoid giving him the trouble
of altering his accounts, would not Count Mortimer do him the favour
of accepting it? But Cyril was obdurate. He had a high respect for
money, coupled with a lively sense that in some positions it was
advisable to be known to be without it, and his bank-account remained
at its former modest level, much to the disgust of M. Drakovics, who
felt certain that he was on the track of a very ugly conspiracy, which
might be exposed with much profit if only he could put his finger on
the source from which his successor had obtained the much needed
assistance.

That the money was not a part of Cyril’s hereditary fortune, and could
not be the result of savings from his salary, no one knew better than
M. Drakovics, who had always been wont to keep an eye (but privately,
in order not to hurt their feelings) on the pecuniary position of his
colleagues. Moreover, it had not been provided by any of the Powers,
the ex-Premier’s spies assured him of this, and just at present there
was no company or individual seeking concessions from whom it might
have been received as a bribe. To deepen the mystery, the offices
occupied at Frankfort by Messrs Outis, Niemand, and Other were closed
immediately after the money had been repaid to them, as M. Drakovics
ascertained easily, and the enterprising firm disappeared as suddenly
as it had arisen, leaving not a rack behind.

It was while M. Drakovics was pursuing these financial researches, in
the vain hope of tracking down his successful rival and bringing him
to ruin, that the Princess of Dardania arrived at Bellaviste with her
four children--the Princesses Elisabeth and Ludmilla and the Princes
Alexis and Kazimir, whose arrival was hailed with joy by King Michael.
The Prince of Dardania had gone to Pavelsburg on a visit to the
Scythian Court; but his wife, who had been invited to accompany him,
was of opinion that her presence was more needed in Thracia. For some
days she observed with great care the facts which came to her notice,
and arrived at several provisional conclusions, which she laid aside
for future consideration, but she made no attempt to discuss matters
with her cousin. It was Ernestine herself who first touched upon the
subject of politics, when the Princess had spent about a week at the
Palace.

“I have had such a strange letter from mamma,” said the Queen, coming
in her impulsive way into the room where her cousin was sitting alone.
“I wrote to ask when she was coming to see me again, for it is a year
and a half since she was here, and she says that she will not enter
Thracia so long as Count Mortimer is Premier.”

“Does she expect him to resign in order to open the way for her to
return?”

“Oh no, but she seems to expect me to turn him out. She says that she
sympathises with me deeply in having such a man forced upon me, but
that the present state of affairs is entirely my own fault, since the
Court influence, properly used, would have prevented him altogether
from attaining power. She advises me to set in motion intrigues
against him, and so render his position untenable. When that is
effected she will gladly return to Bellaviste; but she cannot consent
to humiliate herself by meeting Count Mortimer under present
circumstances.”

“My dear Nestchen, your mother is a frightfully bad conspirator! Do
you mean to say that she has written that in black and white? Why,
Count Mortimer could desire nothing better in order to strengthen his
position than the publication of such a letter, which he has no doubt
read before it reached you. And when do you intend to set these
intrigues on foot?”

“Never!” said the Queen emphatically. “I cannot tell why, Ottilie, but
you, like every one else, seem to think that I regard Count Mortimer
as an enemy.”

“Well, Nestchen, you must pardon us if we are wrong, but when I saw
you last, at Tatarjé, I certainly heard from your own lips that you
hated Count Mortimer, and that he was the cause of all the unhappiness
of your married life.”

“Oh, please don’t remind me of the dreadful things I said then! It
makes me ashamed to think that I could ever have been so blind. Wasn’t
it only a just retribution that such a short time after I had been
abusing Count Mortimer, Michael and I should owe our very lives to his
devotion and presence of mind?”

“It provided you with a reason for modifying your opinion of him, no
doubt. But surely, Ernestine, your gratitude might have stopped short
of allowing him to make himself the most powerful man in Thracia. You
may be sure that it will not be long before he will make use of his
elevation to try and oust you from the regency.” This last remark, be
it observed, was what is known in vulgar parlance as a feeler.

“Oust me from the regency!” cried Ernestine hotly; then her tone
changed. “My dear Ottilie, how little you know him!” she said, with a
superior smile. “I assure you that you are quite mistaken.”

“But he has ousted Drakovics, and is in possession of his place;”--the
Princess was observing her cousin curiously, but with something of
satisfaction in her look.

“No, there you are wrong again, Ottilie. He would be in his old post
now, if it were not for me. When M. Drakovics tried to force upon me
an appointment which was most distasteful to me for many reasons, I
sent for Count Mortimer and ordered him to oppose him. I can’t tell
you the whole story now, but although it has ended in Count Mortimer’s
becoming Premier, it was due to me that he severed himself from M.
Drakovics at all.”

“How delightful to have a knight-errant at command, ready to fight
one’s battles in this way! Really, Nestchen, I envy you. I wish we had
a Count Mortimer (with a few variations) in Dardania. But you don’t
imagine that he would have accepted your commission if it had not
fallen in with his own views, and promised to lead to the goal at
which he was secretly aiming?”

“I can’t judge about that, since I am not Count Mortimer’s confessor.”
The Queen spoke sharply, and as though the thought were an unwelcome
one. “At any rate, if the idea of the Premiership had entered his
mind, I am sure that he well deserved the prize, and I feel quite
content that he should hold it.”

“There is nothing like a thorough conversion when one is about it. And
you are now in the habit of taking Count Mortimer’s advice on every
subject that may happen to be under discussion, I suppose?”

“I ask it, certainly--and in nearly every case I take it.”

“That is just what I thought. Well, Ernestine, doesn’t it strike you
that it would have been kinder to let me know this before I visited
you?”

“Why, what possible difference can it make to you, Ottilie?”

“I came here,” pursued the Princess of Dardania sadly, “full of hope
for the future. It seemed to me that this visit of mine to you would
mark the beginning of the fulfilment of the compact which you and I
made with one another a year ago, before this change had come over
you. Our children were to grow up together, and to learn to love one
another from their earliest years, you will remember. Surely you might
at least have warned me not to bring Lida with me.”

“But why should you not bring Lida? What change has come over me? I
cannot imagine what you mean.”

“My dear Ernestine, you must be very well aware that Count Mortimer
would never sanction a marriage between your son and any child of
mine.”

“I am sure you are mistaken, Ottilie. Count Mortimer would be as
anxious to secure Michael’s happiness as we are. I am so certain of
this, that nothing but my agreement with you to keep the matter secret
has prevented me from telling him of our plan. I have only been
waiting for your consent.”

“And nothing would induce me to give it. To betray our scheme to Count
Mortimer would be to ruin it. No, Ernestine, hear me out. Though you
have so strangely constituted yourself his champion, you cannot forget
the man’s past record. He would have sacrificed his own brother by a
loveless marriage for the sake of a political advantage--he would have
sacrificed me. So much for his general practice. Now as to this
particular case. I refused to be sacrificed, and succeeded in
outwitting him: he has never forgiven me. Even if political
considerations rendered the match between Michael and Lida
advisable--and from his point of view they do not--I believe that his
hatred for me would lead him to prevent its taking place. His aim will
be to marry Michael to one of Sigismund’s daughters--you know what
their surroundings are like, and what amount of choice would be given
to them in the matter, poor things!--and to tell him of our compact
would simply ensure its never being fulfilled.”

“But Michael and Lida could not be married without his knowledge.
Besides, I am sure I could persuade him----”

“When you know as much of Count Mortimer as I do, Ernestine, you will
know that you might as well try to persuade a stone wall.” The Queen
flushed indignantly, but checked the protest which had nearly escaped
her lips. “Our hope lies in his having no suspicion of what is going
on until the young people are old enough to have come to an
understanding. Then you would have everything on your side in
preventing their being sacrificed to political considerations; and if,
after all, Count Mortimer was too strong for us, we could arrange for
the children to be married as Alexis and I were.”

“A runaway match!” said the Queen, shocked, but a recollection that
occurred to her served to modify the feeling. It was not so very long
ago that she herself had suggested a similar proceeding to Cyril. “I
don’t for a moment think that we shall be obliged to adopt such an
expedient, Ottilie. I am sorry you won’t let me tell Count Mortimer
what my wishes are, for I think you are making a mistake, but please
understand that I was never more determined to adhere to our compact.
My first duty now is to Michael, and nothing--not even Count
Mortimer--shall induce me to allow him to be sacrificed to political
expediency.”

“If you please, madame,” said Paula von Hilfenstein, appearing at the
door, “your private secretary” (Baroness Paula called him “the Herr
private secretary von Essen”) “has brought a number of letters, and
asks whether your Majesty will be pleased to sign them.”

“Just as I was having my first long talk with you, Ottilie!” said the
Queen, rising. “Well, the Regent must be at the service of the State,
I suppose; but do wait here, and I will come back when I have
finished.”

She rustled out of the room, her long black robes trailing after her,
and the Princess watched her with a curious, meditative smile.

“Ah, my dear Ernestine,” she reflected, “it is a good thing I came
here when I did! It is the merest chance that your new friend has not
already broached a project of marriage for Michael, and converted you
to his views. In not doing so he has committed a fault in tactics, by
which I shall contrive to profit. But what I should most like to know
is, what there is exactly between you and him. You are in love with
him, of course--any one could see that--and I have not a doubt that he
knows it, but the question is, do you know it as well? That innocent
manner of yours might mean either that you were quite ignorant or that
you had everything settled with him. Now which is it?”

She sat musing, with her chin supported on her hand, weighing
probabilities in her mind, and not knowing that the information she
needed was at that moment on its way to her. The messenger of fate
burst into the room in the person of King Michael, following a wild
fumbling at the door, and pursued by retributive justice in the form
of Baroness Paula. “Majestät!” she was beginning, “why have you run
away from your nurse?” but like the intruder, she stopped short on
catching sight of the Princess of Dardania.

“I will take care of him until his nurse comes to fetch him,” said the
Princess pleasantly, holding out her hand to the child, and Baroness
Paula retreated. “What do you want here, my little Michael?”

“I want to hide something--something of mamma’s,” returned King
Michael, recovering his presence of mind, and beginning to pull the
curtains about. “You won’t tell, will you, Tant’ Ottilie?”

“Certainly not. What is it--a piece of paper?”

“Mamma keeps it in her Bible,” returned King Michael, exhibiting a
crumpled paper ball, “and to-day it fell out. I want her to look for
it. It will be so funny. Oh dear, there isn’t a place anywhere!” with
a heavy sigh, “and I hear nursie coming.”

“Why not smooth it out, and put it under the corner of the rug?” asked
the Princess. “Your mother would never think of looking there.”

The King obeyed precipitately, and was patting the rug down with his
hand to make it lie flat again when Mrs Jones appeared, panting.

“Well, sir, and wherever have you been and got to, may I ask? There
was your cousins all playin’ so quiet and pretty, and me just turnin’
my back like for a moment, when you up and slip out of the nursery.
You come along back this minute, if you please, or I’ll tell Count
Mortimer of you when he asks me next how you’ve been behavin’ yourself
of late. You’re gettin’ beyond me, and that I’ve said before. Beggin’
your Highness’s pardon, ma’am, but anything like his Majesty’s
contrary ways no one ever did see.”

The Princess of Dardania smiled graciously as Mrs Jones disappeared,
dragging her refractory charge by the hand, but the moment the door
was shut she moved her chair across to the corner of the rug with
which King Michael had been busied. What the paper he had purloined
might contain she had no idea, but it was evidently precious to
Ernestine, and her cousin was too clever a woman to let slip any
chance of gaining information that might prove valuable. Stooping
slightly as she sat, she lifted the corner of the rug, holding it
ready to drop into its place again on the slightest alarm, and took up
the paper. It was in Ernestine’s writing, and at first sight resembled
nothing so much as the calendars which schoolboys make to show how
many days remain before the holidays, but the Princess’s eyes gleamed
as she realised its purport. At the top was written, “April 12th,
18--” (the date was that of the preceding year), and below came “June
18th,” King Michael’s birthday, repeated twelve times. Two of these
were crossed off, bringing the record to the time at which the
Princess held it in her hand.

“April 12th of last year!” she said to herself. “That was when she was
wandering about the country with him. Michael was three then, he is
just five now. By the time the end of this list is reached he will be
sixteen, he will have come of age. And after that, what? Nothing! But
no doubt it would be unnecessary, as well as dangerous, to add
anything further. They have an understanding, then. But what if she
married him secretly on that 12th of April? Oh, if only she did, I
could ruin him with a word! Is it possible? Married, actually married,
and concealing the fact lest she should lose the regency, and he his
chance of the Premiership? Could it be? Let me think; I must not be
rash. It would not do to put myself in his power by accusing him of
having married her, and finding that he had not. He would make me the
laughingstock of Europe. Besides, is it probable? No; he is not the
man to risk his political future for the sake of a woman. Take it,
then, that they are merely engaged. They will be married when Michael
is of age--if I allow it. I do not think I shall, but it might be
necessary to buy his acquiescence in something--perhaps in Michael’s
marriage with Lida, and then I should have an equivalent to offer.
Silence for the present, then. I hold the card, but do not show it.
And above all things, I must keep Ernestine from telling me the whole
affair. I could get her to confide in me now, if I liked to try, but
it would hamper my action. No; she has chosen to link her fortunes
with his, and she must not be surprised if I fight for my own hand.”

The sound of the opening of the anteroom door reached her. Ernestine
was returning. She replaced the paper, dropped the rug over it, and
moved her chair back to its former position. When the Queen entered
the room, her cousin looked up lazily.

“I don’t know whether you have lost any of your State documents,
Ernestine, but Michael was very busy hiding a paper of some kind under
the rug just now.”

The Queen stooped to pick up the paper. Her face flushed as she saw
what it was, and she thrust it hastily into her pocket, with a glance
at the Princess, whose eyes were fixed on her novel.

“What was Michael doing here?” she asked.

“Oh, he escaped from his nurse and ran in, that was all. What a
splendid little fellow he is, Ernestine--so high-spirited and
impatient of control! And I think it is so wise of you to keep him
with you so long. I had practically lost my boys when they were his
age--they were always about with their father. Of course that is all
right, for Alexis is no disciplinarian; but when I think of
Sigismund’s poor little sons, how they are made into soldiers before
they are out of the cradle, so to speak, and tormented with drill all
day long, it makes me feel that Michael is far better off with his
mother alone.”

“Some one was saying the other day that he was getting too old to be
left entirely with women,” said the Queen.

“Ah, I know who that was--Count Mortimer, of course. He actually made
the same remark to Fräulein von Staubach. The poor thing told me
about it, and owned that it came as a painful shock to her.” The
Princess forgot to mention that when the first surprise had passed,
Fräulein von Staubach had admitted the truth of Cyril’s words.
“Really, Ernestine, you will be obliged to take measures to keep that
man in his place. He interferes in everything.”

“I think you forget that I value Count Mortimer’s opinion highly,
Ottilie. I have myself often thought of late that a stronger hand over
him would be good for Michael. He is very passionate at times, and
fearfully self-willed. He ought to be taught self-control, and I am
afraid we are too gentle with him.”

“Ah, that is Count Mortimer again! He wants the poor child brought up
like English boys, who call their father ‘sir’ and ‘the governor,’ and
never see their mother except in full dress. Seriously, Ernestine,
think before you hand your boy over either to the English or the
German system. You have to be both father and mother to him, remember.
At least keep him with you as long as possible.”

“I will. You are right, Ottilie. It was only because your advice
agreed so well with my own wishes that I distrusted its wisdom at
first. Of course Michael must be educated as a German--his father
would have wished it, I am sure--but I will not let him be subjected
to military discipline for some time yet.”

“I think I have put a spoke in your wheel for the present, my dear
Count!” said the Princess to herself. “While you are discovering that,
I shall hope to find a few other ways of smoothing your path. Just now
I should like to see Drakovics, and find out exactly what he knows
about your matrimonial schemes.”

When the Princess of Dardania conceived a wish, it was usually not
long before she contrived to gratify it, and the first portion, at any
rate, of this one was attained by means of a morning visit to the town
Museum. It was only natural that the curator should conduct her Royal
Highness round the building, and in the course of conversation with
him, the Princess learned that M. Drakovics was anxious to sell a part
of his Praka estate as building-land. As the Princess wished to buy
land on which to build her proposed villa, the next step was obviously
to run over to Praka and see the estate, in order to report upon it to
her husband. Unfortunately for the Princess’s hopes, although the
building-land was satisfactory, the interview with the ex-Premier was
not. M. Drakovics could not forget the day when he had shared with
Cyril the ignominy of being outwitted by the Princess Ottilie of
Mœsia, and while he was obviously ready to work any ill to Cyril that
he conveniently could, he was much more anxious to find out what his
visitor knew than to impart any information of his own. As this was
exactly the Princess’s case, the two diplomatists parted with mutual
dissatisfaction, tempered only in the one case by the prospect of
receiving a good price for his land, and in the other by the hope of
possessing in the future a coign of vantage from which to direct the
development of the situation. But if the Princess had failed to find
the helper she desired in her campaign against Cyril, she had at least
succeeded in leading Ernestine to thwart him in the matter which at
present he had most at heart, the method of the little King’s
education. When, after due consultation with the officials of the
Court and the Treasury, he had drawn up a scheme constituting a
technically separate household for the King, and arranging for the
appointment of military and other instructors, Ernestine refused so
much as to consider the subject at present.

