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In Brief Authority
by F. Anstey
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"For shame, Clarence!" cried Edna.

"It's not a sack, as it happens," said the Count sulkily. "It's a long bag—and what I use it for is entirely my own business."

"I don't know so much about that," retorted Clarence. "With such a lot of plate in the Palace!"

"Clarence!" cried Edna again. "This is too outrageous of you!"

"Much!" put in Lady Muscombe. "As if the Count couldn't bring his clubs with him if he's going on to golf somewhere!" she said to Clarence in an undertone. "And of course he'd want a very long case for them! You really must behave more decently!"

"I mean having this out with the beggar," he replied. "Count, her ladyship suggests that you may have golf clubs in that bag of yours. Is that so?"

"And if I have," said the Count. "Why shouldn't I?"

"Because you don't play golf. No one does here—now, and I'll take my oath you can't tell a brassey from a putter. You never owned a set of clubs in your life!"

"Really, my boy!" said King Sidney nervously. "A scene like this! Before our guests! It won't do, you know. Drop it!"

"Yes," said Lady Muscombe, laying her pretty but slightly over-manicured fingers on Clarence's sleeve. "You're only making everybody uncomfortable. Talk to me instead!"

"Presently," he said. "If you really have got golf clubs, Count, I should like to have a look at them after lunch."

"I never said I had got those things," replied the Count, with a wonderful command over his temper. "And if you want to know what is in the bag, I don't mind telling you—only a few pumpkins from my own gardens."

"You mean to say you make such pets of your bally pumpkins that you take 'em out driving with you? That's such a likely story!"

"Clarence," said the Queen, "I will not have poor Ruprecht badgered like this. If he chooses to carry pumpkins with him—as we do gold sometimes—and distribute them to deserving persons, it is so much the more to his credit."

"He'd get 'em buzzed back at his head pretty soon, if he did!" replied the impenitent Clarence. "He's not exactly the object of general adoration in these parts, as he jolly well knows.... Anything upset you, Marchioness?" he inquired of Lady Muscombe, who was giggling with a quite un-peeress-like lack of restraint.

"Nothing," she said faintly. "Only the—the pumpkins. You really are rather a funny Royal Family, you know!"

"I'm sorry to make myself unpleasant, Mater," said Clarence, returning to the charge. "But I can't swallow those pumpkins. I want the sack brought in so that we can satisfy ourselves what there is in it." The Court Chamberlain, in the hope that the contents, whatever they might be, would at least serve to compromise the Count, instantly despatched one of the pages to fetch the bag.

"Baron," said the Queen angrily, "it is for Us to give orders—not you!"

"Your Majesty must pardon my presumption," he said, as the pages had already obeyed him. "I was merely carrying out the wishes of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince."

"I shall die if this goes on much longer! I know I shall!" gasped Lady Muscombe.

"Ha!" cried Clarence, as the pages staggered in with a huge distended sack. "Leave it alone, I'll open it myself."

"Surely not without asking the owner's permission?" said the Duchess, who had hitherto witnessed the scene in silent and dignified amazement.

"You can open it if you like!" said the Count, with a confident smile. "And then you will see what a fuss you have made about nothing."

Clarence cut the cord, and opened the sack. The moment he did so his jaw fell. "I own up," he said. "I was wrong. They are pumpkins!"

"And if you are a gentleman, Clarence," cried Edna, "you will apologise to Ruprecht at once!"

"There may be something else underneath," he said, lifting a pumpkin suspiciously in both hands. "Hullo! My hat! What's this I've got hold of?" he exclaimed, as the vegetable suddenly developed, the moment it was clear of the sack, into one of the chubbiest of the royal pages. "Very odd!" he remarked, as he set the boy down. "Let's have the lot out." He tilted the sack, and as each pumpkin rolled out upon the sardonyx pavement, a bewildered page sprang up in its stead.

"Quite a clever trick!" said Lady Muscombe. "Even Maskelyne and Devant couldn't beat that!"

"After all, it wasn't so very much of a change!" was Ruby's comment.

"What do you boys mean by playing at being pumpkins in this way?" demanded King Sidney. "I must have an explanation of this. Speak out, one of you!"

"If it please you, sire," said the first page, sinking on one knee, "When His Excellency the Count arrived he invited us to get inside the sack, at the bottom of which he told us we should find sweetmeats. And we crawled in—and I don't remember any more till I fell out just now."

"Just count these boys, Baron, will you?" said the King. "The whole dozen correct? Good. And now, sir," he added, turning to the Count, "I should like to hear what you have got to say."

"Allow me, sire," interrupted Marshal Federhelm, as Count Ruprecht seemed content to smile blandly. "His Excellency no doubt intended to afford your Majesties a little harmless diversion."

"That was all," said the Count. "This is a magic sack which has the property of turning anything inside it into whatever its owner wishes. I thought it might amuse you."

"Liar!" struck in Clarence. "You wouldn't have said a word about it but for Ruby! You meant to take those pumpkins—I mean pages—away with you. You know you did! I don't know what the Guv'nor and Mater think of it—but I consider myself it was a confounded liberty!"

"Well, well," said the King, "it was a mistake no doubt. But there's been no harm done, so perhaps we'd better leave it at that—for the present, you know, for the present."