“He is only five years old, Cyril. Even his father would have left him
under my control until he was seven.”

“But he is not under your control--that is the worst of it. I do not
want to hurt your feelings, Ernestine, but you must have noticed that
it is no use to tell him to do anything unless you are prepared to
back up your order with physical force. It is the same with his nurse
and with Fräulein von Staubach.”

The Queen flushed with vexation. “You cannot think that you know as
much about children as a mother does,” she said.

“Won’t you allow that I know more about boys, having been one myself?”

“Not about German boys.” She thought of her cousin’s remarks on the
subject. “We educate our children much more by means of love than you
English do.”

“My dear Ernestine, I don’t care what the means may be, so long as the
result is satisfactory, which it is not at present. Your boy wants
discipline. If his father had lived, his authority would have
reinforced yours.”

The word “discipline” was an unfortunate one, for Ernestine’s thoughts
flew at once to the poor little Hercynian Princes whose woes the
Princess of Dardania had described so feelingly. “I like Michael to be
happy and free,” she said. “I will not have him turned into a
miniature drill-sergeant.”

“No one wishes him to be, but he ought to feel that there is some
authority he must recognise. It is not only you and the other women
who spoil him, Ernestine, but Batzen and the rest as well. The other
day I caught him imitating poor old Batzen to his face, with Pavlovics
and two of the pages looking on and laughing at him.”

“How can they help it when he is so quaint? He picks up things in the
most extraordinary way. You want to crush all the fun out of him.”

“My dear Ernestine, you seem to think that I have some personal
feeling in the matter. Please leave me out of account. What I am
anxious about is the future. The boy is a king already. There are
plenty of people, and always will be, to flatter and encourage him,
but if he once gets out of hand we shall never be able to train him
properly. And what will the result be? I am not exactly what any one
would call straitlaced, but I don’t mind saying that even you have
seen enough of the world to know that he will simply rush to ruin. He
must learn to obey--to subordinate his own wishes to those of
others--if he is ever to rule. I only wish we could have sent him to
an English public school. The games, and the association with other
boys, would have done him a world of good.”

“I knew it!” cried Ernestine, almost in tears. “I knew you wanted him
to be brought up in that barbarous English way, without even the
necessaries of life, and to break all his limbs at football.”

“Don’t misrepresent me, please. I know that the English school is out
of the question, unfortunately. Nor would I wish to take him entirely
out of your hands at his present age. All I wanted to do was to
appoint a military man as his governor, with authority to raise a
small cadet corps of little boys with whom the King could work and
drill, and learn something of discipline. Other lessons would follow,
of course, and other instructors be necessary, but Michael would not
find it such a change if things were done in this gradual way, and if
the other boys shared all his work and play.”

“That can all come later. He is too young at present. I give way to
you very often, Cyril; but I must stand firm in this. I know that it
is a temptation to let you regulate Michael’s education for me as you
do everything else; but I must not yield to it. I am his mother, and I
must use my own judgment in dealing with him. I could not bear that
his spirit should be broken at his age. Oh, yes; I know that he is
precocious; but that only means that he needs more care and tenderness
than other boys. You mean well; but how can you enter into a mother’s
feelings?”

“Very well; don’t worry about it,” said Cyril, accepting the situation
with easy philosophy when he saw that her resolution was fixed. “I was
only anxious for the child’s own good, so don’t blame me if he turns
out badly.”

He shrugged his shoulders as he went away, reflecting that even the
most sensible of women would make fools of themselves over a child,
and Ernestine--as he had long known--was not one of the most sensible
of women. It was just like her to look at things in this absurd way,
and he was sorry he had wasted his time and wounded her maternal
feelings to no purpose. After all, as she said, she left everything
else in his hands, and if she chose to ruin her boy by
over-indulgence, that was her own affair. Long afterwards, in looking
back at this time, Cyril reflected cynically that in the matter of
King Michael’s education he must have been afflicted with judicial
blindness, for it did not occur to him that it must have needed an
external stimulus to rouse Ernestine to such strong opposition to his
views. Had it done so, he would have known where to look for the
intrusive force; but he was content to ascribe her perverseness to her
own character, and the part which the Princess of Dardania had played
in the matter remained unsuspected.

The Princess was very busy for some time after this. Her bargain with
M. Drakovics for the piece of land at Praka was duly approved by her
husband (a mere form this) and ratified, and then came the business of
the building of the villa. What with interviews with architects and
contractors and her own passion for overlooking the progress of
affairs and paying surprise visits to the workmen, it is not
astonishing that the Princess of Dardania spent a good deal of time in
Thracia during the next year. To a lady of her mental and bodily
activity, it was a mere trifle to undertake the eighteen hours’
journey from Bashi Konak to Bellaviste, run down to Praka and inspect
the building operations, and return home to take her part in a Court
festivity; but she felt it necessary to apologise for her restlessness
to the Queen.

“You know,” she said, “some one must see that things are properly
done, and Alexis cannot endure to be dragged away from his hunting and
his model farm. He is quite an Englishman in that respect. I feel
dreadfully ashamed to make your house an inn in this way, Ernestine;
but I can’t resist having a peep at you and the boy, and the children
always give me so many messages for Michael. You must return the
compliment when the villa is built. I shall expect you almost to live
with me in the summer.”

Ernestine saw her come and go with a vague feeling of alarm. It seemed
to her as though Ottilie now regarded Michael as her property, held in
trust for Lida, and that these frequent visits were merely excuses for
seeing that he was being brought up according to her wishes. There was
now an effectual barrier between Cyril and the Queen on the subject of
her son’s education, and neither of them alluded to it. Ernestine
ought to have been satisfied; but she was not. She felt as though it
would have been safer to have Cyril as her confidant in the matter
than her cousin. It so happened that an invitation to Scythia for the
whole princely family prevented them from occupying the Villa
Dardanica during the first summer after its erection, and, encouraged
by her temporary emancipation from the Princess’s guardianship,
Ernestine herself suggested to Cyril that the changes which he had
proposed in the King’s surroundings should be carried into effect at
once, although the child was still only six years old. But the
opportunity had gone by. The Estimates for the year had been passed
without making the necessary provision for the change, other
employment had been found for the elderly officer selected as the
King’s governor, and nothing more could be done until the pupil
attained the age of seven.

The next year, therefore, the change took place. Mrs Jones returned to
England with a pension and the proud consciousness of duty done,
Fräulein von Staubach resumed her old post of lectrice (the Queen
hated reading aloud), a learned young Lutheran “candidate of theology”
was imported to replace the venerable Herr Batzen, and King Michael
contrived to learn much at the same time the necessity for outward
obedience to his military tutor and the delights of tyrannising over
his regiment of boys. His life was not a very arduous one, for it did
not take long for his instructors to discover that his Majesty had
ruled his own immediate circle so completely that it was impossible
without an undignified and generally unsuccessful struggle to make him
do anything that he did not wish to do. It might even be said that he
had succeeded in discovering a royal road to learning, for his natural
precocity and his strongly developed imitative faculty combined to
enable him to pick up knowledge, whether it was of a desirable
character or the reverse, with extraordinary facility.

In spite of this fairly easy life, however, the Princess of Dardania
discovered that her future son-in-law was overworked. Not content with
carrying him off to Praka for his summer holidays and inviting him to
Bashi Konak to spend Christmas, she gave him instructions to let her
know whenever his surroundings bored him or he felt that a change from
his lessons would be desirable, and an invitation immediately
followed. His mother protested, but in vain. If King Michael wished to
stay with his cousins, stay with them he would, and Ernestine did not
at first perceive that while she represented to her son law and order,
the Princess and her family were becoming more and more closely
identified in his mind with liking and liberty. The Court at
Bellaviste was dull--none knew it better then Ernestine--but the
Princess of Dardania dispensed on all but State occasions with the
strict etiquette which Baroness von Hilfenstein imposed on all who
came beneath her sway. In his capital the young King was necessarily
surrounded by attendants and tutors, but the one condition of his
visiting his cousins was that he should bring with him only the
minimum number of servants and no one in authority. Again his mother
remonstrated, but this time the Princess was her opponent, pointing
out the benefit to the boy’s health of the freer life, the advantage
to him of leading the happy outdoor life of her own boys with their
father, and the humanising influences of the constant society of the
Princesses Bettine and Lida. Ernestine was worsted at every point, but
it was the knowledge that her boy’s wishes pointed in the same
direction that induced her to submit.

“Ernestine,” said Cyril to her once, “that boy of yours is being
weaned away from us. He had far rather be with your cousin and her
family than here.”

“Oh, do you think so?” asked the Queen, with a sharp pang at her
heart, for she had been cherishing the belief that the change which
was so sadly evident to herself was invisible to others. “But it is
natural that he should like to be with other young people, and he is
so fond of them all.”

“He is fonder of your cousin than any of them. I hear that he sits
listening to her for hours together as she talks. My dear Ernestine,
is it a matter of indifference to you that another woman is stealing
your son’s heart from you?”

It was a cruel question, but he was anxious to arouse her to a
perception of the greatness of the emergency. She grew whiter as she
answered.

“Should I make things any better by trying to detach him from his
chosen friends? No; at least I am happy while he is happy.”

“He will be obliged to detach himself from them some day. This Paul
and Virginia kind of life can’t go on for ever. Can’t you try to get
hold of him again, Ernestine? He was absolutely devoted to you at one
time--that time when you were so jealous of his being fond of me.”

“Ah, but I am growing old and grey-haired and tired,” she said
wearily, “and I feel differently, too. He does love me still, but I
dare not risk the loss of his love by setting myself against his
friends. I have so little that I am afraid of losing everything.”

“Old? nonsense!” cried Cyril. “My dear child, I am nearly ten years
older than you are, and I feel as young as ever. You are not
thirty-five yet.”

“Thirty-two,” she said seriously, not perceiving that he had purposely
over-estimated her age. “But I feel old. Ottilie has her husband and
children--she keeps young. Surely she need not have stolen my one
child from me? Oh, Cyril,” she threw out her hands towards him with a
passionate gesture, “you are all I have left. Don’t forsake me.”

“Forsake you? Who ever thought of such a thing?” asked Cyril, putting
his arm round her tenderly. It was one of the moments at which
something (it could not have been conscience, for he prided himself on
having none) asked him inconvenient questions as to his share in the
hardship of this twelve years’ waiting as compared with Ernestine’s.
“We have not very long to wait now, dear. In less than three years
Michael will be of age.”

“Yes, but--I have become so much accustomed to this waiting that I
can’t believe in happiness, Cyril. I am afraid--I feel still that even
yet, if I stood in the way of your political success, you would brush
me out of your path--me!”

“I think you don’t believe in me, that is very evident. Never mind; in
three years’ time we will see which was right.”



 CHAPTER XXIII.
 IN SIGHT OF THE GOAL.

“Half an hour to wait here! Wake up, Mansfield, and don’t be so
atrociously slack. We must have a little walk and stretch our legs.”

The speaker was a young Englishman, scarcely more than a boy, who had
just returned from questioning the guard as the Balkan express to
Vienna slowed down preparatory to entering the station at Bellaviste.
His companion, the appeal to whom was emphasised by throwing a folded
newspaper at his head, was a man some five years older, with
“Cambridge” written all over him.

“Oh, draw it mild, Usk. What a troubled spirit you are! You know your
father begged us not to set foot in Thracia if we could help it.”

“But we can’t help it. It would be a sin and an impossibility not to
seize such an opportunity of getting a little fresh air. Look here; we
won’t even go into the town--just trot up and down that street leading
from the station. There can’t be any danger in that, for I’m not like
Philippa. No middle-aged Thracian, coming across me casually, would
strike an attitude in the gutter and gasp out, ‘Carlino’s child! Will
your Highness graciously permit me the ineffable honour of kissing
your hand?’ I might be any one, from a scion of British royalty----”

“To a junior Irish member,” said Mansfield. “I say,” as they walked
down the platform, “look at the gorgeous saloon they are adding to our
train. Some one very great must be expected.”

“The Thracian royalties, no doubt,” returned Usk, “on their way to
this wedding at Molzau. What luck to see them! Philippa will be
awfully jealous.”

“No; don’t you remember that we saw they arrived at Molzau some days
ago? But it must be some one big, for look at these grave and reverend
signiors who are assembling to give him a send-off. Perhaps it’s your
uncle.”

“What a lark! I think we will go and annex seats in his carriage,
Mansfield. It would be such a spree for the railway people to be
trying to get us out, while we persisted that we couldn’t understand
what they said.”

“And such a spree for you to be arrested and to have to give your
name, after all Lord Caerleon’s warnings. Don’t be an ass, Usk. If you
want a walk, come out.”

“Wretched dull street this,” grumbled Usk, as they tramped steadily up
and down outside the station. “I suppose it’s too soon to expect the
people to have begun their decorations yet for the King’s coming of
age. Queer idea for a fellow to come of age at sixteen, isn’t it? I
wonder how he feels when he thinks of this day fortnight--whether he
is much cocked-up about it. I say, do you happen to have observed that
this place is a _café_? Let’s sit down and refresh the inner man.”

They took their seats at one of the little tables outside, and were
welcomed with enthusiasm by the proprietor, who proved able to
understand their German and also to make them understand his. Business
was slack just at this hour, and he remained to talk to them while
they drank their coffee, observing artlessly that it was not often
that two honourable foreign gentlemen honoured his house with a visit.
The street was beginning to fill now, and Usk and his friend gained a
good deal of information as to the national costumes and the callings
pursued by their various wearers. But it was not long before their
attention was distracted by the appearance of an old man, for whom, as
he was drawn slowly along in a bath-chair, the crowd everywhere made
way respectfully. His hair and his bushy moustache were snow-white,
but the eyes, which flashed a suspicious glance at the two Englishmen,
were full of life.

“Who is that?” asked Usk of the landlord, when the old man passed.

“Is it possible that the honourable gentleman does not know? That is
the great patriot, Milos Drakovics.”

“Drakovics!” said Usk and Mansfield together, rising to look after the
bath-chair, and the elder man added meditatively, “It’s a case of
‘Under his hoary eyebrows still flashed forth quenchless rage,’ isn’t
it? One wouldn’t care to stand in that old man’s path even now.”

“The honourable gentlemen are fortunate in being able to get such a
good view of the Liberator of Thracia, since they have never seen him
before,” observed the landlord. “Of late years he has been in bad
health, and has lived on his estates at Praka, in the provinces, but
no doubt he has come to Bellaviste to be present at the King’s coming
of age. The festivities will take place in a fortnight, and it would
be impossible to hold them with Drakovics absent. The honourable
gentlemen are come to Bellaviste to view the ceremony?”

“No, we are merely passengers by the express,” said Mansfield. “Surely
M. Drakovics has come up from the country a little early?”

“Ah, no doubt he needs time to recover from the fatigue of the
journey. But I must say it surprises me that he should be here to
witness the departure of his Excellency the Premier to attend the
royal marriage at Molzau. From all that is said, there is no love lost
between them.”

“Ah, the Premier--that is Count Mortimer, surely?” asked Usk, adding
in English to Mansfield, “Now we shall have a chance of seeing my
uncle as others see him. He is an Englishman, is he not?” he asked in
German.

“That is so. A countryman of the honourable gentleman’s, I make no
doubt?”

“Yes, we are English. Is Count Mortimer popular?”

“Ah, there you puzzle me, honourable sir. His Excellency is
universally recognised as the greatest statesman in the Balkans--some
say in Eastern Europe--and any measure advised by him is as good as
carried already. But popular--no, I think not. His Excellency is a man
without friends. At one time, so they say, he was often at the British
Legation, and enjoyed himself occasionally among his own countrymen
there; but years ago--when he became Premier, indeed--he broke off
this habit. No doubt he felt that he must now become altogether a
Thracian, and not risk the discovery of his plans by any foreigner,
even one of his own people, in the hours of social intercourse. It is
the same with his subordinates, who respect him while they fear him,
but do not love him. Those who do their duty are well paid and
liberally rewarded, but they say that Count Mortimer never hesitates
to sacrifice a man for the sake of a scheme. That gives a feeling of
insecurity, as the honourable gentleman no doubt sees? It is a very
fine thing to have a share in setting the current of European policy,
but not so fine for one’s dead body to be used as a stone in the
embankment that determines its course--even at the will of his
Excellency. And the common people do not like him because he does not
care either for their applause or their disapproval, and also
because--the honourable gentleman will not misunderstand me?--he has
no vices. Drakovics every one knew. He would come down to the Hôtel
de Ville and explain his policy and carry the people with him. He was
violent often, and they said unscrupulous--he did not object to make
money occasionally, he took his glass of brandy when he wanted it--but
he was a man whom other men could understand. Count Mortimer is
mysterious--not like a man at all. He lives on politics, he never
unbends. Everything he says or does is directed to some end, like the
movements of a machine, and produces, as surely as the machine does,
the intended effect, but he never explains anything. He cares as
little for hooting as for cheering, and as little for his supporters
as for his opponents. Now you shall see. Here he comes.”

A carriage and pair was approaching. Facing the horses sat a small
thin man whose hair and moustache were of that ashy shade peculiar to
fair hair when it is turning grey. His eyes were keen, but devoid of
expression, his face perfectly impassive. As he passed the _café_,
the proprietor stepped forward, and bowed almost to the ground. The
very slightest acknowledgment was given in return, barely more than
the raising of a finger, and the Premier went on his way, pursued by
many glances, some careless, some unfriendly, not one enthusiastic or
cordial.

“The honourable gentleman sees?” asked the landlord triumphantly, red
in the face from the exertion of his salute. “His Excellency would
make the same response if any one cried, ‘Down with the Englishman!’
but the man would be in prison before another hour was over. Now you
see why I said the people do not like him. They know that he despises
them.”

“This is a sensation we never hoped to experience, Mansfield,” said
Usk to his friend, when they had paid their bill, and were hurrying
back to the station. “What is your opinion of my redoubtable
relative?”

“I think he has got a very comfortable berth--for a man without
friends or vices--so long as he keeps it, but a very hot one if he
should ever be threatened with losing it.”

“Just what I think. It’s rather difficult to believe that he’s younger
than my father, isn’t it? He might be any age, from his face.”

“Will the English gentlemen he pleased to come this way?” said a
voice, as they entered the station, and they found themselves
confronted by a tall dark man who had occupied the seat opposite the
Premier in the carriage. “His Excellency Count Mortimer requests the
honour of their company for part of the journey. I am his Excellency’s
secretary. My name is Paschics.”

“Could he have seen us?” whispered Usk in surprise to Mansfield, as
they followed the secretary. “It was only a moment, and he didn’t
appear to notice us at all, but nobody else could know who we are.”

Emerging on the platform, they found Count Mortimer in the midst of
the officials who had come to witness his departure. He shook hands
with one or two, spoke a few words to some, and nodded to others, then
entered his carriage, whither Paschics conducted the two young men. To
their bewilderment, the Premier received them as strangers.

“I think I cannot be mistaken in supposing that you are English,
gentlemen? It is a pleasure to an old exile to meet two
fellow-countrymen in foreign parts. If you have no objection, may I
count on the pleasure of your company as far as Vienna? The railway
people will fetch your things, if you will tell them which your
carriage was.”

Much mystified, Mansfield gave the required directions, and retreated
into the background with Usk while Cyril stood at the window and
conversed a little with his colleagues on the platform. When the train
had started, however, he turned towards them, and broke into a laugh
at the sight of their blank faces.

“Well, Usk, are you thinking that I am an unnatural relative? Why, my
dear boy, I knew you at once from your likeness to your mother; but
there is a look of Caerleon about you too. Introduce your friend,
pray.”

“Old Mansfield, my guide and philosopher, otherwise bear-leader,”
responded Usk promptly. “He is supposed to be preparing me for
Trinity, and looking after my morals and manners by the way.”

“I fear, Mr Mansfield, that you have rather an arduous task?”

“I must admit, your Excellency, that Usk is a lazy beggar, but his
people are set on his passing well, and I am doing my best to get him
through.”

“You old fraud!” cried Usk. “Don’t believe him, Uncle Cyril. He has
deluded my guileless parents into thinking him a kind of Admirable
Crichton, whereas in reality he couldn’t get me into Trinity to save
his life. The fact is, he wanted a trip abroad, so he pretended a
willingness to take a ‘pup.’ I wanted the same thing, so I made out
that I needed a coach, and our extremes met. We have been loafing
about Asia Minor and Constantinople for nearly two months, and never
done a stroke of work except when our consciences were stirred by
trustful letters from home.”

“Really, your Excellency, it is not quite so bad as that----”
protested Mansfield, but his pupil interrupted him.

“No, it isn’t. I was forgetting the plains of Troy. When we camped
there, Uncle Cyril, I said that we ought simply to let the atmosphere
soak in and have its full effect, while we gassed about the decadence
of the Turkish Empire, or anything else that was as far removed as
possible from the associations of the spot; but this fellow would
insist--and it was perfectly spontaneous, too--on our going all over
the place with the ‘Iliad’ and trying to realise the whole thing.”

“Rather a new idea,” remarked Cyril, “to utilise the site of Troy as
part-preparation for an exam. But all this doesn’t explain my catching
you talking politics to a shopkeeper in the street at Bellaviste.”

“Oh, the Governor told us on no account to invade Thracia, lest we
should be suspected of revolutionary designs, but we couldn’t resist
having a little turn when the train made such a long stay. And how do
you know that we were talking politics, uncle?”

“I know the symptoms. You were discussing me. Well, I won’t ask you
what you learned on that interesting subject. You see, of course, why
I pretended not to know who you were when I sent for you.”

“Lest the Thracians should spot something suspicious in our being in
the country?”

“Exactly; and particularly just now. Any one who was inclined to be
nasty would find ample material for making trouble in your turning up
just before the King comes of age, and when the Queen and he are away,
so I thought it best to get you out of the place without provoking a
scandal. You know, of course, that I am on my way to Molzau, to the
wedding of Princess Theudelinde to Prince Karl Friedrich of Hercynia.
It sounds inhospitable to say so, but I hope fervently that your
destination is not the same as mine?”

“Oh, no. We wanted to go to Molzau and pretend to be special
correspondents--old Mansfield has done something in that way once or
twice, knows a man who’s third cousin to an editor, or something of
the sort, you know”--Mansfield blushed and looked unhappy;--“we meant
to fool around with kodaks and notebooks and make ourselves general
nuisances in the orthodox style, but the Governor said that we were
sure to be found out, and that it would be bad form.”

“It would--shockingly bad form, to say the least. You are going
straight home then? By the bye, if you are disappointed at missing the
sights at Molzau, I will send you photographs. Of course I shall have
a set.”

“Thanks awfully, uncle. It was really Queen Ernestine that we wanted
to see. She’s a tremendously pretty woman, isn’t she? Phil says that
she remembers her, but I don’t believe it. Mother fell deeply in love
with her too--that time we came to Thracia when we were little
kids--and she has infected Mansfield and me with a desire to see her.”

“She is a handsome woman,” said Cyril temperately. “I am afraid it is
impossible for you to get a glimpse of her on this journey, Usk, but
it is not improbable that you may see her in England some day.”

“On a visit to the Queen, I suppose? Do you know, Uncle Cyril, our
infant minds--Phil’s and mine, I mean--were tremendously stirred by
your adventures when you escaped with her from Tatarjé. We were
always playing at Uncle Cyril and the pretty lady. The game ended up
with a wedding, I remember, but the Governor suddenly put a stop to
that. He said that our talking of such a thing might do harm, and the
game lost its interest afterwards.”

“Good old Caerleon!” was Cyril’s mental observation. “No doubt that
was when he got the letter I sent him through Stratford, telling him
the state of affairs, and begging him to do what he could for
Ernestine in case I got wiped out. And so ‘the subsequent proceedings
interested you no more’?” he asked aloud.

“Not much. You see, there were so few vicissitudes after that.”

“Your Excellency was happy in having no history apparently,” said
Mansfield.

Cyril smiled, not quite as if he agreed with the remark. “Well, our
politics have intervals of dulness, certainly,” he said. “But of late,
as you may have noticed in the papers, we have been developing a
regular Opposition. It’s a nuisance in some ways, but I am not
altogether sorry, for it keeps our men up to the mark to know that
there is some one watching to catch them tripping and quite ready to
pull them up. The Opposition have got hold of a leader, too, a man
named Milénovics, who was in the Cabinet until last year. He used to
be a strong supporter of Drakovics, but transferred his affections
with the rest when I became Premier, and I thought he was safe. I
fancy it must have struck him suddenly that so long as I remained on
the stage there was no room for my supporters in the principal part,
but that if I were out of office, there might be an opening for
youthful talent. However that may be, he ratted, and to-day the
fragments of the Drakovics party are rallying round him. That, I
think, is the only recent incident of interest in our tranquil
political life in Thracia.”

But although Cyril dismissed the subject of Thracian politics so
lightly, he had much to tell that was interesting in answer to the
eager questions of both the young men, to whom it was a novel
experience to be able to discuss European problems with one who was
still actively engaged in their solution. The journey to Vienna
appeared astonishingly short in his company, and such was the effect
of his reminiscences, that when Usk and Mansfield had bidden him
farewell and taken their homeward train, the former declared suddenly
that, but for the dislike his parents would feel for such a course, he
would seek a post under his uncle instead of going to Cambridge, only
to discover that his friend was possessed by a like aspiration. As for
Cyril, the thought of “the boys,” as he called them, disappeared
quickly from his mind, for he had much to think of as he continued his
journey to Molzau. The Emperors of Hercynia and Pannonia were both to
be present at the royal wedding, and it had not needed a hint from
Baron de la Mothe von Elterthal, the Hercynian Chancellor, who was an
old ally of Cyril’s, to warn him that an opportunity was likely to be
found for discussing matters more serious than the marriage, and that
a crisis might well be approaching in his life and Ernestine’s.

European politics were not at the moment in a very settled state, and
this condition of disturbance had left its mark even on the wedding
festivities. The Princess of Dardania, whose father, the late King of
Mœsia, had been a Prince of Schwarzwald-Molzau, was duly invited to
the marriage with her husband; but with the invitation came a strong
hint that it was not advisable it should be accepted, and the
Princess, who was a wise woman, stayed away. The reason for this in
hospitable behaviour was twofold. In the first place, the Princess had
just accomplished the betrothal of her elder daughter, Princess
Bettine, to the young King of Mœsia, a cousin of her own, and son of
a younger branch of the house of Schwarzwald-Molzau, whom her father
had chosen to follow him on the throne. None of her successes ever
came about by accident, and she had been preparing this step for
years; but it was unfortunate that the Roumi province of Rhodope,
which abutted on her husband’s principality, and which had been
guaranteed by Europe in the enjoyment of administrative autonomy,
should have chosen this particular moment for carrying through a small
revolution on its own account, and declaring, without asking the leave
or advice of the Powers, its intention of uniting itself to Dardania.
This occurrence, also, was by no means wholly unforeseen by the
Princess; but she objected to the conjunction of the two events
because it directed the attention of Europe to her doings, and with
this attention she could very well have dispensed. Ever since her
runaway marriage with the Prince of Dardania, Princess Ottilie had
devoted herself with great singleness of purpose to avenging herself
upon her father’s family for their attempt to force her into a
marriage with Caerleon, then King of Thracia, and she had combined
with this object that of the aggrandisement of her husband’s dynasty.
The means of gratifying both ambitions she had obtained by ranging
herself resolutely on the side of Scythia in all European
questions--which meant, of course, that her husband and Dardania
followed her lead.

Not long after her marriage, the Princess became a convert to the
Orthodox faith, and all her children were brought up in it--a fact
which caused much wrath among her own relations and considerable
embarrassment to her husband, who, although a devoted adherent of the
Eastern Church and a cousin of the Emperor of Scythia, was in no sense
a bigot, and feared, somewhat unnecessarily, that it might be thought
he had brought pressure on his wife to induce her to embrace his own
creed. Having thus taken her stand in such a way as to cause the
maximum of annoyance to the Germanic Powers, and win the largest
amount of sympathy from the Scythian Imperial family, the Princess had
proceeded to lay the plans which she was now working out. Her elder
son would succeed his father in the principality, and a Scythian
alliance was already arranged for him; it only remained, therefore, to
enlarge his dominions in every possible way. But far more important
were the marriage projects devised for the benefit of the Princesses
Bettine and Lida. With her daughters seated on the thrones of the two
Balkan kingdoms, Princess Ottilie looked forward to finding the whole
peninsula in a measure under her control, thus enabling her to form a
confederation which could defy the Western Powers, and would need to
be reckoned with by Scythia. The changing of her husband’s coronet
into a kingly crown, and the putting forward of a claim to the
heirship of the European portion of the Roumi Empire, were among the
visions which floated before her eyes--not yet planned out in detail,
but affording endless possibilities of activity.

And now, as she recognised without difficulty, her schemes were
threatened with failure. The Germanic Powers had taken alarm at the
two latest evidences of her ambition and its success, and the
gathering at Molzau would be occupied in laying plans for her
overthrow. The Schwarzwald-Molzaus would muster strongly, regarding
her as a renegade, and eager to avenge the sedulous slights of years;
the Emperors of Hercynia and Pannonia, whose one anxiety was the
maintenance of the balance of power in the Balkans as the security for
European peace, would spare no effort of diplomacy to thwart her; and
Cyril, her old enemy, would have the game in his own hands. Unless she
could forestall him, that is--for the Princess of Dardania was not in
the habit of leaving the game in the hands of any opponent.

“Let me see,” she mused; “is it possible to bind Ernestine and Michael
before they can be approached by the enemy? No. Ernestine is as deeply
committed to her son’s marriage with Lida as is possible, short of an
actual engagement, and to broach the project to Michael would have a
very ugly appearance while he is actually under age. Only a fortnight,
and everything would be right! Well, I must try delay. If we can tide
over the fortnight, Michael’s betrothal shall be announced
simultaneously with his assuming the reins of government. It is
evident that I must distract the attention of the assembled diplomats
from my delinquencies to the indiscretions of some one else--draw a
red herring across the trail, in fact. I regret to be obliged to
sacrifice you, my dear Ernestine, but I see that the moment has come
for making use of that interesting piece of information which I have
been keeping so long. You and your lover must be denounced. It will
not be the first time that the apple of discord has been thrown into
the midst of a wedding-feast, and I am very much mistaken if your
friend Count Mortimer is consulted on the affairs of Europe when it
has once made its appearance. Even if his presumption is ever
pardoned, it will not be for a long while hence.”

The next point to be considered was the manner of the disclosure. To
write to either of the Emperors or to her Schwarzwald-Molzau kindred
would be to ensure failure, for her letter would be regarded as a
palpable attempt to break up the concert of the Powers. The secret
must be revealed by an apparent accident, and if possible by means of
some other person. The person on whom her choice fell finally was the
Princess Amalie of Weldart, the canoness, her own aunt and
Ernestine’s, who was known as “Tant’ Amalie” to half the royal
personages of Europe. In spite, or perhaps in consequence of, her
semi-conventual status, the Princess Amalie took great delight in the
weddings of her many relations, and was scarcely ever known to miss
attending one. She was also an authority on the subject of the
etiquette proper for such occasions, and her kindred invariably
consulted her as to the descent and consequent precedence of the
innumerable ramifications of their family trees, and the complicated
Court ceremonies which were necessary in German eyes almost to the
validity of the marriage itself. To her the Princess wrote--a pleasant
chatty letter, describing the doings of her children, who kept her so
busy that she could not find time even to come to Molzau for dearest
Theudelinde’s wedding, and commenting on such details of the dresses
and the company as had reached her.

“I wonder what you will think of your new nephew,” she remarked
towards the close. “I call him new, because when you saw him before, I
am sure you never thought of him in this light. I shall be interested
to hear whether Ernestine takes advantage of the family gathering to
introduce Count Mortimer as her future husband. It is a task that will
need a good deal of courage, but no doubt the bridegroom’s
self-possession and urbanity of manner will smooth over any
awkwardness. I have it on unimpeachable authority that if they are not
married already, they will be so as soon as Michael has been declared
of age. If Ernestine has not announced her intention by the time this
reaches you, pray say nothing to any one. The Emperor Sigismund would
be very likely to take the matter up in an unsympathetic spirit, and
it would be sure to reach him if you told any one about it. In any
case, do not mention my name. I suppose it is incautious in me to have
said anything before hearing that Ernestine has broken the ice, but I
know that it is quite safe to make an exception in your favour, for
there is no one who keeps a secret so wonderfully. You will not get me
into trouble with Ernestine, I am sure.”

To say that the Princess Amalie was surprised by the little item of
news thus tacked on at the end of her niece’s letter would be wilfully
to understate the case. She was thunderstruck for fully two minutes,
and only recovered owing to the necessity she felt of communicating
the tidings to some one else. As the Princess of Dardania had
remarked, her method of keeping a secret was truly wonderful, but she
was mindful of the injunction not to give her informant’s name, and
tore off the signature carefully from the letter before proceeding in
search of some of her relations, preserving the letter itself in order
to exhibit it as a guarantee of her good faith. As it happened, the
first person she met was the Emperor of Pannonia, and knowing that,
like his brother monarch of Hercynia, he prided himself on the
rigidity with which he maintained the barriers separating the caste to
which he belonged from the lower world, she congratulated herself on
being able to astonish him with her appalling news before it had been
so much as breathed to any one else.

“Why, what is the matter, Tant’ Amalie?” asked the Emperor, as he saw
the old lady approaching him in eager haste, with her cap on one side
and the letter clasped tightly to her bosom. “Has anything happened to
spoil the programme?”

“Oh, my dear cousin, I have received such a shock!” panted Princess
Amalie. “Had you any idea that my niece Ernestine was intending to
marry her Prime Minister--that Englishman, the Mortimer?”

“Oh, come, that’s an old story. Drakovics set it afloat just before
his dismissal, in order to prejudice Count Mortimer in the eyes of the
world. But there was no truth in it. Your brother went to Bellaviste
to inquire into the matter, and was quite satisfied that there was
nothing wrong.”

“My dear cousin, I know all about my brother’s visit to Thracia, and
if there was nothing wrong then, M. Drakovics is all the more to
blame, for he must have put the idea into their heads. I learn now,
from an authority I cannot doubt, that it is probable--almost
certain--that they are married already, but that if this is not the
case, they will marry as soon as Michael comes of age.”

“This is a serious matter, Tant’ Amalie. Who is your informant?”

“My niece--oh, I forgot. I must not give you her name. But I assure
you that she has the best means of knowing the truth.”

“Perhaps you would not object to my seeing her letter?”