But the Court Chamberlain could not allow such an opportunity to escape him. "Forgive me, sire," he said eagerly, "but your Majesties are evidently unacquainted with his Excellency's family history. The motive for his indiscretion will perhaps be better understood when I mention that his parents' title was formerly Bubenfresser, and that they were executed by command of the late King as being notorious ogres."

"So that was his game, was it?" cried Clarence. "Bagged our pages, meaning to gobble 'em up when he got 'em home! Am I to have an Ogre for a brother-in-law?"

At this there was a general cry of horror.

"Marshal," said the King, "you must have known all about this—and you gave that fellow an excellent character!"

"I had no reason to believe otherwise, sire," replied the ex-Regent smoothly. "He had been brought up as a strict vegetarian, and I cannot think that, if he had not acquired a taste for meat at your Majesty's table, he would ever have developed these—er—hereditary proclivities."

"He hasn't developed them!" declared Edna. "It's false! Ruprecht, deny it! Tell them you are no Ogre!"

"Really, ma'am," said the Duchess to Queen Selina, "I must ask your permission to leave the table. I don't feel as if I ought to be present at a family dispute of this intimate nature."

"Pray don't go, my dear Duchess!" the Queen implored her. "Not till you've heard what the Count has to say."

The Count rose and folded his arms in proud defiance. "I'm not an Ogre," he said sulkily.

"I knew it—I knew it!" cried Edna. "Appearances were against him, that's all!"

"Not an Ogre yet," went on the Count. "But I hope to be one as soon as I get the chance."

"No, no, Ruprecht!" protested Edna. "You don't mean it—you know you don't!"

"What!" said the Count, scowling at her. "Are you going to turn round on me like this, after encouraging me as you did?"

"You will not find it easy to persuade me," said the Duchess, "that the Princess would ever have urged you to become an Ogre."

"Urged him, indeed!" cried Edna wildly. "I had no suspicion—I never said a single word that could possibly——"

"Didn't you say I was to follow the teachings of your great master with the name I never can pronounce?" he demanded. "Didn't you tell me to make my own morality and obey my own instincts, without caring what people thought or what suffering I inflicted? You know you did! And that's all I've done. My instincts told me that those pages were my natural provender. I had a perfect right to take them if I could. The only people who would condemn me would be just those average conventional persons for whom you have such a contempt. I expected better things from you!"

"I cannot sit here another moment," declared the Duchess, rising. "It is making me positively ill!"

"And me!" added Lady Muscombe. "I've been on the point of fainting several times. I must say," she told Clarence, "this is quite the weirdest lunch I ever sat through!"

"We will all leave, Duchess," said the Queen. "I assure you I entirely share your sentiments, and perhaps by this time even Edna——"

"I loathe him, Mother!" she said, shuddering; "I only hope I shall never see his face again!"

"You hear that, sir?" said King Sidney, with more firmness than he usually showed. "And, as the Princess Edna—er—voices the general feeling, perhaps you'll see the propriety of getting out of this at once?"

"It seems to me," said the Count, "that you are all making a great fuss about nothing. If I'd eaten any of your pages I could understand it. But I haven't—I never got the chance."

"Thanks to Clarence!" put in Queen Selina. "He saved the poor boys!"

"It was Miss Heritage, really, Mummy!" corrected Ruby jealously. "She wanted to know about the sack, or I shouldn't have asked."

"Miss Heritage!" muttered Edna. "Ah! I might have known it!"

"Now just you be off to that castle of yours," said the King, addressing the discomfited but quite unrepentant Ogre. "And mind you keep inside it for the future. You will see that he does that, Marshal? I don't want any scandal about this business, but if I have any more trouble from you, I shall be forced—well, to take some very strong measures."

"I'm just going," said the Ogre calmly. "May I have my bag?"

"Confound your impudence, no!" returned the King, "I shall have the beastly thing destroyed."

"Then I think you ought to give me back some of the money I paid for it," said the Ogre. "I bought it from Master Xuriel, and I know you get two-thirds the price of any article he sells. He told me so."

"You—you infamous scoundrel!" cried King Sidney, turning extremely red, perhaps with anger. "Marshal, see this ruffian off the premises—and look here, just send for that rascally astrologer, will you? I'll make short work of him!"

"Farewell, then, to your Majesties," said the Ogre, with a jaunty wave of his big hand. "And farewell to you, Princess Edna. If I have not been as much of a Superman as I could wish, you may still find that I have profited by your teachings."

The old Court Chamberlain's chest gave a loud crack as the Count swaggered out.

"Thank goodness he's gone!" said Queen Selina. "Really, my dear Duchess, and you, dear Lady Muscombe, I simply can't say how distressed I am that anything so unpleasant should have occurred while you were under our roof. I do hope you won't blame me. I always disliked the Count myself—but I should never have dreamed of asking him to meet you if I had known the sort of person he really was!"

"Indeed, Ma'am," said the Duchess, "I can quite believe that."

"And, after all," said Lady Muscombe languidly, "I dare say there are lots of people in town—in houses where they don't keep a page, I mean—who'd be glad enough to get him to come and dine. Society is so much less exclusive than it used to be."

"That," remarked the Duchess, "entirely depends on what you mean by 'Society.' And now, Ma'am," she continued to her hostess, "as the birds—I think you mentioned that they were storks—which brought us here should be rested by this time, I shall be obliged if you will order the car to take me back as soon as I have changed my dress."