Princess Amalie congratulated herself on the foresight which had
prepared her for this demand as she handed over the mutilated letter
without demur. The merest glance at the opposite page showed the
Emperor from whom the news had come, and the discovery gave him no
surprise. Passing from the Princess of Dardania’s description of her
rural life at Praka, he read the important paragraph carefully, and
restored the letter to its owner.

“Now, can you doubt it any longer?” asked the old lady vehemently. “I
know you did not believe me just now--you thought that I was
exaggerating, or had made some mistake--but you see that it is quite
clear. One cannot even give Ernestine the benefit of the doubt. Is it
not shameful?” and the black lace of Princess Amalie’s headgear seemed
to bristle with indignation as she prepared to pass on and denounce
the culprit before a new audience. But the Emperor made no movement to
allow her to leave him.

“I must ask you to spare me a moment longer, Tant’ Amalie. What steps
would you suggest ought to be taken in such a matter as this?”

“Steps, my dear cousin!” The word was far too mild. Princess Amalie
would have expected the Emperor to ask what punishments ought to be
inflicted on the two offenders. “I suppose----” she realised suddenly
that it was not easy at the present day to order a presumptuous
Minister to the block, and hesitated. “Of course you can imprison him
in a fortress,” she said, more confidently, “and deprive Ernestine of
her regency and sentence her to live in retirement. All her family
will support you, I am sure. She, a Princess of Weldart, and willing
to disgrace herself by marrying beneath her!”

“I fear there might be difficulties in the way of executing this
salutary discipline,” said the Emperor, with a perfectly grave face.
“Count Mortimer has relations in high places in England, you see, and
they might think we were going beyond our powers in dealing so
severely with the sovereign and Prime Minister of an independent
state. On the whole, Tant’ Amalie, I think it will be well if you
leave the matter in my hands for the present.”

“You will allow Ernestine to talk you over,” said Princess Amalie
suspiciously.

“You think that the honour of our order is not safe in my hands, I
see. Well, if I promise to associate Sigismund of Hercynia with myself
in the consideration of the matter, will that satisfy you?”

“My dear cousin, I would not presume to doubt you, but I am not
unaware,” and Princess Amalie looked extremely knowing, “what an
effect the sight of a pretty woman in tears produces on the firmness
of most men. Still, if the Emperor Sigismund is with you----”

“You think that no tears would melt him? Well, Tant’ Amalie, is it
settled? You say nothing to any one until we have inquired into the
matter?”

“Not to any one? Oh, nothing in public, of course. But just to one or
two----”

“Absolutely nothing to any one--on pain of my severe displeasure.”

“Of course, if you take that tone, my dear cousin---- But still, I
think I have the right to know something of your reasons----”

“My reason is simple. We do not know that there is any truth in the
story. That they are not married I am perfectly certain, for Mortimer
is far too prudent a man to cut the ground from under his feet by
putting himself so flagrantly in the wrong, and the rest of the tale
may be equally false. Would you subject your niece to the pain and
scandal of such a charge before it is proved to be true?”

“I think that she deserves any humiliation if she can stoop to
contemplate such a misalliance,” was the stout reply.

“But if she is not contemplating any such thing? And even if it should
be true, we must deal with the matter prudently. To stir up
ill-feeling either in England or Thracia is not to be thought of at
this moment. Rest assured, Tant’ Amalie, that the honour of your house
is safe with us, and tell no one what you have told me. Especially do
not answer that letter at present.”

He passed on, leaving the old lady not at all satisfied. The fact of
possessing such a secret and being obliged to keep it hidden was
almost worse than the feeling that Ernestine was escaping so much of
the obloquy which she deserved, but the charge so solemnly given was
not to be disregarded if there was still to be a welcome for Princess
Amalie at the Pannonian Court. This consideration acted effectually in
helping her to preserve the secret, and the wedding and its attendant
festivities passed off without any one’s becoming aware of the matter.
Ernestine and her son were treated with the most marked cordiality by
all the royal personages assembled, and Cyril shared in the favour
accorded to them. He knew the reason for this, and attributed it less
to the personal friendliness of the entertainers than to their desire
to detach Thracia from the possible Balkan Confederation projected by
the Princess of Dardania. For the diplomacy which threw King Michael
continually into the society of the younger members of the Hercynian
Imperial family, however, he saw a further reason, at which he smiled
as one not ill-pleased at his own penetration--a smile which was
reflected on the face of the absent Princess, to whom Ernestine had
written in all innocence that “Sigismund and his wife are so kind to
Michael, and he is continually riding or bicycling with Frederike and
Hermine and their youngest brother, but he says that they are
dreadfully dull, and that Bettine and Lida are worth dozens of them.”

Affairs were in this state when, on the evening preceding the
departure of the royal and imperial guests from the Schloss at Molzau,
Cyril was invited by his friend Baron de la Mothe von Elterthal to
come to his room and talk European politics when every one else had
gone to bed. This request from the Hercynian Chancellor did not
mislead Cyril in the least, and he neither felt nor showed any
surprise when he was conducted by means of a secret staircase from the
Baron’s sitting-room to one on a different floor, and found there the
Emperors of Hercynia and Pannonia and the Grand-Duke of
Schwarzwald-Molzau, who was brother-in-law to one Emperor and cousin
to the other, while their relationships had just been further
complicated by the marriage of his daughter to a Hercynian Prince. The
gathering was evidently intended to be a secret, for the one candle
which lighted the room was placed so as not to throw the shadow of any
of the occupants on the window-blind, and Baron de la Mothe von
Elterthal reconnoitred the passage outside as soon as he had admitted
Cyril, and remained on guard at the door during the whole of the
interview.

“Count,” said the Emperor of Pannonia, “we have requested your
presence here this evening for the purpose of discussing the situation
in the Balkans, especially in so far as it has been affected by recent
events in Dardania. Your position as the faithful friend and servant
of the late King of Thracia, and the way in which you have exercised
the duties of your responsible office during the minority of his son,
entitle you to our fullest confidence and esteem.”

“My late brother,” said the Grand-Duke, as Cyril bowed, “assured me
more than once, Count, that in his opinion you would prove yourself a
most efficient guardian of European peace, and this confidence has not
been misplaced.”

“Come, come,” said the Emperor Sigismund, who had been moving
restlessly in his chair, “we are wasting time. Be good enough to
answer a few questions, Count.”

“At your Majesty’s pleasure,” returned Cyril, resisting an impulse to
bring his heels together with a click and stand at attention, so
vividly did the Emperor’s tone recall that of the drill-sergeant at
Eton long ago.

“You have considered the bearing of the late events in Dardania upon
Balkan politics as a whole, Count?”

“I have, sir.”

“And what, in your opinion, do they foreshadow?”

“The confederation, sir, of the three states under the hegemony of
Dardania.”

“As Premier and Foreign Minister of Thracia, have you taken any steps
towards entering such a confederation, or expressed your willingness
to do so?”

“Neither, sir.”

“Is it your intention to do so in the future? No? Then upon what are
the promoters of this scheme relying as an inducement to Thracia to
join them?”

“If I am to give my candid opinion, sir, they are relying upon the
means which have already proved successful in the case of Mœsia.”

“You mean that a marriage is projected between your sovereign and the
younger daughter of the Prince and Princess of Dardania?”

“That is my impression, sir.”

“Have any steps been taken, either publicly or privately, towards
bringing about this marriage?”

“None, sir, so far as I am aware.”

“It is possible that communications on the subject have been exchanged
without your knowledge?”

“It is possible, sir, but I have purposely refrained from alluding to
the subject in conversation with her Majesty the Queen-Regent. My wish
was to leave myself a free hand in the matter.”

“You were very wise. Purely personal and family arrangements need not
be regarded in such a case. Well, Count, this marriage must not be
allowed to take place.”

“Your Majesty’s opinion is my own.”

“What steps would you suggest as likely to prevent it? Speak freely.”

“In my choice of weapons, sir, I would take a lesson from the enemy.”

“In other words,” said the Emperor of Pannonia, “you would counteract
the plans of the Princess of Dardania by arranging another project of
marriage for the young King. A marriage with whom, Count?”

“With an Imperial Princess of Germanic birth, sir, belonging
preferably to the illustrious Hercynian house.”

“You aim high for your sovereign. Why an Imperial Princess?”

“In order, sir, that the splendour of the alliance may reconcile the
nation to a Queen not belonging to the Orthodox faith.”

“Good!” interrupted the Emperor of Hercynia. “But why a member of my
family?”

“That the complications might be avoided which would arise from the
introduction of a third form of religion into the Thracian Court,
sir.”

“I see,” said the Grand-Duke; “that is well thought of You have
considered the matter on all sides, Count. Have you gone so far as to
think of any particular lady in connection with the subject.”

“Your Royal Highness asks the question merely for form’s sake. The
Princess Frederike of Hercynia alone fulfils all the conditions, so
far as I am aware.”

“Are you making proposals for my daughter’s hand on behalf of your
master, Count?” snapped the Emperor of Hercynia.

“I have no authority to take such a step, sir. My place is merely to
offer the suggestion for which your Majesty asked.”

“He is right,” said the Emperor of Pannonia. “Why should we stand on
ceremony in a secret council such as this? Count Mortimer’s solution
of the difficulty is the same as that which occurred to ourselves, and
provided that the preliminaries are arranged now, everything can be
done in due form later. But, Count, it is important for us to know
whether you can ensure the acceptance of the arrangement by Thracia.
The hand of a Princess of Hercynia must not be made the subject of
factious discussion.”

“I can answer for the acceptance by the country of any measure
proposed by myself, sir, if the precautions I have suggested are
observed. The danger lies in a different direction.”

“You mean that the Princess of Dardania is likely to set herself in
opposition to the scheme? But is it in her power to do any harm?”

“That depends upon our method of procedure, sir. What was your
Majesty’s intention with respect to the settlement of the matter?”

“What course would you recommend, Count?”

“There is no time like the present, sir. My advice would be to arrive
at a distinct understanding with her Majesty the Queen-Regent, and
allow the affair to come to the knowledge of all the royal personages
here before they leave Molzau. No formal announcement could be made as
yet, owing to the youth of both parties, but it would quickly become
known that the marriage was in prospect, and the desired impression
would be produced.”

The Emperor of Pannonia shook his head. “Your advice is excellent,
Count, but the understanding must not become known before the King is
of age. It would appear that the influence of his family had been used
to entrap him into an engagement before he was old enough to judge for
himself. One must pay some heed to popular illusions, even in matters
of state; and you know that in the Princess of Dardania we have to
deal with an unscrupulous woman, who will seize with avidity on any
opportunity that may offer itself for casting odium on the decision at
which we have arrived.”

“This must be as your Majesty pleases, but I fear that the Princess of
Dardania is the only person who will gain by the delay. With the
arrangement once ratified, I should not be afraid to defy her
misrepresentations.”

“The matter is not in your hands, Count,” growled the Emperor of
Hercynia. “My daughter’s marriage cannot be made the talk of Europe.”

Cyril bowed. “May I at least venture to entreat your Majesties to
represent the matter to the Queen-Regent, and show her its importance,
in order that her voice may be entirely on our side in the matter?”

“Nothing shall induce me to entreat my cousin Ernestine to allow her
son to marry my daughter for the sake of European peace,” was the
Emperor’s retort.

“It is unnecessary to parade these family differences,” interrupted
the Emperor of Pannonia. “No, Count; I think you will see that the
suggestion cannot come either from the Emperor Sigismund or myself. It
is for you to represent the matter to Queen Ernestine, and convince
her of its vital importance. If we had not believed you capable of
bringing her to regard it in the desired light, you would not have
been admitted to our private counsels.”

“Your Majesty may rely upon my doing my best, although I fear I shall
be severely handicapped by being obliged to act ostensibly on my own
motion. If even a hint could be given to the Queen----”

“It is impossible, Count. But we leave the matter with confidence in
your hands. And a word in your ear. It has come to our knowledge that
you entertain certain views--or aspirations--the nature of which is at
present immaterial. If this matter of your sovereign’s marriage is
arranged to the satisfaction of all parties concerned, and conducted
with the zeal and promptness for which you are so well known, I can
promise for myself--and also for the Emperor Sigismund and my
brother-in-law--that these plans of yours shall receive the most
sympathetic consideration, and be furthered in so far as the
exigencies of state allow. We should be loth to lose your influence on
the side of peace in the Balkans.”

“I am overwhelmed by your Majesty’s condescension,” was Cyril’s
guarded reply, but as he descended the secret staircase his heart was
beating with unwonted speed. “A bid! a distinct bid for my support!”
he said to himself. “With the two Emperors and the Schwarzwald-Molzaus
on our side, Ernestine and I could face the world without a qualm. How
did they come to know of our little affair, I wonder? Well, it doesn’t
signify--some devilry of Princess Ottilie’s, I suppose. If they will
recognise our marriage, and help me to get the Constitution altered,
so that I can keep my place in Thracia, that is all I want. It would
scarcely look well for me to introduce the Bill to amend the
Constitution myself, though, even after the Powers had given their
consent. Mirkovics could do it, and Ernestine and I would absent
ourselves delicately from the kingdom while it was being discussed,
and take a honeymoon trip. But talk of counting your chickens before
they are hatched! The recognition has to be earned yet, and the
Princess won’t allow me to do it without a big fight, I foresee.
Well---- to the victor the spoils.”



 CHAPTER XXIV.
 A COMBAT _À OUTRANCE_.

“Good morning, ladies! Is her Majesty disengaged at present?”

“Her Majesty will see you, Count, I do not doubt,” and Anna Mirkovics
rose to inquire the Queen’s pleasure.

“You are early, Count,” said the other lady, who was Paula von
Hilfenstein no longer, having married the eldest son of Prince
Mirkovics some seven years before. Her sister-in-law, in spite of the
large fortune she inherited from her mother, was still single, but
more, people said, by reason of her whole-hearted devotion to the
Queen than from any lack of suitors.

“Yes, Princess, I am early; but there are many things to settle.”

“So I should imagine, since the Queen has been seeing people all
morning. You are arranging the details of next week’s festivities, I
suppose? I hope you are allotting plenty of room to us ladies? I have
ordered the most exquisite gowns imaginable from Paris, and it would
be heart-rending to have them crushed.”

“Your wishes are law, Princess, and I will give orders, if you like,
that twice as much space shall be allotted to you as to any of the
other ladies, so that your gowns may be properly displayed. That is
the real secret of your anxiety, is it not?”

“Her Majesty will receive you, Count,” said Anna Mirkovics, returning
and interrupting her colleague’s laughing disclaimer, and Cyril passed
on into Ernestine’s presence. She was sitting in a low chair, looking
white and tired, for the Court had only returned from Molzau the day
before, and there were endless details to be arranged for the
celebration the following week of her son’s attainment of his
majority, but the soft flush which never failed to appear at Cyril’s
approach crept slowly up her cheek as he kissed her hand.

“I know you would not have asked for an interview unless there was
something important to tell me,” she said.

“You are right in supposing my errand to be of importance, but I have
nothing to tell--merely a suggestion to make. I want to speak to you
about your boy’s marriage.”

Ernestine sat upright, and looked at him in dismay. “Michael’s
marriage!” she cried. “But he is only a boy. We need not think of that
for five or six years yet--certainly not for four.”

“We need not under ordinary circumstances, I agree with you. But there
are reasons in the present case which render it advisable----”

“It is absurd, Cyril. I won’t hear of it. Michael is far too young. He
doesn’t know his own mind. He----”

“My dear Ernestine, please hear me out. Nothing could be further from
my mind than to suggest an immediate marriage for him, or even a
definite betrothal. But it is highly desirable that it should be
generally understood that his choice--or our choice for him, if you
like--is fixed.”

“Oh, that is not so bad, of course,” said Ernestine, trying to speak
calmly. “But,” her tone thrilled with anxiety, “upon whom does your
choice fall?”

“On the only possible person, Princess Frederike of Hercynia, your
cousin, the Emperor’s daughter.”

“You know that I detest Sigismund, and don’t care for his wife.
Nothing shall induce me to allow Michael to marry one of their girls.”

“The feeling seems to be mutual,” thought Cyril, remembering his
midnight meeting with the Emperors. “You must not allow your little
differences with your cousin to prejudice you against his children,”
he added aloud. “I made it my business when at Molzau to observe and
find out all I could about the Hercynian Princesses, and I am
convinced that they are most excellent and amiable young people, and
very well brought up.”

“Well brought up!” said Ernestine scornfully. “They are dull,
Cyril--fearfully dull. Michael cannot endure them.”

“That speaks badly for his taste. But as you said just now, he is only
a boy, and doesn’t know his own mind. All we have to do is to bring
him in contact with Princess Frederike in due time, and propinquity
will do the rest.”

“I wish you would not talk like that. I tell you it is impossible.
Michael must be allowed to choose for himself.”

“You don’t seem to perceive that by my plan he will choose for
himself--as far as any monarch can. You would not wish him to choose a
shop-girl or a village maiden, I presume? Try to look at it sensibly,
Ernestine. There need be no fuss and no difficulty. Your cousin will
write to congratulate you on your son’s coming of age, of course. In
your answer, you hint that it is your hope that your families may one
day be more nearly connected, and you make the same remark to the
Hercynian Envoy when he presents the Emperor’s letter. It is merely
the expression of a pious wish on your part--doesn’t even bind you if
Michael turns rusty when he gets older, but it tides over this crisis,
and makes a good impression. Why, in the name of all that is
unreasonable, should you hang back?”