"And me, too, if you don't mind," said Lady Muscombe. "I must get home before Nibbles does."

"Oh, but you mustn't leave us so soon!" protested Queen Selina in dismay. "To come all this way for such a miserable little visit!"

"A flying visit, let us call it," said the Duchess. "But, candidly, this country of yours doesn't suit me. I don't feel safe with characters such as Ogres and Giants and Dragons about."

"But I assure your Grace there are very very few—hardly any, in fact!"

"There are more than my nerves can stand," said the Duchess, firmly, and Queen Selina, though deeply mortified by her guests' eagerness to go, found that she could no longer detain them.

The Court Chamberlain and his attendants brought the stork car to the palace door by the time the visitors had resumed their former costumes.

"Good-bye, dear Duchess!" said the Queen. "So charmed to have seen you, even for so short a time. I hope some day you will come again."

"I think it improbable," was the grim reply. "And if you'll allow me to say so, Ma'am, when I do stay anywhere, I prefer a house where I can be sure of the sort of people I am likely to meet."

"I say, Marchioness," cried Clarence, as he joined them on the steps, "you're not really going, are you? I wish you'd stay on a bit. We were getting on thundering well together, you and I!"

"Very sad, isn't it?" she answered, with a charming but slightly mocking grimace. "But Nibbles wouldn't like me to stop here philandering with Fairy Princes—even if they aren't quite the real thing. Good-bye, Ma'am," she added, with a gay little nod, as she stepped into the car, where the Duchess was already seated. "Thanks so much for having me! It's a wonderful house to stay in—and a most interesting experience."

"I have an impression," said the Duchess drowsily, "that I shall wake up presently and find all this has been a dream. I trust so, but, if not, would you mind telling this elderly gentleman to set me down in some unfrequented part—not Stratford Place, where I should attract more attention than is at all desirable."

"That's a good idea, Duchess!" said Lady Muscombe. "He can drop us on Clapham Common, and we can share a taxi home."

Queen Selina kissed her hand affectionately to them both as the storks spread their great wings and the car slowly rose. But her salute was not returned—principally for the reason that both ladies had already closed their eyes in slumber.

"And we might have made those two women our friends for life!" she lamented, as she went indoors. "I hope, Edna, my love, you see now what comes of getting your own way?"

"If I have been mistaken for once," said Edna, in a spiritless tone, "you needn't rub it in, Mother. I can't imagine now what I could ever have seen in that detestable creature."

"Nor I—especially as you could see nothing in Prince Mirliflor, who really was—no, my dear, I'm only speaking for your good. If I was sure you regretted your treatment of him, I might perhaps find some way——"

"I dare say I should act differently if he asked me again. But he won't. This dreadful story is sure to get round to him somehow. Of course I'm glad Ruprecht has been found out in time. But he need not have been exposed so publicly! I do resent that. And you heard what Ruby said? Miss Heritage was at the bottom of it. She deliberately planned this to humiliate me! And if you have the smallest consideration for me, Mother, you will forbid her to appear at Court after this."

"I'm afraid she is a designing young person," admitted the Queen, "and I have thought more than once lately of sending her home to England."

"Then do it, Mother. If you don't, I shall simply refuse to appear in public myself, sooner than meet her."

"She shall go, my dear. I'll see the Court Godmother about it at once. And don't let yourself get too downhearted over the other affair—Prince Mirliflor, I mean. I've great hopes we can put that right."

"I've just left poor darling Edna," she began, as soon as she found the Fairy alone; "all this has been a terrible shock to her, as you may imagine. But it seems I was right in thinking she never really cared for that unspeakable man. He terrified her into accepting him. And, between ourselves, Godmother, I fancy that, if you could induce Prince Mirliflor to come forward again, he would not be sent away a second time."

"So I should imagine, myself," said the Fairy drily. "But, as it happens, owing to the result of my previous efforts, I have lost all influence with Mirliflor. He and I have fallen out."

"But you could easily make it up with him. You might say she was really in love with him from the first, only she wished to put him to the proof—something of that sort. Tell him how delighted we should all be to see him again. There's another little matter I wished to speak to you about. Edna has taken the strongest dislike to that Miss Heritage, who I must say has acted most unwarrantably. I have made up my mind to part with her, and I thought, if you would arrange to have her taken back to England as soon as the car returns to-morrow——"

"Stop," said the Fairy, "I must have time to think over that." She had, it is true, renounced all further interference in anybody's affairs, but habit was too strong for her. Her old brain was busying itself once more with the scheme she had abandoned—a scheme that would certainly not be assisted by Daphne's expulsion from Maerchenland. So she temporised.

"Yes," she said at last, "I quite see from what you tell me, that Lady Daphne cannot remain at Court any longer. The difficulty is that I can't send her back to England just yet. My storks will not be fit for so long a flight again for a fortnight at the very least. I'm not going to have them killed on her account. I could do this for you. I could establish her in a little pavilion in a distant part of the palace grounds and keep her there, under my own eyes, till the storks are ready for another journey. It's a very secluded place—almost a wilderness—and none of the Court ever go near it."

"That seems an excellent plan," said the Queen. "But I shouldn't care for them to know that she is a prisoner. They had better be told that she has resigned her situation and left the Palace. And—you won't forget my little hint—about Prince Mirliflor, you know?"