“Because--oh, I must tell you--because my cousin Ottilie and I have
arranged for years that he is to marry her daughter Lida. There, you
know the truth now!”

“And how long has this beautiful arrangement been in force?” Nothing
in Cyril’s tone showed that he had suspected its existence for a long
time past.

“Since Michael was three years old. We were at Tatarjé at the
time--it was before you and I became friends--and we determined to
bring them up together as far as possible, that they might really
learn to know one another.”

“And so this is the explanation of all the running wild in woods, and
so on?” said Cyril indulgently. “Upon my word! it’s a very pretty
idea, Ernestine. Pity that it’s so utterly out of the question.”

“Out of the question! Cyril, I have promised Ottilie. It is to be.”

“Oh, indeed, and what becomes of Michael’s youth, and the
impossibility of his knowing his own mind, and so on? It seems to me
that you are trying to pin him down pretty strictly to one young
lady.”

“It is quite in a different way. They have been destined for each
other nearly all their lives.” (“Probably quite all, by Princess
Ottilie,” interjected Cyril, _sotto voce_.) “You cannot say that I
have entered into the arrangement upon impulse. I was sacrificed in
marriage to political considerations, and I determined solemnly that
my son’s life should not be spoilt in the same way. You helped to
sacrifice me, and that is why I cannot accept your advice about
Michael. He shall make his own choice, and fall in love properly with
the girl he is to marry.”

“But how are you going to make him fall in love with Princess Lida? It
is the last idea that would come into his head after their having been
brought up together like brother and sister. More probably he will
fall in love with some maid of honour old enough to be his aunt.”

“Cyril, what a coarse thing to say!” Ernestine spoke with chilling
disapproval, but it was evident that the shaft had gone home, and
Cyril improved his opportunity before she had time to recover herself.

“I know you don’t like it if I venture to say a word against your
cousin, Ernestine, but at the risk of displeasing you I must tell you
this. She is the champion intriguer of Europe, and this projected
marriage is merely the finishing touch to her schemes for bringing the
whole of the Balkan States under the control of members of her family.
She has almost succeeded in plunging the Powers into war already, by
the annexation of Rhodope and the betrothal of her elder daughter to
young Albrecht of Mœsia, and for years she has been trying to
alienate Michael from you and attach him to herself in order to ensure
the success of her plans--a success which would in all probability
lead at once to the Great War.”

Ernestine sat silent, with the tears rolling down her face. Ottilie’s
schemes and their probable result had never been presented to her so
baldly before, although an inkling of their nature had forced itself
into her mind. But even now, taken at a disadvantage as she was, she
refused to yield her point.

“It is very dreadful, Cyril, and perhaps if I had known it all at the
time, I would not have entered into the compact. But Michael and Lida
shall not be sacrificed now. I will not break the children’s hearts.”

“My dear Ernestine, pray remember their youth. As you said, it is
impossible that Michael can have fixed his heart on her as yet.
Unless--surely you have not put the idea into his head?”

“No, indeed. We wanted it all to be quite natural and unprompted. They
were to grow up together, and drift into love gently.”

“Well, then, the current must be diverted into another channel, that
is all. There need be no difficulty about it. When I am gone, send for
your boy, and talk to him about next week. Oh, you know the kind of
talk I mean. What do women say on such occasions? Then when you have
got him into a suitably softened frame of mind, just let out how happy
it would make you if you thought he would one day bring home a bride
from Hercynia----”

“But it would not. It would make me miserable.”

“If it preserved the peace of Europe, and thwarted your cousin’s
ambitious schemes? Besides, Ernestine, this affair has a further
significance for us. If we can spoil the Princess of Dardania’s great
plan, the Emperors will look kindly upon our marriage.”

“You expect me to sell my son as the price of my own happiness?”

“No, I don’t. I know you far too well to expect you to do anything so
businesslike. But what is the good of our rubbing each other the wrong
way like this? Think of me a little, even if the prospect offers no
temptation to you. Won’t you allow that to find all I have worked for
suddenly within my reach is a thing to tempt a man? I don’t ask you to
force your son’s inclination--only to let him know which way your
wishes turn. Is that so very much to do for me? I do not often ask a
favour from you.”

“No; but when you do they are so very hard to grant. Still, I will
moot the matter to Michael, as you wish it so much, Cyril. It cannot
well do any harm. But I must wait until he returns from Praka.”

“You don’t mean to say that he is at Praka now? I thought he came home
with you, and was in the Palace.”

“No; we separated at Witska, and I came on without him. He wanted to
see his cousins again, and besides, he heard that Ottilie had been
slighted in some way with regard to the invitation to Molzau, and
nothing would satisfy him but going to sympathise with her.”

“This is very bad, Ernestine.” Cyril was seriously disturbed. “If your
cousin’s suspicions are aroused as to anything that passed at Molzau,
she is quite capable of ruining our plans. You must telegraph to
Michael immediately, and desire him to return without delay. I would
advise you to send Pavlovics and some of his suite to fetch him--for
he is getting too old to be running about the country with only a
servant or two--but the Princess might get wind of our intentions and
forestall us.”

“But even if Michael is heart-whole, Cyril, and does not object to the
idea of marrying Frederike in the course of time, what about Ottilie?
How can I ever explain the change to her? And there is no explanation.
I am simply breaking my solemn promise.”

“Refer her Royal Highness to me, if you like. We are old
acquaintances, and I may be able to remind her of a promise or two
that she has herself broken. Lay the blame on Europe, tell her that
you object to the honour of being one of the causes of the Great
War--but send for your son at once.”

“I will. The telegram shall go immediately.”

The Queen kept her word, without taking any one into her counsels; yet
only an hour or so later a second telegram left Bellaviste, also for
Praka, but addressed to the Princess of Dardania. The contents were in
cipher, and translated, read thus:--


 “Mortimer had long private interview this morning with Queen, who was
 afterwards observed to have been weeping. A message of recall was
 despatched to King instantly on M.’s departure. Be on your guard.

                                                           /D/.”


The Princess of Dardania received this missive early in the afternoon.
When she had read it, she glanced sharply at the telegram addressed to
King Michael, which was lying on her writing-table awaiting his
return. The young people had started out in the morning for a picnic,
chaperoned by an elderly lady-in-waiting and Princess Lida’s French
governess, and the Princess was to meet them with tea at a point
agreed upon on their homeward way. As she realised the situation she
stretched out her hand towards Ernestine’s telegram, but withdrew it
again quickly.

“No, there is no need,” she said to herself. “Drakovics has given me
all the information I require, and Ernestine will not attempt an
explanation in a telegram. But I think, my dear Michael, that on the
whole it will be as well for you not to receive your mother’s message
until you return here.”

It was not, therefore, until the picnic-party had reached the villa
again that the Princess informed King Michael casually that there was
a telegram waiting for him. Before going out she had placed the
envelope in the hall, so that it might appear to have arrived during
her absence, and she passed on into her sitting-room as she spoke. She
was still standing by the table and taking off her gloves when the
door was flung open, and King Michael burst in.

“Tant’ Ottilie, my mother wants me to go home at once. She says there
are so many things to arrange which she can’t settle without me. And I
have only been here one day, and not seen you a bit. It’s
shameful--intolerable!”

“Why, Michael, you ought to feel flattered that your mother can’t do
without you. It seems very hard that you should be obliged to leave so
soon, just when Lida and Bettine had been planning so many delightful
excursions, too; but then----”

“I’m not going. My mother doesn’t really want me. She has Count
Mortimer to help her with all her fads----”

“Oh, hush, my dear boy! I can’t allow you to speak of your mother in
that way, nor can I keep you here when she sends for you. It would
appear that I was encouraging you in disobedience. But it is quite
evident that it is too late to start to-night, so telegraph to say
that you will leave by the nine o’clock train in the morning. And I
have a plan. I will come to Bellaviste with you, for I am not
satisfied about the decorations I have ordered for the villa next
week. I want this house to testify--even though we are away--how much
we love our dear Michael and rejoice in his coming to his own, and
therefore I must go and see how the devices look before they are quite
finished. But don’t tell your mother I am coming. It will be a little
surprise for her.”

“When I am really King, I shall stay here as much as I like,” grumbled
the boy, moving unwillingly to the door; but as he reached it he found
the Princess’s eyes fixed sadly upon him. “Tant’ Ottilie!” he cried,
rushing back to her, “what is the matter? Why do you look so sad?”

“Dear Michael, it is nothing--merely that it grieves me to lose you
again so soon,” but again and again during the evening King Michael
found that fixed, sorrowful gaze upon him. As Cyril had remarked three
years before, he cared as yet far more for the Princess of Dardania
than for her daughter, and her evident sadness made him miserable. Not
until the next morning, however, did an opportunity of asking an
explanation offer itself, but as soon as the Princess and he were
established in the royal saloon for the journey to Bellaviste, and the
attendants dismissed to their separate car, he recurred to the subject
immediately.

“Oh, Tant’ Ottilie, tell me what it is that makes you so unhappy. I
cannot bear you to look sad. Is it anything that I have done?”

“Dear Michael, no. Will you not believe me when I assure you that it
is only sorrow at losing you? It is like losing one of my own
sons--almost as bad as when Kazimir first went to join the Scythian
army.”

“But that was for such a long time, and I shall come back as soon as
ever all the fuss is over. You don’t imagine that I would let anything
keep me away?”

“My dear boy, you will not find yourself your own master then any more
than you are now--in fact, you will have even less time at your
disposal. No, we have been very happy, but we must learn to look upon
that particular kind of happiness as past and gone for us.”

“Tant’ Ottilie, how can you say such things? I shall almost live
here.”

“I am afraid Count Mortimer will have something to say to that.”

“Count Mortimer? What has he to do with it? Surely,” as a thought
occurred to him, “you don’t think that it was through him that my
mother sent for me home?”

“It looks very like it. She made no objection to your coming--did she?
but as soon as she has had time to consult Count Mortimer, she recalls
you.”

“It’s too bad. But after next week he shall see whether I----”

“Oh, no insubordination, Michael, please! But come and look out of
this window. We shall pass the villa in a moment, and you will like to
have a last look at it.”

“It is not my last look. It shall not be. Oh, there are the girls!”

Yes, there they were, standing on the terrace which bounded the
grounds of the villa on this side, Princess Bettine demure and
dignified--she had cultivated dignity largely since her betrothal had
conferred upon her the distinction of being a kind of modern Helen,
whose charms were not unlikely to plunge Europe into war--and Princess
Lida leaning forward and supporting herself by the branch of a tree as
she waved her handkerchief vigorously.

“I am glad they came to see you off,” said the Princess, adding with a
sigh, “you will never meet them quite on the same footing again,
Michael.”

“Oh, why is everything so horribly mysterious and doleful, Tant’
Ottilie? You talk as if things were all going to be different now, and
Lida is just as bad. She ran away when I wanted to say good-bye to
her, and wouldn’t let me kiss her, and was as crotchety as she could
be.”

“Michael, you are not in earnest? Oh, my poor innocent child, am I too
late? No, no, don’t mind what I say, Michael. Forget it--promise me
you will forget it. Promise faithfully to banish it from your mind,
dear boy.”

“Of course I promise, if you wish it, Tant’ Ottilie,” replied the
King, a good deal astonished, but the Princess did not appear to be
satisfied.

“I ought to have thought of this. How could I be so culpably blind?
But she is so young--it seemed quite safe. Poor little Lida! you will
have to learn your lesson early. And Bettine is so thoroughly happy!”

“What _do_ you mean, Tant’ Ottilie?” asked the puzzled boy. “Is any
one unkind to Lida? I daresay she will feel lonely just at first when
Bettine is married, but I shall come very often, and----”

“My dear Michael, you don’t understand anything about it. You are far
too young--but Lida is younger, and she---- Oh, it is hard for her to
be sacrificed at her age! But I blame myself. Your mother was wiser.
She saw that mischief might happen, when I only thought of you all as
children together. But I am punished. If only Lida had not to suffer
for my blindness!”

“But she shall not suffer!” cried King Michael. “What is the matter
with her? You are not going to send her to Scythia, like Kazimir?”

“Into the army, I suppose? No, Michael; your path and Lida’s will lie
very far apart in future. The thought of her suffering need not
trouble you; you will know little about her, and care less. You will
marry one of the Hercynian Princesses, and live an exemplary domestic
life----”

“What! one of those girls with the light-blue eyes and the hair like
tow? No, thank you, Tant’ Ottilie. I had as soon marry a doll.”

“My dear boy, you will marry the wife who is chosen for you, without
reference to your tastes, and she will not approve of your running
down to Praka every now and then. So we shall be left without you, and
I shall lose Bettine, and then I suppose Lida will go, for she too
must learn, poor child, that with kings and princesses marriage is an
affair not of love but of state, no matter what illusions one may have
cherished in one’s youth----”

“Look here, Tant’ Ottilie. I have an idea. Why shouldn’t I marry
Lida?--when we’re grown up, I mean, of course. It would be better than
Frederike or Hermine, at any rate, and we need not do it for a good
long time.”

The manner of the proposal was not flattering, but the boy’s face was
suffused with an honest blush, and the Princess could have kissed him
there and then. Yet her response was not encouraging.

“My dear boy, you must not think of such a thing! Count Mortimer--I
mean, of course, your mother--would never allow it. And pray don’t
breathe such an idea to any one. It would be said that I had taken
advantage of your stay with us to entrap you into marrying my
daughter.”

“But I could swear you didn’t. You never even suggested the idea, much
less mentioned the word. So if you were thinking of making Lida marry
some prince who would be unkind to her, and that is what was making
you miserable, you can feel that it’s all right now. I suppose that I
shall have to marry some one, and I’ll marry her some day.”

“Your views are charmingly naïve, dear boy. It doesn’t seem to have
occurred to you that Count Mortimer is the person who will choose your
wife for you. I daresay he has everything arranged already.”

“Then he will have arranged it in vain. I hate the fellow,--he twists
my mother round his little finger, but he shan’t get hold of me. I
know too much for him, thanks to hearing you talk, Tant’ Ottilie, and
if he expects to have me under his thumb, as he has my mother--why,
he’s mistaken, that’s all.”

“Ah, but you don’t realise, Michael, that Count Mortimer is a very
important person. Thracia would fall to pieces if he were not at the
helm, and you must be prepared to make any sacrifices to keep him in
office.”

“But look what a pull that gives him over us! No, Tant’ Ottilie, it
will be the other way about after next week. Count Mortimer will have
to make the sacrifices if he means to hold office under me.”

“Why, Michael, you are quite a youthful Cromwell! But I must warn you
that Count Mortimer will make no concessions.”

“Don’t you see that’s exactly what I want? He will have to go then.
Why, it makes me want to marry Lida just because I know it will mean
getting rid of him. How I hate that smooth, cynical manner of his, as
if he were worlds above me! He has done nothing but try to thwart and
restrain me all my life, and my mother would have let him have his
way. It was you who opened my eyes and helped me to get the better of
him.”

“No, my dear boy, I am sure you are mistaken in thinking that I ever
spoke against the Premier in your hearing, or encouraged you to oppose
him. You may possibly have heard me lament the extraordinary and
pernicious influence he exercises over your dear mother, or remark
upon the unconstitutional way in which he uses the power he won by
such peculiar means. But you drew your own conclusions, and I have
merely done my best to protect you against the worst results of his
system of training.”

“Very well, Tant’ Ottilie. It comes to much the same thing, after all,
and that is, that he goes at the first opportunity.”

“I fancy that you will have to reckon with your mother there,
Michael.”

“My mother? But when he is gone he will have no more influence over
her, and she will not oppose my marrying to please myself.”

“But will she let him go? I am certainly not the person to speak
against love-matches, Michael, for my own marriage was a shining
example, and I fancy your mother would agree with me in any case but
yours, especially----”

“But what in the world have my mother’s views on love-matches to do
with Count Mortimer?” asked the boy, bewildered by what seemed to him
the sudden change of subject. “Do you call Lida’s and mine a
love-match?”

“Of course.” The Princess was not disturbed by her prospective
son-in-law’s undisguised amusement at the idea. “What else could it
be? But if you don’t see the connection which led me to say what I
did, you must not expect me to enlighten you. I am the very last
person to do so.”

“What do you mean, Tant’ Ottilie? What are you hinting at? I will
know. Don’t sit there and look mysterious, but tell me.”

The Princess opened her firmly closed lips. “My dear Michael, if you
are so happy as not to have noticed what every one in the Court knows
and every one in the country has heard, it is certainly not for me to
destroy your paradise.”

“It would make me unhappy, then? Something about my mother? Tant’
Ottilie, you cannot say that--that she has done anything wrong?”

“Far from it, my dear boy. At the worst it can only be called an
amiable indiscretion. Oh no, there is nothing wrong--but I fear you
will scarcely be charitable enough to say so when you are invited to
receive Count Mortimer as----”

“As what? I insist on knowing.”

“My dear boy, you quite frighten me. As a stepfather, then, if you
must be told.”

“My mother intends to put that upstart in my father’s place?”

“That she can scarcely do, but she intends to marry him.”

“She shall not do it. I will have him killed first.”