"I will bear it in mind. In fact, if you can spare me for a day or two, I thought of going over to Clairdelune in the dove-chariot to-morrow and having a little chat with him."

"Oh, by all means do!" said the Queen gratefully. "So kind of you to take so much trouble!"

"It's more on his account than yours," replied the Fairy, with a candour that might have been intended as complimentary. "But I don't guarantee that anything will come of it—at all events for a considerable time."

"Indeed I quite understand that—that his wound can hardly be expected to heal just yet."

The Fairy lost no time in conveying Daphne to the secret pavilion without the knowledge of any of the Court. It was quite fit for occupation, and supplied with all that was necessary for comfort; the Court Godmother provided her with an attendant, and even procured some ancient volumes of Maerchenland history with which Daphne could beguile her solitude.

That night the Court Godmother summoned up all her energies to send Mirliflor another vision of Daphne. It was the best vision she had ever transmitted, but it was terribly exhausting work, and she grumbled bitterly to herself that the scheme she had in hand should demand these excessive exertions.

But it was one of the good old-fashioned schemes which have always been beloved by romantic but didactic Fairy Godmothers. It would test the characters of Mirliflor and Daphne, and be valuable moral discipline for both, while, if they came through it triumphantly, they would be amply compensated for any temporary inconvenience. She had not engaged in an affair of this kind for at least a century and a quarter, and she was looking forward to a highly interesting and enjoyable experience. First she must regain her influence over Mirliflor, but she thought she would not find much difficulty in doing that.

The Astrologer Royal had been duly summoned before the King to explain his dealings with the Ogre-Count. But he not unwisely preferred to disappear instead, taking with him his books of spells and other apparatus. It was reported that he had found refuge at Drachenstolz.

"Gone there, has he?" said King Sidney to the Marshal. "Better send someone to arrest him."

"It would need an army, sire," said the Marshal, "and a long siege, to enter the Castle."

"Oh, is that so?" said the King. "Well, then, have guards posted all round to see that they don't get out. After all, so long as we keep them boxed up there, they can't do any mischief." And the guards were posted accordingly.

Poor Ruby was almost broken-hearted on hearing from her mother that her beloved Miss Heritage had gone back to England without so much as a word of farewell. The Court received the news with murmurs, and a strong suspicion that she had not left of her own free will.

Clarence was in the deepest dejection. It was true that he had made no advance of late in his pursuit of her, but so long as she remained there had always been hope. Now that she was gone for ever, even his riding and hunting became uninteresting and purposeless. What was the use of excelling in them when she was not there to hear of his prowess?

Early that afternoon he returned from the forest, and, after spending a few minutes in his own apartments, came down to his father's private cabinet with a gloomy and slightly startled expression. He found King Sidney alone and in better spirits than usual.

"Back from your hunting already, my boy?" he said.

"Had enough of it," said Clarence. "Felt a bit off it to-day, somehow."

"Ah, your mother and I are just in from a drive. There's no doubt this—er—rupture with that disgusting fellow has brought about an enormous improvement in the public feeling. We were cheered, my boy, actually cheered!"

"It may be some time before you're cheered again, Guv'nor," said Clarence. "I mean, you made a grand mistake in letting that little perisher Xuriel sell those tables of his 'Under Royal patronage,' and I'm afraid you'll hear of it before long."

"Eh, why, what's wrong with them? They seemed to give perfect satisfaction. Have there been any complaints?"

"There'll be lots if they all go like mine has. When I came in just now I was feeling a bit peckish, so I got out my table. It laid itself right enough, only the wine was stiff with wriggly things like tadpoles—and, when I lifted the dish-cover, I'm hanged if there weren't a couple of great fat snakes under it, hissing like tea-kettles! And I paid the beggar a sack and a half of ducats for that table!"

"Most untradesmanlike!" said King Sidney indignantly. "Of course you can make him return the money! No, you can't, though, I forgot—the fellow's bolted!"

"I wasn't thinking so much of that," said Clarence, "but suppose all the other johnnies who've bought tables find they're wrong 'uns, and want their money back—from us?"

"They wouldn't have a leg to stand on, my boy. It's a clear case of 'Caveat emptor.' But, after all, there's no reason at present to suppose the other tables are—hem—in a similar condition to yours."

"It's to be hoped not," said Clarence. "There'll be the devil's own row if they are."

Unfortunately it soon appeared that they were, and the numerous persons in Eswareinmal who had purchased them felt their grievance so strongly that they sent a large and somewhat turbulent deputation to demand an audience from His Majesty.

King Sidney received them, indeed he could not very well avoid doing so, as they forced their way to his presence. He did his best to reason with them, pointing out the undeniable fact that no guarantee had been given that the tables would last for ever, and that it was scarcely surprising if, after being in constant use, they should begin to show symptoms of wear and tear—a phrase which had the effect of infuriating them almost to madness. Nor were they pacified when he quoted his maxim of "Caveat emptor," and pointed out that, if people would invest in magic tables, some degree of trickery was only to be expected. His arguments were lost on them. They had discovered somehow that the greater part of their purchase money had gone to swell the Royal revenues, and they clamoured for instant restitution.