“Calm yourself, Michael.” The Princess was a little alarmed by the
storm she had raised, and she drew the boy down upon the seat beside
her, and laid her soft hand on his clenched fist. “You must make
allowances for your mother,” she went on. “When she was left a widow,
Count Mortimer occupied a high position in the Court. He made himself
useful to her, and worked his way into her confidence. When those
Tatarjé difficulties arose, he was able to make it appear that he had
rendered her very important services. Your mother was young and
impressionable, and very lonely. If she had had a father or brother at
hand to advise her--if even I had known what was going on, she would
have been held back from the rash step she took. But it so happened
that she had no relations near her at the time, and she engaged
herself privately to him.”

“And married him?”

“No; I think it is safe to say that they are not married.”

“Then it is not too late. I am here to save her. She must be protected
against herself. The fellow shall go in no time.”

“My dear Michael, you must be careful. Count Mortimer has not been
Premier for eleven years without knowing how to entrench himself in
his position. He is hand and glove with the Three Powers, and to
dismiss him precipitately might lead to very disastrous consequences,
besides blazoning abroad the whole matter, which is the last thing one
would wish to do. Decidedly you must not give such a reason for
dismissing him--and yet it would not do to dismiss him without a
reason.”

“I have my reasons--I hate him, and he would oppose my marriage with
Lida, and he has the presumption to wish to marry my mother--but I
need not give them.”

“You must give some reason, my dear boy. But if possible let it spring
out of some misconduct on Count Mortimer’s own part. If only he were
Finance Minister, one might produce evidence of peculation; but as
Minister of Foreign Affairs, all we can do is to suggest that he has
entered into secret understandings with other States. If the Three
Powers once come to believe that he has had dealings with Scythia,
they will be only too anxious to throw him over; and even if we could
not furnish any direct evidence after all, a suspicion of that kind
never quite dies away.”

“I see; you mean to disgrace him as well as get rid of him? That will
suit me all right. I believe you hate him as much as I do. But you
will help me, Tant’ Ottilie? I don’t quite see how I could carry the
thing through alone.”

“Help you, dear boy? of course. But tell me first; you are sure that
you really love Lida?”

“Of course I do. You said so yourself. Should I want to marry her if I
didn’t?” was the unanswerable rejoinder, and the Princess forbore to
press the question further.

“Leave everything to me just at present, Michael, and do not appear to
have discovered your mother’s secret. I shall try to persuade her to
consent to your marriage first. After that, we must take other
measures.”

Having attained her various objects in starting the conversation, she
said no more, leaving the boy to brood over his discoveries. She had
succeeded beyond her utmost expectations in rousing him to the two
emotions of love and hate, and now her only fear was lest a chance
interview with his mother or with Cyril should lead to an explosion
before she had had time to prepare her ground. It was evident that the
campaign must be opened quickly on her side if she was not to find her
movements anticipated. Her plans were soon laid, and when she met
Ernestine, without appearing to notice the start of dismay with which
her unexpected arrival was greeted, she whispered as she advanced to
kiss her--

“I must have a nice long talk with you to-night, darling Nestchen. I
have such sweet, delightful news to give you.”

Princess Ottilie as a sentimentalist was appearing in a new character,
and Ernestine felt a thrill of alarm when she heard her words; but
with the conviction that it would be of no avail to defer the evil
day, she granted the private interview which her cousin had asked for.

“I do not know when I have felt so happy!” said the Princess, when she
had sent her maid away, and she and Ernestine were facing one another
in the rose-tinted light of her dressing-room. “Even when dear
Albrecht came to tell me that he loved Bettine, I could not feel such
complete satisfaction as I do to-day, for you and I have always been
such close friends, and it is so thoroughly suitable that our children
should---- But how I am running on! Well, Nestchen, our children
understand one another. Dearest Michael confessed his love to me
to-day--quite without any prompting on my part--and as for my Lida, I
have known her innocent little secret for a long time. Is it not
delightful that all should have fallen out exactly as we planned?”

Ernestine was sitting very straight in her chair, and her face looked
drawn and ghastly in the soft light. “But, Ottilie----” she said, with
a sort of gasp.

“What, Ernestine?” cried the Princess. “You don’t mean me to
understand that you have changed your mind? You have never even hinted
at such a thing.”

“I have not changed my mind,” said Ernestine, speaking with
difficulty, “but I wish this had happened two days ago or not at all.”

“I must insist on knowing what you mean, Ernestine. My daughter’s
happiness is at stake--which seems to be more to me than your son’s
happiness is to you.”

“My son’s happiness is of the very highest importance to me, Ottilie.
Your news comes as a shock, because only yesterday morning I was told,
by one in whom I have every confidence, that it was impossible, for
political reasons, for the marriage to which we have both been looking
forward to take place.”

“And you imagine that I shall be content to sacrifice my child to the
opinion of some anonymous busybody? But no--I know only too well who
your sapient adviser is. It is Count Mortimer.”

“You are right. It was Count Mortimer.”

“Of course it was. I knew that only to your lover would you dream of
sacrificing your child.”

“Are you mad, Ottilie? How dare you say such a thing to me?”

“Because it is true. Deny that he is your lover, if you can--a fact
that everybody knows.”

“I have no wish to deny it. I do love Count Mortimer, and I am proud
to say that he loves me.”

“And to please him you will sacrifice your son? Are you proud to say
that?”

“There is no question of sacrificing him. What you have told me has
put a new complexion on affairs, and it will be necessary to modify
any other plans we may have had in view. You are the last person to
suggest that I am likely to sacrifice Michael’s happiness, Ottilie.
For years I have sacrificed myself in allowing him to spend every
spare hour of his time with you, because it seemed to make him happier
than keeping him at home.”

“Or because it allowed you to enjoy more of the society of your
lover?”

“I do not wish to quarrel with you, Ottilie, but your tone is
exceedingly strange.”

“Yes, it is strange, is it not, when my Lida’s happiness is wavering
in the balance? I don’t know whether you expect me to acquiesce
meekly, Ernestine, when in one moment you spring on me your
determination to upset the arrangement which was entered into at your
own suggestion, and towards which we have been working ever since.
Unfortunately I care more for the broken hearts of those poor children
than for the success of Count Mortimer’s projects of
self-advertisement.”

“I should be glad if you would remember that you are speaking--as you
have mentioned once or twice--of the man I love. As I said just now, I
shall tell Count Mortimer what you have told me, and inform him that
the original scheme must be carried out.”

“And when he pooh-poohs the whole affair--declares that the children
are babies, and that the peace of Europe (oh, I know his ways) is not
to be imperilled for the sake of giving them what they cry for--what
then? Do you think I don’t know that he will talk you over in five
minutes, and that you will agree with everything he proposes, wiping
away a tear to the memory of the love-story you have ended so
cruelly?”

“I must beg of you to leave the matter with me, Ottilie,” said the
Queen, rising and going towards the door. “I have confidence in Count
Mortimer, if you have not, and I feel sure that he will find a way of
settling things happily.”

“Wait, Ernestine!” cried the Princess, crossing the room and putting
her hand on the door. “Things would be settled happily for you and
him, no doubt, but what about Lida and me? No settlement devised by
Count Mortimer would ever prove favourable to my daughter. He will
laugh at your scruples, and bring you round to his own way of
thinking--or if you should venture to hold out, he would proceed with
his plans without reference to you. And do you think that I am going
to allow you to sue humbly to such a man in my name, entreating that
my daughter shall be permitted to marry your son? No; put things on
the right footing at once. It is not Count Mortimer who is master of
the situation--it is myself. I hold the winning card, and that is
Michael. There is less than a week now before he comes of age, and if
Count Mortimer succeeds in obtaining for him in that time the promise
of the hand of Frederike of Hercynia, he will repudiate the
arrangement as soon as he is his own master. Then your friend must
resign, disgraced before all Europe. If he is unwilling to face the
prospect, he must give the lie to the whole of his past policy, and
accept Lida as his future Queen. That is the choice you have to offer
him--a surrender to Michael, and to me, or political ruin.”

“Ottilie,” said the Queen, looking at her in agony, “be merciful. I
cannot take him such a message. I love him.”

“Then leave him to discover the alternatives for himself. It will only
make his ruin all the surer. He can find no third course. For any
other man I would have built a golden bridge--enabled him to make his
escape with some remnants of dignity--but for him I have no pity.”

“But what has he done to you, Ottilie? His plan to marry you to his
brother failed.”

“Yes; but how did he accept his failure? He insulted me in a way that
I shall never forgive. It was the evening of our wedding--the ceremony
was just over--and this wretch Mortimer approached Alexis and myself
under pretence of offering his congratulations. Every word was an
insult, though veiled under the form of politeness. He ventured--he
even ventured--to warn Alexis that I should probably prove unfaithful
to him. ‘She has deceived her father, and may thee,’ were his words.
Alexis did not perceive the drift of the remark, but if I had had a
dagger at hand----! I smiled then, but afterwards I vowed that he
should pay dearly for the outrage; and now the time for payment has
come.”

“But why through me? It is too cruel. Why do not you tell him? But no;
at least I can save him from that bitter tongue of yours by telling
him myself.”

“Yes, and see how he will regard you afterwards. I wish he loved you,
Ernestine--as you love him, poor silly child!--that he might suffer
more, but you are nothing but an item in his plans. He has made use of
you to work his way to power, he is using you now to recommend himself
to the Emperors, and when you prove unable to help him to mount any
higher, he will kick you aside. You are of no use to him unless you
represent success.”

“Please let me pass, Ottilie,” said the Queen coldly, her calmness
restored. “Your calumnies against Count Mortimer are worthy of
yourself; I will say no more. As I had decided, I shall see Michael
first and question him, and then communicate the situation to Count
Mortimer, and ascertain his views.”

It was not until noon of the next day that Ernestine succeeded in
obtaining an interview with her son, and in this her cousin
anticipated her. King Michael entered his mother’s room armed at all
points, and the sight of his sullen, determined face gave Ernestine a
strange pang, bringing back, as it did, the first year of her unhappy
married life. One day, as she was quitting the room in outraged
dignity after a violent quarrel with her husband, she had chanced to
catch a glimpse of herself in the great mirror she was passing, and
the look which had met her then was repeated now in the face so like
her own. After all, for much that was amiss in Michael’s character the
blame was hers, and the thought gave a sudden softness to her voice as
she stretched out her hand to the boy.

“Come and sit here beside me, little son.” The endearing diminutive
came naturally to her lips, although King Michael was as tall as
herself. “I have scarcely had a word with you yet. What is this that I
hear about Lida?”

“I love Lida, and I am going to marry her,” was the answer, as King
Michael declined the proffered seat, and stood leaning against the
mantelpiece, glowering at his mother with wrathful eyes.

“You are sure that you really love her, Michael?”

“Of course I am. I can’t tell why you should think I don’t know my own
mind. If I didn’t love her, why should I want to marry her?”

The plea did not sound as irresistible to Ernestine as it had done to
her cousin, but she betrayed no impatience. “I don’t want to appear to
cast a doubt on the sincerity of your love, dear boy,” she said,
without showing any resentment at his tone, “but you know that it is
not with kings as with ordinary men--there are so many things to think
of. If you marry Lida, it will mean that some important changes have
to be made, and perhaps some sacrifices. I don’t grudge making
sacrifices for my boy--I think you know that, Michael?”

A dogged silence was the only answer, and she went on, “I have given
you up so much of late years, Michael, that perhaps you scarcely
realise how much it has cost me to do it. It never struck you, did it,
when you were at Praka or Bashi Konak with your cousins, how lonely I
was here? But you were so happy with them that I had not the heart to
keep you in this dull place with no one to play with. No, dear, I
don’t shrink from any sacrifice for your sake, but I want to be sure
that it will not be wasted.”

“I shall never marry any one but Lida,” responded the boy gruffly.
“Everything that I like is connected with her--Tant’ Ottilie, and
going to Praka, and getting away from ceremony and fuss. I can’t give
her up.”

“I am not asking you to give her up, dear boy. If you are sure you
love her, I will speak to Count Mortimer, and ask him to make the
proper arrangements, though I shall be left more lonely than ever.”

“I am sorry,” said King Michael awkwardly, kissing his mother on the
forehead, “but I love her too much to give her up. And, little
mother”--the words came with a rush--“you have been so kind about it,
I’ll not say anything against your--your settling things with that
fellow Mortimer.”

And the King departed in haste, as though fearing that he had
compromised himself by his impulsive generosity, and left his mother
to face the worst ordeal of all--her interview with Cyril. He arrived
not long after King Michael had left the room, and found Ernestine
sitting idle, with her hands locked together. She looked at him almost
fearfully as he approached her.

“Cyril,” she said in a half-whisper, “I have something to tell you
that you will be sorry to hear. Michael and Lida of Dardania are in
love with one another.”

“Then it is the Princess’s doing, and nothing else, for any one could
see that they had no thought of anything of the kind before.”

“I don’t know how it happened, but it is too late to stop it now.”

“Too late, my dear Ernestine! A boy of sixteen and a girl of fifteen!
I will undertake to put a stop to it in no time.”

“But, Cyril, you must not. I cannot allow that.”

“Not allow it? Surely you have forgotten that I explained to you the
other day that such a marriage was out of the question?”

“So we thought at the time, but this alters everything. We must think
of some way in which things can be arranged satisfactorily.”

“But it is impossible. No arrangement could be satisfactory which
would give the Princess of Dardania a pretext for interfering in our
affairs. Besides, the whole balance of power would be upset.”

“You will be able to devise some scheme which will put things right.
You are so skilful; I am depending on you.”

“My scheme is simply to pack Michael off to Vienna as soon as all the
fuss next week is over. He has never seen any girls but his cousins,
and you will find very soon that there is safety in numbers. I would
take him to Paris myself, if it was safe to leave the kingdom for so
long. That would cure him very quickly of his calf-love, but Vienna is
the next best place.”

“But you don’t seem to understand, Cyril, and yet I told you only two
days ago that it was a matter of conscience with me not to thwart
Michael in an affair of this kind. I suppose I can’t make you see it
quite as I do, but it always seems to me”--her voice faltered--“as if
in this way I could make a sort of atonement for the way in which I
treated his father. I daresay it sounds very foolish and illogical to
you,” as Cyril’s lip curled, “but if I could feel that Michael’s
married life, at any rate, was likely to be a happy one, it would not
seem as if our unhappy marriage was to go on causing unhappiness to
generation after generation.”

“Let me beg of you to look at things from a common-sense point of
view, Ernestine. Your husband would have been the last to wish the
good of Thracia to be sacrificed for a foolish fancy about making
atonement to him.”

“I knew you would not see what I meant. But still, Cyril, even if
change and distraction helped Michael to get over his trouble, as you
suggest, I should never forgive myself for allowing poor little Lida
to be cast aside. No; I have often heard you say that when a
misfortune is irremediable, the only sensible thing to do is to accept
the situation and start afresh from it.”

“But when the situation is absolutely impossible, what then?”

“But it can’t be, if you accept it. I thought you might perhaps
arrange a compact with Ottilie, that the wedding should not take place
for five years, until Michael is twenty-one, and that during that time
she should not make any attempt to interfere in Thracian affairs, or
to prejudice Michael against you. What do you think?”

“Truly excellent, if the wit of man can devise any possible means of
making the Princess of Dardania keep a promise which it suits her to
break. And what about breaking faith with the Emperors, and reversing
the policy which I have laboured for twelve years to establish? Have
women no idea of political morality, of duty to the country? Can you
in cold blood imagine that I am likely to hand over Thracia, bound, to
Scythia, after all I have done to strengthen her independence and give
her a voice among the Powers?”

“But she says you have no choice,” faltered Ernestine.

“Who says?--the Princess of Dardania? That was the secret of your
anxiety for me in your suggested compromise, was it? What is the
dilemma into which she hopes to force me?”

“She said that you must either reverse your policy and allow Michael
to marry Lida, or oppose him for a week and then be dismissed--that
there was no alternative. She says Michael will do what she tells
him.”

“No doubt. But she is a little out in her calculations. There is
another alternative, and it is in your hands. It lies with you to save
the situation, Ernestine. Refuse your consent to the marriage. Break
with the Princess openly, and take measures to remove Michael from her
influence. Your family and the Schwarzwald-Molzaus will back you up,
and the Emperors will see fair play.”

“But I have told you I cannot do it, Cyril. I cannot break the
children’s hearts.”

“No one wishes you to break their hearts. All that you have to do is
gently to guide their vagrant fancies into the right direction. In so
doing you will checkmate the Princess and rescue Michael from her
clutches. He will see the world a little, and come back to you free
from the trammels of his adoration for her; and she, like a wise
woman, will have found another match for Princess Lida. Come, I’ll
undertake to pull the matter through. You understand? You must do it.”

“Cyril, I can’t. The thought of the children’s misery would haunt me
ever after.”

“Nonsense! Michael will be the first to thank you when he is settled
down with a quiet, good-tempered girl as a wife, instead of the pretty
little intriguer whom your cousin has so carefully trained up to
follow in her own footsteps. As for the girl, there is no heart on her
side of the question. She is simply doing as her mother tells her.
This is not a matter of choice, Ernestine. You must do as I advise
you, and there is no time for thinking about it.”

“Oh, Cyril, wait!” She came close to him, and laid her hands on his
arm. “I cannot do it; I am pledged both to Michael and Ottilie. I
would save you if I could, but not in this way--anything but this.
Explain to the Emperors how the matter stands, and resign at once.
Then I will marry you next week, and we will leave Thracia--leave
Michael to be happy. If you will give up office for me, I will give
him up for you--if I can do it knowing that all is well with him. We
love each other; we will live somewhere quietly, and forget politics.
Am I not enough for you?”