So finally the King had recourse to his usual expedient. "Don't let us have a row about this little matter, gentlemen," he said. "I'm anxious to meet you if I can, and I tell you what I'll do. I'll have the Council summoned at once. You can lay your claims before them, and if they can see their way to granting you any compensation, we shall be as good friends as ever again."

King Sidney's idea had been that the Council, if they decreed any compensation at all, would do so from funds belonging to the State. It appeared, however, that they did not consider this to be within their powers. They decided that, as the Sovereign had enjoyed the greater part of the profit on the sales of the self-supplying tables, he was bound to refund the money, proportionate deductions being made for the period during which each table had been in proper order. This required elaborate calculations, but the Lord Treasurer had a wonderful head for figures, and worked them out to such effect that there was only moderate grumbling on the part of the creditors, all of whom received rather more than their due, while a good many had never bought a table at all.

So, on the whole, the decision satisfied all except the Royal Family.

"It's easy to be generous with other people's money!" said the King. "But this business has nearly cleared us out. That confounded Treasurer hasn't left us more than a dozen sacks or so to go on with. He's suggested that I might try to get a loan from the King of Goldenbergenland. I'm told he's wealthy, so perhaps he'd be willing to oblige a fellow-monarch, if I gave him the mine as security."

"That mine?" said Clarence. "Why, it doesn't cover its working expenses—and never will, with the wages we pay those miner-johnnies!"

"Most exorbitant," said the King; "I've been thinking of—hem—bringing back those yellow gnomes. They wouldn't want wages—and the mine would be healthier for them than those marshes they're draining."

"It might," agreed Clarence, "if there were any of the poor little beggars left. But I believe the climate has been too much for 'em."

"Has it, though? I'm afraid they must have neglected to take proper precautions. Very ungrateful, after all I've done for them! But it's no use trying to benefit that class of persons. I see that now."

Clarence still wore his pendant, though he rode less and less frequently. The Marshal told him that there was excellent carp-fishing to be had on the Crystal Lake a few miles from Eswareinmal, and he took up this sport, making solitary expeditions to the lake, from which he returned in better spirits for a time. But even this occupation soon palled, and the whole Court were struck by his increasing dejection, which, rightly or wrongly, they attributed to the absence of Lady Daphne.



CHAPTER XV

"RIVEN WITH VAIN ENDEAVOUR"

After a few hours' flight the Fairy Vogelflug's team of doves had safely deposited her at the entrance to the Palace of King Tournesol. She ascertained that Prince Mirliflor was within and went at once to his apartments. He received her with his usual respect, but there was a reserve in his manner which showed that the memory of his late fiasco was still rankling. His reserve increased perceptibly after she had explained the purpose of her visit. He altogether declined to consider a second matrimonial venture on her recommendation, hinting as politely as possible that her idea of a suitable consort for him was too unlikely to correspond with his own. "You mean with the ideal of your visions?" she said. "And you saw her again last night. Now didn't you, Mirliflor?"

"I did," he said; "but how did you know that?"

"How did I know? Because I sent you the vision, of course. I sent you the former one, too, though there were reasons why I couldn't tell you so till now."

"And why do you tantalise me by making me dream of an unattainable perfection?" he asked hotly. "Can you suppose that anything short of it will ever content me now? Since I cannot hope to find so sweet and fair a Princess in all the world, I am only the more resolved to live and die unmarried!"

"She exists, or I could not have shown her to you in a vision. You have only to do exactly as I tell you, Mirliflor, and you shall see her, and win her, if you can."

"You said all that about the other one, Godmother Voldoiseau," he replied. "No, it's no good. I really can't trust you again."

"Don't be obstinate, Mirliflor, or you'll put me in a passion, and that's dangerous at my age. I grant you I was wrong about Princess Edna. But I'm not wrong now. I assure you that, if you saw this girl, you would own that she was no less fair than she appeared in your visions."

"But if there indeed lives so lovely a Princess," he said, "how comes it that I have never heard of her existence?"

"She is no Princess, Mirliflor. Merely a poor friendless girl I have chosen to protect."

"So much the better," he said. "She is the less likely to refuse me."

"Because you are a Prince? Just so—but I don't intend that she shall accept you for any such reason. I shall not allow you to see her at all unless you promise not to reveal your rank, or even your real name, to her until I give you leave to do so."

"You have my word, Godmother," he replied. "After all, it may be that, even without rank or title, I shall succeed in obtaining favour in her eyes."

"You trust to your good looks—but those, too, you must consent to sacrifice. Love that is based on mere outward appearance soon passes. I have to be very careful now how I exercise any magic power whatever—each time it takes more and more out of me, and even sending you these visions taxed me most severely. Still, I will make another effort and change you into a less comely form."

"I suppose you are proposing to turn me into a beast of some kind?" he said. "If so, I cry off. I know it succeeded with an ancestor of ours—but that was centuries ago, and I'm not inclined to undertake the risk myself."

"I'm not asking you to undertake it. The form you would assume would be human, and not in the least repulsive. In strict fairness I ought to transform the girl as well, but as I know very well that, if I did, you would never so much as look at her, I must leave her as she is. Only if you don't consent to be transformed yourself, you will never see her at all."

"But what if I let myself be transformed and find out when I see her that she doesn't resemble my vision?"