“Good heavens, Ernestine, you would drive a man mad! Well, if you must
have an answer, you are not enough, if Thracia has to be left to the
Princess and to Scythia, and all my work undone.”

“Cyril, I have obeyed you, yielded to you, given up so much for you
already. Give up this for me.”

“It is impossible, Ernestine. You must choose between your boy and
me.”



 CHAPTER XXV.
 TO THE VICTOR THE SPOILS.

“Will your Excellency be pleased to see the Baroness von
Hilfenstein?”

“Certainly, Paschics. I will go to the carriage to meet her.”

But the Baroness was already standing in the hall, to the discomfiture
of Paschics, who felt that he had erred in not escorting her up the
steps. She accepted his hurried apology graciously, however, and
passed on with Cyril into his private office. It was the day following
that on which Cyril had delivered his ultimatum to Ernestine.

“I am the bearer of a message from her Majesty, Count,” said the
Baroness, when she was satisfied that they could not be overheard. “My
daughter had offered to bring it; but one cannot be too careful in
questions of etiquette, and Prince Boris is extremely particular.”

This was no exaggeration, for Boris Mirkovics was commonly reported to
be the most jealous husband in Thracia, although his pretty wife made
the best of things by affecting to regard the feeling as a compliment;
and Cyril was grateful to the Baroness for saving him from a possible
complication in that quarter. His patience was sorely tried, however,
when the old lady, after settling her laces, clearing her throat two
or three times, and refreshing herself by a sniff at her bottle of
smelling-salts, remarked, in a tone of chilling disapproval--

“You are aware, Count, of the aversion with which I have always
regarded the--the state of things between her Majesty and
yourself----”

“Pardon me, Baroness,” interrupted Cyril, “but would you have any
objection to giving me your message at once? We can go into the moral
aspects of the situation afterwards. Has the Queen come to any
definite decision upon the matters which I had the honour of laying
before her yesterday?”

“Forgive me,” said the Baroness. “I should have remembered that the
question was one of deep importance to you. No, her Majesty has not
arrived at any definite decision, save that she is still convinced
that it is impossible for her to break her pledges to the King and to
the Princess of Dardania; but she begs that you will be good enough to
postpone any further discussion of the subject, or action in
connection with it, until after the conclusion of next week’s
festivities. She is anxious that they should pass off without any
disagreeable _contretemps_, and trusts that in the interval you may be
able to devise some settlement that may be satisfactory to all
parties.”

“No one can be more desirous of obliging her Majesty than I am,”
returned Cyril; “but you must know, Baroness, that it is not so much a
question of my doing nothing, as of the Princess of Dardania’s
consenting to remain inactive. I appeal to you, without fear of
misconstruction, for I know that since her mother’s death the Queen
has confided everything to you: do you think the Princess may be
trusted not to steal a march on me?”

“Perhaps I am not too friendly to the Princess,” said the Baroness
thoughtfully, “for her Royal Highness and I have long had a difference
of opinion on the subject of etiquette, on many points of which her
ideas seem to me inexcusably lax for one in her high position, but I
think she would scarcely break the truce which the Queen proposes. I
know that her Majesty has had a long interview with her, in which she
steadily refused to retreat from the ground she took up immediately
upon her arrival, but consented to the postponement of the question.”

“If she could be depended upon to play fair, it would be the best
temporary solution possible under the circumstances, but that’s where
the doubt comes in. However, one may almost say that it’s the only
thing to be done, and it certainly gives us a breathing-space. If we
can only get through the festivities without an _esclandre_, we may be
able to hit on something. By the bye, Baroness, I believe I was rude
enough to interrupt you just now?”

“It is forgotten,” said the Baroness graciously. “I was about to say,
my dear Count, that in spite of the horror with which I am bound to
regard anything in the nature of a misalliance, I cannot bring myself
to hope that this difficulty will end in the breaking-off of the
engagement between her Majesty and yourself, as it is, I fear, my duty
to do.”

“You are extremely kind, Baroness.”

“I am afraid that I may be failing in my obligations to her Majesty,
Count, but it is certain that I have lately come to regard this affair
as differing from others of the kind. It may be that one’s judgments
soften as one grows older, or it may merely be that I am getting old
and foolish, but I hope that it may be possible for her Majesty to
marry you. I have watched the sad course of her life, I have seen her
misery since her quarrel with you yesterday, and my heart fails me
when I think of her suffering if she lost you. You will wonder that I
should thus betray the Queen’s feelings to you, but I have a reason.
Count, I was aghast when I heard of the definite choice you had placed
before her Majesty.”

“I agree with you, Baroness, that the form of the words was
unsuitable. If I had been wise I should have employed a different
method--entreated and not commanded. I’m afraid the truth is that I
lost my head in the excitement of the moment. I never did such a thing
before, but my nerve is not what it was. Twenty years of hard work,
with practically no holidays, take it out of a man. But it’s no use
hedging now, and besides, the Queen’s yielding furnishes the only
possible solution of the difficulty.”

“But you would not in any case proceed to the extremities you
threatened? You have unfortunately arrayed all her Majesty’s highest
feelings against you in thus placing her own happiness in the scale
against that of her son. It was not wisely done. And surely, my dear
Count, the mental fatigue of which you speak is a warning to you to
rest? Marrying her Majesty, you would live quietly and happily, as
your English poet says, ‘The world forgetting, by the world forgot.’”

“Are you holding that out as an inducement to me, Baroness? I am
afraid you scarcely realise the hold which the world has upon some
people. What, you must go? Let me entreat your influence to induce her
Majesty to yield, for the sake of the Powers and of European peace,
and also, if you will have it, because I cannot pretend to say that if
she is obdurate I should not carry out my threat, as you called it
just now.”

The Baroness shook her head sadly as Cyril escorted her to her
carriage, and he himself failed, for once, to regard the outlook with
any confidence. The postponement of the necessity for decision was a
great relief, but he could not see any means of saving the situation
if the Queen should fail him.

Meanwhile the preparations for the festivities went on apace, and
royal guests began to arrive at Bellaviste, until the Palace was
fuller than it had been for many years, and extra accommodation had to
be found in some of the principal hotels. Among the earliest arrivals
was the Crown Prince of Hercynia, representing his father, and
attended by Baron de la Mothe von Elterthal. The news that the
Imperial Chancellor would visit Thracia had caused much comment, and
some excitement, throughout Europe, and it had been freely stated that
the object of his coming was to arrange a match between the young King
and one of his master’s daughters. The futility of this course under
the circumstances had not become generally known, but Cyril was
relieved to find that it was not necessary for him to recount to his
fellow-statesman the untoward events of the past week. The Hercynian
Government had been kept informed by its own representatives of the
appearance at Bellaviste of the Princess of Dardania, and of the
evident strain which had ensued in the relations of the King and
Queen, and had drawn the obvious conclusion, so that Baron de la Mothe
von Elterthal had been specially commissioned to ascertain whether
Cyril was concerned in the plot, and had played the two Emperors
false. If this should prove not to be the case, he was empowered to
concert with him as to the means by which the Princess might be
baulked of the results of her diplomacy.

Nothing could have come as a more acceptable balm to Cyril’s wounded
feelings than this tacit acknowledgment that he alone was considered
capable of dealing with the situation satisfactorily, but he was
unable to give much comfort in return. Everything depended on the
Queen, and although Cyril did his utmost whenever he saw her alone to
emphasise the importance of the crisis, he could not flatter himself
that he had secured her assistance. He had not expected her to hold
out so long after receiving his ultimatum, and he blamed himself ever
more and more for the form in which he had chosen to present it.
Labouring day by day to remove the unfortunate impression he had
produced, he still found himself compelled to report failure to Baron
de la Mothe von Elterthal, and when the week of festivity began, he
had not so much as obtained from Ernestine a promise to consider her
ways. But his ill-success made him only the more determined to win in
the end, and he grudged the loss of time caused by the state
ceremonies, which kept him from taking active measures, such as were
beginning to suggest themselves to his mind, although they were of the
doleful nature of counsels of despair.

Balls and banquets, church services and gala performances at the
theatre, the reception of congratulatory addresses and the taking and
receiving of various oaths of allegiance, filled up day after day, and
the guests, with an endurance and a politeness only to be found in
royal personages, contrived to appear not only tolerant of the rush of
uninteresting events, but even pleased with it. No _contretemps_
marred the festivities, and the concluding function was reached
without even the symptoms of a difference of opinion among those
assembled to do honour to King Michael. The Pannonian Arch-Duke showed
no signs of remembering the barrier which had arisen of late years
between the Three Powers and the princely family of Dardania, the
Princess and the Queen were on almost oppressively good terms, and M.
Drakovics comported himself in a sufficiently friendly manner even
towards Cyril. Thus the last of the series of entertainments, the
luncheon-party on the Saturday, to which the foreign royal personages
were invited previous to their departure from Bellaviste in the course
of the afternoon, marked the conclusion of a week of perfect harmony.

When lunch was over, King Michael rose to propose the health of his
guests, and to express due gratitude for their presence and support
during the ceremonies of the week. His speech had been written out for
him by Cyril in order that he might commit it to memory; but it seemed
that among the many distractions of the past few days he had failed to
study it as carefully as he should have done, for he was noticeably
nervous--a quality which no one had remarked in him before. He
succeeded, however, in getting through his list with a little
prompting and some reference to his notes, and his audience, who were
prepared to be more than merciful, applauded in the right places and
helped to cover his confusion. But when the end of the speech was
almost reached, and the requisite compliments had been paid to the
delegates of the Emperors, to the Kings present or represented by
members of their families, to the houses of Weldart and
Schwarzwald-Molzau, from which the speaker traced his descent, he
hesitated for a moment. There was only one family that still remained
to be complimented, and the King’s slight pause merely rendered more
effective the raised tones in which he uttered words which had never
appeared in Cyril’s written oration:--

“And lastly--although my own wishes would have led me to propose this
toast first of all--I ask you to drink to the health of my dear
cousins the Prince and Princess of Dardania, with whose family it is
my hope and purpose to be even more intimately connected in the future
than at present. _Hoch, hoch, hoch_!” and he bowed to the Prince and
Princess over his raised glass.

A bombshell exploding in their midst could scarcely have proved more
startling to the company assembled than this sentence. All had guessed
at the plans of the Emperors, and most were more or less definitely
acquainted with them; but now it was plain that the diplomacy of
Hercynia and Pannonia had suffered a defeat, and that the victory lay
with the dark-haired lady in yellow brocade and sable, whose eyes were
brighter than her diamonds as she replied smilingly behind her fan to
the whispered congratulations of the young King of Mœsia. Cyril’s
glance had met that of Baron de la Mothe von Elterthal, as the fateful
words were uttered, and the monosyllable “Done!” had escaped his lips,
while the Baron replied by a scarcely perceptible shrug of the
shoulders to the look of blank helplessness which the Crown Prince of
Hercynia turned upon him. The Pannonian Arch-Duke was the only person
who had sufficient presence of mind to drink the toast without
betraying the conflicting emotions which were agitating him at the
moment; but before there had been time to respond to it the Prince of
Dardania created a sudden diversion.

“The Queen!” he cried,--“the Queen is ill!”

Ernestine had fallen back in her chair, her face as white as the
ermine on her gown, and her eyes fixed on vacancy. Her jewelled
fingers were clenched before her on the table--clenched, as the Court
physician remarked afterwards to a _confrère_, like the contorted
hands of a person in fierce bodily agony. She did not seem to notice
the alarm and anxiety around her; but when the Princess of Dardania
waved away the rest of the guests with, “Leave her to me: the
agitation of this joyful week has been too much for her,” she drew
herself away from her with a shudder of repulsion which did not escape
the notice of others. The Princess laughed lightly, but not without
some embarrassment, as she resigned her place to Baroness von
Hilfenstein, who ignored her with a wrathful contempt which was patent
to every one as she helped to convey the Queen to another room.
Pausing on the threshold, Ernestine made a painful effort to speak;
but her blanched lips refused their office, and her eyes, full of dumb
anguish, wandered helplessly over the sympathising faces around. The
Baroness understood her, however.

“You wish his Excellency the Premier to wait on you, madame? Count,
will you be good enough to hold yourself in readiness until her
Majesty is sufficiently recovered to receive you?”

The rest of the company passed on into the other rooms, but Cyril
waited in the deserted dining-room. It was not long before he was
summoned by one of the ladies, and under her guidance entered the room
in which interviews with Ernestine had so often been granted to him.
She was seated now beside her writing-table, with her hair and her
rich dress in disorder, and as she turned towards him at the sound of
his step a fit of strong trembling seized her.

“I knew nothing of it,” she gasped. “Oh, Cyril, you believe me?”

“I accept your assurance, madame.”

“Cyril, upbraid me, scold me--anything but look at me like that! Don’t
speak so coldly, I can’t bear it. Cyril, what are you going to do?”

Her voice was almost a scream as she rose from her chair and tried to
reach him, but tottered and fell at his feet, clinging to his hands in
an agony of terror. He raised her silently, and placed her in her
chair again.

“Cyril,” she said, holding his hand fast, “say something. Don’t look
at me in that way. I thought you loved me once.”

“So I did--once,” he replied.

“And now--now?”

“I think it would be unnecessary, and perhaps painful to your Majesty,
to enter into that question.”

“But you could not be so cruel as to punish me when I was as much
astonished by what Michael said as you were? I have lost my son, I
have lost Ottilie, who was once my friend--you cannot mean that I must
lose you?”

“It is surely self-evident, madame, that a discredited politician out
of office is not a fit match for a Queen.”

“Discredited--out of office! As though I cared! I love you, not your
office--you more than ever, now that you have failed and are in
trouble. You could not punish me so cruelly, Cyril? You will not
forsake me after all the years that I have waited for you?”

“Pray do not lay the blame upon me, madame. The choice was in your own
hands. You preferred your son’s whim to the success of my policy, and
it only remains for me to congratulate your Majesty upon the
acquisition of a most charming daughter-in-law, and to withdraw.”

“No, you shall not go.” She clung to his hand so tightly that he was
unable to free himself. “You must hear me, Cyril. Ottilie promised me
solemnly that nothing should be done until the festivities were over,
and I believed her. So did you. Why punish me, then? Only let me come
with you if you mean to leave Thracia. I do not mind being poor. I had
rather be poor, with you.”

“I think, Count,” said King Michael’s voice, as the newly enfranchised
sovereign appeared at the door which led into the ante-room, “that you
can scarcely be aware that Dr Danilovics gave special directions that
her Majesty was not to be agitated. Need I point out that so long an
audience is extremely injurious to her in her present condition of
illness and excitement?”

“I did not know that you had been invited to assist at this interview,
sir.”

“If I choose to protect my mother from the schemes of a political
adventurer, Count, that is my affair.”

“Such a remark, addressed to one who was your father’s friend and has
served your mother faithfully, comes with an ill grace from you, sir,
and necessarily deprives me of the honour of serving you in the
future.”

“The proper official will relieve you of your portfolio, Count.”

“Your Majesty’s consideration is unbounded. That I may not appear
backward in responding to it, allow me to say that should my successor
desire any information as to the routine work of the post, I am
entirely at her service.”

“At _her_ service? Whose?”

“Surely, sir, it is patent to all that her Royal Highness the Princess
of Dardania becomes, _ipso facto_, Foreign Minister and Premier of
Thracia. It is impossible that I should be mistaken.”

The King frowned heavily. “This is not a time for joking, Count,” he
said.

“Pardon me, sir, but it is a little unkind to wish to keep all the
enjoyment to yourself. The practical joke which her Royal Highness has
just carried out with your Majesty’s assistance would make the fortune
of a farce.”

The King’s dignity was touched. He had an uneasy feeling, which would
never have oppressed the Princess of Dardania, that the suave, cynical
man before him was amused rather than thunder-struck by his great
_coup_, and he grasped eagerly at the first chance that offered itself
for terminating the interview. “This wrangling, Count, is unseemly in
the presence of her Majesty,” he said reprovingly, with a glance at
his mother, who was looking from one to the other in bewildered
misery.

“Nothing, sir, could be more contrary to my wishes than that my
presence should cast a shadow on her Majesty’s pleasure in this joyful
occasion. With your permission I will retire to England as soon as the
formalities attendant upon my resignation are completed.”

“No, Count. There are certain charges”--the King looked sharply at
Cyril to see whether he blenched, but in vain--“to be inquired into
first.”

“As your Majesty pleases. I can only hope that the result may be as
satisfactory to my accusers as it is bound to be to myself.” It was
his turn to look at the King, who moved uneasily.

“Cyril,” cried the Queen, rousing herself from her lethargy, as he
prepared to retire, “you will not leave me in this way? Cyril!”