"You need not fear that. But if, when you see her, you wish to withdraw, I will bring you back here and restore you to your own shape again, and thus you will be none the worse."

"Well," he said, "on those terms I agree." Upon which the Fairy began her incantations, and, after one or two failures, succeeded in remembering the precise formula and accomplishing the metamorphosis.

"I knew it would come back to me in time," she remarked, exhausted but gratified. "I shall suffer for it later—but it's certainly a highly successful piece of work—as you will see if you go and look at yourself in that mirror."

When he looked it was a complete stranger that he saw reflected. A young man of his own height and figure, but with features that, without being absolutely plain, were quite ordinary. His own curling brown locks were replaced by short black hair, and his complexion had deepened from its original slight bronze to a swarthy hue. Even his silk and velvet suit had suffered a change and was now a coarse leather jerkin with hose and sleeves of russet cloth.

"You might just as well have made a beast of me outright!" he said bitterly. "I should have been as likely to win the heart of any maiden as I am now."

"My dear Mirliflor," retorted the Fairy, "if, as you are now, you cannot win this girl by your own worth, it will either be because she is not worth winning or you have not sufficient worth to deserve her."

"And how," he asked, "am I to set about winning her?"

"You will start at once for Eswareinmal—on horseback if you like, provided your horse and his trappings are not too fine. You will leave him outside the City, and find your way to one of the side entrances of the Palace, where you will ask an attendant to inform me that 'Girofle'—as you will henceforth call yourself—has arrived in obedience to my summons. I will arrange that you shall see this girl, and it will then be for you to say whether you will go any further or not in this enterprise. You had better leave the Palace without seeing the King, your father, and I will explain to him that there were good and sufficient reasons for your secret departure."

However, when she did obtain an audience from King Tournesol, she saw that he was not in a mood that promised a favourable reception to any further matrimonial project on Mirliflor's behalf—at all events from her. So she merely informed him that Mirliflor had left Clairdelune to seek a bride for himself, and that he might be absent for some time. She did not mention his transformation, and was disingenuous enough to agree with the King that the Prince had behaved most unfilially in departing without permission. But King Tournesol was too glad that his son's thoughts had again turned to marriage to be very seriously angry, and the Fairy left him in tolerable good humour, and got back to Eswareinmal long before Mirliflor, who reached the Palace at last, after a journey of entirely unfamiliar discomfort and a total lack of the deference and attention he had always hitherto received as of right. He made his way in an aggrieved and rather rebellious frame of mind to a side entrance and, on inquiring for the Court Godmother, was taken at once to her apartments. After hearing his tale of hardships, which she merely said were extremely good for him, she led him down by a private staircase to the gardens at the back of the Palace, and through them, by a postern gate of which she had the key, to an uncultivated region of glades and groves. Here she ordered him to conceal himself behind a thicket at the edge of a clearing, and to remain there till she gave him leave to come out. He waited for what seemed an interminable time—and then his patience was rewarded. The Fairy returned with the very lady of his visions. This time at least his Godmother had not deceived him—the living reality was even more radiantly beautiful than his dream! They passed and repassed him several times, and, if he had not seen Daphne, the mere sound of her gay sweet voice would have been enough to enslave him. But he could see her perfectly well, and note the animation of her every gesture, the easy grace with which she moved, and her pretty tenderness for the old woman who was leaning on her strong young arm. When would the Fairy see fit to call him forth and present him to this adorable being? And yet, inconsistently enough, he was dreading the moment. How could he hope, changed as he was now, that those bright eyes would regard him with any interest whatever? But, as it happened, they did not regard him at all on this occasion, for, after a few more turns up and down the clearing, the Fairy retired with her protegee, and presently re-appeared alone.

"Well," she said, as Mirliflor came forward at her summons, "now you have seen her, what is your decision?"

"I stay here," he replied, "and will submit to anything as long as there is a chance of gaining her."

"I expected as much," she said. "And I have arranged that you shall be employed here as one of the Royal under-gardeners."

"An under-gardener!" he exclaimed. "Really, Godmother, that is not giving me a fair chance! And I've never done any gardening in my life!"

"Then it is high time you began," she said calmly. "It will not only give you a greater respect for manual labour, but subdue your pride."

"You have left me nothing I can be proud of. And what opportunity shall I have of even seeing her?"

"You will be given the key which will admit you to the grounds, and the pavilion in which she lives is not far from here. As to opportunities of meeting her, you must make them for yourself. Those are my conditions," said the despotic old Fairy, "and if you don't choose to accept them, you may as well return to Clairdelune at once, for I shall take care that you never see her again."

"Oh, I accept," he said. "I can't help myself. Only, it does seem to me, Godmother, that if you're really anxious that I should succeed, you might make it easier for me than this!"

"No doubt," she said. "But if it was easy there would be no merit in success. I am putting her to the test, remember, as well as you, and until I see how you both come through it, I cannot be certain that you are really fitted for one another."

She had, as a matter of fact, quite made up her mind that they should marry, but she could not resist such an opening for one of the practical moral lessons which, as a Fairy Godmother of the fine old didactic type, she had often brought to an effectively instructive denoument.

But if she was enjoying herself over the probation, it is more than can be said for the unhappy Mirliflor. It is true that, owing to the Court Godmother's protection, he was treated by the Head Gardener with some indulgence, but, nevertheless, he had to work much harder and longer than he liked. Sometimes, however, he was sent to the outlying part of the gardens, where he was under no supervision, and then it was easy to slip away to the postern gate, which his key enabled him to enter, and he was not long in discovering the pavilion which sheltered his divinity. He wore a big apron and carried a pair of garden shears with which he lopped and trimmed a shrub now and then by way of accounting for his intrusion, and sometimes he was rewarded by a glimpse of her. But that was all, for, with a diffidence he had never known before, he did not venture near enough to speak. The fact was that he was morbidly self-conscious about his altered appearance. If the Fairy had only let him retain his own form, he thought, he would not have hesitated a moment, but her disdain was more than he could bring himself to face, and so he watched from afar, and when she wandered out would follow at a distance, keeping her in view, while remaining unseen himself. It was, as he felt, not precisely the way to conduct a courtship, and he despised himself for his want of courage. But he always hoped that something might happen to bring them together, though it seemed less and less likely that anything would.

Daphne, meanwhile, was growing resigned to her exclusion from the Palace, which she chiefly regretted because she could see nothing of Ruby, the one member of the Royal Family for whom she could feel any real affection. She expected to hear at any moment that the car was ready to take her back to England, where she would have to find employment if she could.

The Queen had certainly furnished her with a character; "Miss Heritage," the reference stated, "has been for some months in the service of Her Majesty Queen Selina of Maerchenland as Governess-companion to Her Majesty's younger daughter, Princess Ruby. Her Majesty could not conscientiously recommend Miss Heritage as a teacher for advanced pupils, but has no doubt that she would be fairly competent to undertake a situation as Nursery Governess."

That was all—and Daphne did not think it would do much for her. And besides, people might want to know who the Queen of Maerchenland was—which would be awkward to explain. But perhaps the Court Godmother would see that she was not sent home without funds enough to support her till she could get an engagement. She would be rather sorry to leave Maerchenland, which, queer country as it was in some ways, she had come to look upon her home. However, she did not worry much about the future, being content to enjoy her present restful life as long as she might.

She was comfortable enough in the Pavilion, where she was well looked after by an elderly taciturn attendant, one of the Court Godmother's own waiting-women.

The old Fairy herself came from time to time to inquire after Daphne's health and bring her news of the Court, and her visits were welcome. When alone Daphne spent much of her time over the ancient Chronicles, which the Fairy had provided for her, and which she found strangely fascinating. Or when she was disinclined to read or embroider, she would explore the grounds about the Pavilion, which were wild and neglected enough to impart a sense of adventure to her wanderings. Often, as she walked and worked or read, her thoughts would drift into dreams—the dreams that come to most girls—of a Prince Charming who would discover her in her retreat, and be her champion and deliverer. In a country like this, such a dream was less unlikely to come true than elsewhere, and yet she always ended by laughing at herself for indulging it.

The Prince (for of course he must be a Prince!) would have to make haste if he was to find her still in Maerchenland. But even if he came in time, she thought, it would be useless—his arrival would be reported at once to the Queen. For she had lately become aware that she was being watched by someone who was obviously not the gardener he tried to appear, and whom she had more than once detected in the act of following her in secret. He must be either a spy, or a guard with orders to prevent her escape—as if she were likely to attempt it when there was no place to which she could escape! She had made no complaint to the Court Godmother, being unwilling to trouble the old Fairy with a matter of so little importance. But she took her revenge on the spy by making his task as difficult as she could. If she detected him in time lying in wait in the bushes by the front of the Pavilion, she would slip out at the back, and reach her favourite haunts by a roundabout path screened by yew hedges, while he imagined her to be still indoors. He was really such an unsuspicious spy that there was hardly any fun in baffling him. She had done so with the usual success one hot afternoon, and was making for a tree under which she often sat. It had great glossy leaves, and gorgeous flowers with a delicate but penetrating scent, and the thought of the coolness beneath its spreading branches was particularly attractive just then. After looking round and satisfying herself that she had not been pursued, she sat down and opened the book she had brought—a chronicle of the lives of the Sovereigns of Maerchenland. She had read most of it already, and instead of reading any more, she found herself thinking of the contrast between their earlier Kings and Queens and the present occupiers of the throne. The former Sovereigns had had their failings; some of them had been arbitrary and wrong-headed, one or two cruel and tyrannical. But none had ever been vulgar or ridiculous. She could understand poor Mr. Wibberley-Stimpson's being so hopelessly out of his element—but it seemed strange that Queen Selina, who was the daughter of a Maerchenland Prince, should not have inherited any trace of royal dignity. They were quite incapable of governing the people, who, as Daphne knew, regarded them with scarcely disguised contempt. And it was such a pity, for the good Maerchenlanders had been so loyal at first! They would be loyal still, if only they had a sovereign for whom they could feel a particle of—. She had got to this point in her meditations when she was startled by a stealthy rustle in the branches overhead. The spy had been too clever for her after all! Well, she thought, with malicious amusement, if he chose to take the trouble of climbing a tree to watch her, she would keep him employed up there as long as possible and see which would tire first. He was evidently getting cramped already, for the branches were cracking quite loudly, but she would not look up or show that she was in the least aware of him. And then suddenly a heavy body fell with a flop on the open book in her lap—and she realised with terror that it was no spy she had to deal with, but an infinitely more formidable enemy. It was a huge serpent that had coiled itself swiftly on her knees, which quivered under the intolerable weight, while its tail twisted round her ankles, binding them fast, and it reared its evil flat head, crested like a peacock's, to a level with her chin. Its markings, in alternate rings of cream, vermilion, black and orange, were strangely beautiful, but she was in no mood to admire them as she sat there—spell-bound under its cold tawny eyes.