“You forget, madame, that we are not alone,” Cyril heard the King say,
laying a hand on his mother’s shoulder as she tried to rise, and with
her despairing face before his eyes, the defeated Premier left the
room. Once outside the door, the realisation of all that this meant
came upon him like a flood. One moment he gasped for breath, and his
hands gripped his coat as though to tear it open: then his
self-control returned to him, and he stepped out from under the
_portière_ to pass through the rooms filled with the gaudy,
glittering crowd, that knew him to be discomfited and disgraced. If
they had expected him to show the consciousness of his failure in his
face, they were disappointed, for he appeared amongst them absolutely
unmoved, although a smile lingered on his lips for a moment as he
noticed the rapidity with which men and women alike hastened out of
his way, leaving him a clear path, for fear of his attempting to speak
to any of them, and thus branding them with the taint of having been
an intimate of the fallen Minister. He spoke to no one, but before he
had crossed the first room a tall awkward youth, with his honest face
ablaze with indignation, had deliberately stepped forward and placed
himself at his side, glorifying the retreat by the splendour of his
uniform and the magnificence of the decorations with which his breast
was covered. It was the Crown Prince of Hercynia, whose incurable
kindness of heart made him the despair of his father, and who was
reported to run no small risk of being passed over in the succession
in favour of his younger brother, Prince Friedrich Karl. He placed his
arm through Cyril’s, and began to talk stammeringly and incoherently,
not because he had anything to say, but obviously in order to set his
_protégé_ at his ease. In spite of his unavoidable amusement, Cyril
could not help being touched, but at the door he freed himself
resolutely from the Prince’s hold.

“I am unutterably grateful for your Imperial Highness’s condescension,
but I must refuse to bring you into trouble with your father.”

For one moment the Prince looked startled, then he took Cyril’s arm
again. “You have been doing our work,” he said, “and you shall not be
thrown aside because the task has proved too much for you.”

In the corridor they came face to face with Baron de la Mothe von
Elterthal, who was hurrying towards them, drawn by the flying report
which had reached him of the extraordinary conduct of the Crown
Prince. A glance at the young man’s face showed him that no
remonstrance would serve his turn, and he begged therefore that he
might be allowed a few moments’ conversation with Count Mortimer on
political matters of the utmost importance. The Prince hesitated,
half-suspecting the ruse, then saw a way out of the difficulty.

“We must not detain his Excellency here, Baron. Do you walk home with
him--to his house, you understand?--as I was intending to do, and talk
on the way.”

It is to be feared that the Baron’s murmured acquiescence did not
adequately represent his feelings at the moment, but he obeyed, and
walked on with Cyril, the Crown Prince looking after them.

“Good fellow that Prince of yours,” remarked Cyril, when they were
crossing the courtyard, “but a terrible fool. Accept my condolences,
Baron. If you feel as sick as you look, I’m afraid Hercynia will soon
be without a Chancellor.”

“Oh, don’t mention it,” said the Baron, pulling himself together. “No
one can fight against folly. Can I do anything for you, by the way?”

“Yes, you can. Wire to my brother--you have stayed with him, so you
know his address--and tell him to take no steps whatever about me.
When I am ready, I’ll come home. I don’t want the might of the British
Empire invoked to protect me against the spite of an angry woman.”

“What?” said the Baron, looking at him narrowly; “it is more than mere
dismissal, is it?”

“Impeachment, if they can manage it. By the bye, Baron, in a trial it
is possible that certain facts might come out which would throw a
light upon recent Hercynian policy----”

“Oh, you resort to threats, Count?”

“By no means, my dear Baron. Threats between old friends and old
political hands like you and me? Why, you should be grateful to me for
simply directing your attention to possible dangerous contingencies.
You know enough of me and of my methods to be sure that if the
Princess of Dardania wishes to base her action against me upon
documentary evidence she must forge it--and in that case she will not
stop at implicating me. In self-defence, I might find it necessary to
declare the truth, which might prove only less damaging to other
people than the forgeries. You understand me?”

“I do. You wish us to make representations to the King, based upon the
impolicy and ingratitude of his conduct towards the friend and servant
of his parents?”

“That’s it. The Prince of Dardania is a sensible man at bottom, and I
think he will interfere and restrain his wife and young Michael when
he sees how their proceedings are regarded; but to make matters sure
you might let your Government journals insert a vague note touching
the means by which a recent successful conspiracy in the Balkans was
promoted--extensive use of forged documents, and so on. I can put you
on the track of one or two little things connected with the Rhodope
business if you find it necessary to go further, but I think you will
scarcely need them.”

“I see. We will act with all discretion.”

“Just so; and now here we are at my hospitable door. You won’t come
in, I fear? Well, thanks for your company, and the trouble you are
going to take. I’ll do the same for you when young Hopeful kicks you
out because you are too much identified with the bold bad diplomacy of
his father’s days.”

“Many thanks. If I were in your place at the present moment, I am not
sure that I would remain to run the risk of a trial. Public opinion
does not seem particularly well affected towards you, and you have
escaped assassination once already.”

“Really, Baron, I fear you under-estimate either my age or my
intelligence,” was Cyril’s reply to this little stab, which the Baron
emphasised by a nod towards the crowd gathered in the street,--a
hostile, murmuring, uncertain crowd, that had heard rumours of the
great Minister’s downfall, but felt it hardly safe to believe them on
seeing him walking quietly home in the company of the Hercynian
Chancellor. There was one, however, who felt no misgivings. The crowd
parted to allow of the passage of a bath-chair, and its occupant, an
old white-haired man, threw a glance of triumph and hatred at Cyril as
he stood on the steps.

“My turn once, yours now!” he cried, in a shrill voice which in its
cracked tones bore only a faint resemblance to that which had formerly
been able to sway a multitude. “_Bonjour, feu M. le Ministre_!”

They were the words with which Ernestine had dismissed M. Drakovics
eleven years before, and Cyril laughed bitterly as he bowed with
peculiar politeness to his old enemy, and retreated into the house,
pursued by the loud hisses and hootings of the mob, which had divined
the truth from the old man’s speech. Turning into the secretary’s
office, Cyril met the concerned gaze of Paschics.

“Do you want to earn a good round sum of money, Paschics?”

“That depends upon the way in which it is to be earned, Excellency.”

“Oh, you need only swear that I have intrigued with the Scythian
Court, and bring forward a forged document or two to support your
statement, and the Emperor Sigismund will pay you almost any sum you
like to name.”

“Your Excellency is over-tired, or you would not insult by such a
suggestion a man who has always tried to serve you faithfully.”

“You are right, Paschics. Well, come into my office, and let us go
through this solemn farce with becoming dignity.”

They had scarcely taken their seats when the King’s private secretary
arrived to demand the delivery of the seals of office. Following him
came the Chief of Police, with several subordinates.

“I am instructed to seal up your Excellency’s papers in your presence,
and take them to my Bureau for examination,” he said. “Your Excellency
is to be placed under arrest in your own house. You can obtain what
you wish from without through the police, but you will not be allowed
to communicate with any one outside.”

“Very good,” said Cyril. “What a blessing I have sent my message to
Caerleon before this!” he added to himself. “What is the matter,
Paschics?”

“Your Excellency,” in a quick whisper, as the attention of the police
was distracted by their task, “if there is anything among the
papers--any letters--which you would not desire to have seen, tell me
at once, and I will destroy it before they take possession of them,
whatever the risks.”

“No, Paschics, I never keep letters. You may be quite easy about
that.”

“Your Excellency,” the secretary’s fingers were twitching as he stood
beside Cyril, “will you endure this? They are treating you like a
common criminal. Only give me the word, and I will strangle the
Prefect there.”

“My good Paschics, keep quiet, and don’t make things worse. Why should
not the police tumble my papers about, if they like? It doesn’t hurt
us. I am really grateful to them for giving me something to think
about.”

Understanding now the full extent of the disaster, Paschics was
silent, but when the police had gone into another room, he crept out
after them. In a moment he returned, his face beaming with delight.

“Your Excellency, the door is unguarded, and there are none of them in
the hall. I can disguise you in a moment, and you will be able to
escape.”

“No, thank you, Paschics. Don’t you see their little dodge? They would
like it better than anything else if I went slinking away in disguise,
but I don’t mean to gratify them. We will stay here.”

After all, the imprisonment lasted only two days. At the end of that
time the papers were returned and the police guard removed from the
house, and Cyril was informed that he might go whither he would. Of
this permission, however, he refused to avail himself, declining to
skulk out of the country like a man desiring to escape notice. In
consequence of his maintenance of this unbending attitude, one of the
Court carriages was sent on the following day to convey him to the
Palace, with the message that the King wished to see him. With the
young monarch he found the Prince of Dardania, who took the leading
part in the conversation which followed. A little to one side sat the
Princess, with a piece of embroidery in her hand.

“Her Royal Highness is present, Count,” said King Michael sharply,
when Cyril had saluted him and the Prince.

“I crave her Royal Highness’s pardon, sir. I had imagined that this
was a business interview, and that the Princess’s presence would be
more properly ignored, but since your Majesty informs me that it is a
social occasion, I can only express my gratification at being admitted
to such a pleasant family gathering.”

“Count,” said the Prince of Dardania hastily, “his Majesty has asked
me to express his regret at the treatment you have received. In
consequence of the receipt of mistaken information, you were placed
under arrest, and your papers seized. I need scarcely say that nothing
to justify the seizure was discovered, and strong representations as
to the harshness of the course pursued have been made by several
personages whose advice the King is bound to respect. Under these
circumstances, his Majesty’s only desire is to make you a suitable
recompense for the inconvenience to which you have been put. There are
personal and family reasons, which it is unnecessary to particularise,
which would render it undesirable for you to continue to hold the
office of Premier, but you are of course entitled to the usual
pension, and if with this you care to accept the position of Thracian
Minister to the Pannonian Court, I think you would find it a post well
suited to your tastes and abilities.”

“I am deeply indebted to your Highness for the handsome things you
have said. With respect to the offers you have been instructed to make
to me in the name of his Majesty, perhaps you will convey to him the
pleasing intelligence that I decline them utterly, for personal
reasons, which it is unnecessary to particularise. I will not accept
a pension, nor will I take the post of Minister to Pannonia, and there
is certainly one person in this room who has reason to be grateful
that I will not. But I demand an authorised statement in the ‘Gazette’
that I resigned office on account of failing health, induced by long
and unremitting devotion to the duties of my position, and also a full
apology for the inexcusable blunder committed by the police. I shall
expect also to receive the marks of distinction usual on quitting an
office such as I have held, and to be treated with due honour on
quitting Thracia. Otherwise I stay.”

“I know why you refuse his Majesty’s offers,” said the Princess,
leaning forward confidentially, while her husband and the King
discussed Cyril’s demands in an undertone. “You wish to injure
Thracia, and therefore do not like to take her money. I did not know
you were so scrupulous.”

“It is quite unnecessary for me to injure Thracia. I leave that to
your Royal Highness, in the full conviction that the task will be
efficiently performed.”

“Are you trying to cast a doubt upon my motives, Count?”

“By no means, madame--only on your powers. If you had married my
brother, you and I would have ruled Europe. As it is, I fear you will
find it difficult to rule the Balkans.”

“You are disappointed, Count, and therefore I can pardon your
rudeness.”

“Disappointed, madame? Oh no; remember that I have seen a good deal.
You do not imagine that I cannot make allowances for a child who has
just grasped power, and for a lady who is anxious to get her daughter
off her hands?”

“You had better give him what he wants, and let him go,” said the
Princess, in a stage whisper to the King. “Otherwise you will have no
peace in Thracia.”

“Count,” said the Prince of Dardania, “his Majesty is graciously
pleased to grant your requests. Naturally the simplest plan would be
to give orders to the police to convey you to the frontier
immediately;” here Cyril raised his eyebrows, and the Prince,
remembering the warnings of the Three Powers, hesitated and became
somewhat confused, “but your long services--your friendship with the
late King--in fact, your demands are granted. The ‘Gazette’ you
suggest will appear to-morrow, and you will be free to leave Thracia
on the following day.”

“And if you have any message of farewell to the Queen I shall be
delighted to deliver it,” added the Princess, who was burning to
revenge herself on Cyril for his words to her.

“Ottilie!” said her husband warningly, but Cyril smiled.

“You are too good, madame, but I cannot consent to place myself under
a further obligation to you. You must remember that there is already a
heavy account between us. I will do my best to repay your Royal
Highness promptly; rely upon that.”

He bowed and went out, with a shrill laugh from the Princess, perhaps
a little forced, ringing in his ears, and returned to his own house as
he had come, to find Paschics watching for him, eager to announce,
with much mystery, that there was a lady waiting to see him in his
study. For a moment Cyril was startled, but only for a moment. The
weakness passed, and he entered the room, to find the lady, who was
dressed in black and wore a thick veil, standing by the window.

“Have you not done me harm enough yet?” he asked, never doubting who
it was; but the lady raised her veil, and displayed, not the features
of Ernestine, but the pale plain face of Anna Mirkovics.

“I am the bearer of a message from her Majesty to you, Count,” she
said coldly, giving him a note. “You were right in supposing that she
would wish to come here in person, but by representing the difficulty
she would experience in leaving the Palace unobserved, I induced her
to allow me to be her messenger.”

She turned away again to the window, and Cyril tore open the envelope,
and drew out the blotted and tear-stained missive which it contained.


 “Cyril, my Beloved” (Ernestine had written),--“You cannot intend to
 leave me like this. They tell me that you are quitting Thracia in
 disgrace--but I know that is only my cousin’s malevolence--take me
 with you. Let me share your trouble--I will not say disgrace, for that
 cannot attach to your name. Send me one word by Anna, and I will come.
 Do not think that I shall repent taking the step. You know me well
 enough to be sure that neither poverty nor scorn would trouble me if I
 was with you. But I know you are saying, as you did the other day,
 ‘The choice was in your own hands, and you preferred your son to me.’
 Dearest, how could I build our happiness on the ruins of my child’s?
 You would not wish me to do so; you were trying me, were you not? I
 have never opposed you in anything but this, but how could I deprive
 Michael of the joy I desired for myself? And if you think I deserve
 punishment for following my conscience in this respect, I have
 received it. Three days and nights of misery, Cyril! Even you would
 pity me if you saw me now--they tell me I am mad, merely because I
 love you--or will you not forgive me yet? But if I must go on
 suffering in this way, at least do not leave me without a word. Let me
 see you once more, just to say good-bye. I will not trouble you with
 entreaties, I will only look at you for the last time. Let me have a
 kind look to remember, and not the dreadful cold eyes that met mine
 the other day. Remember that day in the burning house, that
 mountain-path in the snow. You loved me then. Have you the heart to
 forsake me without one kind word? But no, you are welcome to overwhelm
 me with reproaches, if only you will let me see you. You know how I
 love you.--Your broken-hearted

                                                    Ernestine.”


“I fear, mademoiselle,” said Cyril to the messenger, crumpling the
note in his hand, “that her Majesty forgets the circumstances of the
case. It would scarcely improve my position in Thracia at the present
moment if I invited the Queen to run away with me. Not,” he dropped
for a moment the hard tone in which he had spoken, and Anna Mirkovics
looked up with sudden hope, “that I do not consider the scandal
involved would inflict a very salutary punishment on King Michael and
his future relatives, but one really must consider one’s own personal
feelings a little in such a matter.”

“Then what answer”--the maid of honour’s voice was almost choked with
indignation--“am I to take to her Majesty?”

“I think it would be best to tell her that there is no answer. To say
that I decline the honour might sound discourteous.”

“But you will see her to say good-bye? You must.”

“Pardon me; such a step would indicate a willingness to do more, and I
have no intention of doing anything.”

“Yes, if you saw her, you must yield. Oh, Count, have pity upon her!
We can do nothing to comfort her, although our hearts are broken by
the sight of her sufferings. She sits in the same place from morning
till night, and neither weeps nor speaks. The Princess and the King
have rallied her, upbraided her, threatened to give out that she has
become insane, but nothing could rouse her until Baroness von
Hilfenstein happened to hear that you had been released and were about
to leave Thracia, and then she determined to make a last effort to
communicate with you. You cannot refuse this one small favour. I will
smuggle you into the Palace as a friend of my own--what does it
signify what they say of me, if I can help to comfort her?--and when
you see her, you must give way.”

“I think not, mademoiselle. I am not a sentimentalist, as you know,
and I cannot flatter myself that the meeting would afford any comfort
to her Majesty. It is not as though things were as they used to be.”

“You mean that you do not now love her? But if that is the case, you
have never loved her. Oh, assure me of that, let me tell her from
yourself that you sought her only for the help she could give to your
political designs, that you awoke her love for you merely that you
might climb to power by its means, and that it was only natural you
should throw off the mask when she refused to serve your purpose any
longer. It will wound her terribly, but her pride will help her to
tear you from her heart. You need not try to keep up the mockery any
longer, surely?”

“I should be delighted to meet your wishes, mademoiselle, but
unfortunately I am not quite quixotic enough to blacken my own
character so gratuitously as you propose. I did love her Majesty at
one time--in fact, until three days ago. I will not say that at any
time I should have been willing to make a fool of myself to please
her, as some men would, but once, at any rate, I was prepared to die
for her. Is it beyond your power to imagine an experience by which
love should be altogether burnt out and destroyed? That was my case
when, thanks to the Queen, I saw my policy overthrown, the labours of
twenty years undone, and myself held up to the ridicule of Europe.”

“But if you love her, you can forgive even that. She was wrong, no
doubt, but has she not suffered for it? Is she not willing to share
with you the consequences of her fault, as the only reparation she can
make? You say you loved her----”

“Pardon me; I fear I have not made my meaning clear. I did once love
her Majesty, but--I do so no longer.”

“You really loved her? I hope you did; I am glad if you did. You think
your love is dead; but it will come to life again to torment you, and
then, perhaps--oh, I trust it will be so!--you will know something of
the pain you are m