Presently it spoke words which made her wish that its speech had been unintelligible. "Yes," it said, "you are quite right to be afraid of me. I am here to kill you."

"Then don't talk about it!" said Daphne, her throat so parched that she could scarcely speak; "if you must kill me, do it at once and get it over."

"Not yet," it said malignantly. "You have an agony of terror to go through before that. When I see your eyes close I shall know that the time has come, and I shall strike my fangs into that white throat of yours, and you will recover just sense enough to feel what pain it is to die!" Daphne would very possibly have closed her eyes at once and received the death stroke rather than listen any longer to the creature's threats, but she had just become aware that help was at hand. The person she believed to be a spy was stealing up, treading noiselessly over the velvet turf, his hands already outstretched with the evident purpose of seizing the reptile from behind. If she could only engage it in conversation for a minute or two, there was still a chance for her.

"I have done you no harm," she said, after moistening her dry lips. "Why should you hate me like this?"

"Ask Xuriel, my master," replied the serpent, "who called me into being for no other purpose than to put you to death."

"But I have done Xuriel no injury."

"Then it may be you are an enemy of the Count, whose servant he is. I know not—nor is it any matter. All I know is that I have been sent here to—" and here it broke off in a dreadful strangled scream as a pair of strong hands clutched it firmly by the throat and dragged it writhing into the open. Daphne sat helplessly looking on as her rescuer struggled with the thing, which had wound its coils round his waist and leg, and was trying hard to free its head and strike. He held the venomous head at arm's-length, gripping its throat tight, while the foam slavered from its distended jaws, but it was stronger than he, and, as he recognised this, he urged Daphne to save herself while there was time.

She had already risen, as she had got over any tendency to faint, but she had no intention of leaving him to his fate. She had just seen in a pocket of his leather apron those big garden-shears which she had noticed him plying with such marked incompetence, and it occurred to her suddenly that they might be of some real service now. She ran up and, watching her opportunity, succeeded in whipping them out. Then she stepped behind the serpent, and forced the blades together just below the part of its neck that was in her champion's grasp. There was a highly unpleasant scrunch and jar as they closed, but she pressed with all her strength, until the reptile's spine was cut through and its body uncoiled itself from the young man and went writhing and rolling blindly through the grass.

Daphne dropped the shears and got out of its way in sudden panic. "It's not dead! I'm sure it isn't!" she cried to the stranger, whom she had somehow ceased to think of as a spy.

"It is harmless enough now, fair lady," he said as he tossed its crested head into the undergrowth, "thanks to your courage."

"I never killed anything before," she said. "I hated doing it, and—it seems such a silly way to kill a snake!"

"It succeeded," he said, wondering how those small slim hands could have had the strength. "I could not have held it much longer. You have saved my life."

"I couldn't have," she said, "if you hadn't saved mine first. I know now that you have only been watching and following me about as you have to see that I didn't get into any danger?"

"So you were aware that I watched you?" he said.

Daphne laughed. "How could I help being?" she replied. "And of course I guessed at once that you weren't a real gardener."

"What makes you suppose that?" he said.

"Well," she said, laughing again, "I happen to have seen you at work, you know."

"I may have little skill," he said, "nevertheless, I have obtained employment here as a gardener."

"I mustn't ask you questions," she said, "but I'm quite sure that, before you came here, you were in a very different position from any labourer's." She had noticed a refinement in his speech and manner, and also the shapeliness of his hands, which the Fairy had been considerate or forgetful enough to leave unaltered.

But Daphne's words gave him a sudden hope. Had she detected that he was a Prince? If so, he was released from his promise of silence!

"All I may tell you," he said, "is that there were reasons which obliged me to leave my own country and live here where I am unknown. But I think you have guessed more than that already!"

"I will tell you what I think," she said. "I believe you are really a student, and, whatever you had to leave your country for, it was nothing you've any cause to be ashamed of. I expect you were accused of plotting against your Government—and I don't care if you did, because you wouldn't have if they'd governed properly. Anyway, you escaped, and thought you'd be safe if you could get a post in the Royal Gardens. There! it is only a guess, of course, and you needn't tell me whether I'm right or not."

He allowed her to think she was, as it was a far more creditable explanation than any he could have invented for himself.

"It was rather clever of me to guess all that," she said. "But it would have been cleverer of you to choose something you knew a little more about than gardening, wouldn't it? And we can't be strangers after this. That thing there," and she indicated the headless serpent, which had now ceased to writhe, and lay limp in the grass, with all its brilliant colour faded to dingy grey, "introduced us, but it carelessly forgot to mention our names."

"Perhaps," he said, quite seriously, "it did not know them."

"That would account for it, certainly," agreed Daphne, with equal gravity, though her eyes danced. "Then I'd better explain that I was Princess Ruby's governess before we came here. Since then I've been a sort of lady-in-waiting—and now I'm nothing at all. I'm in disgrace, like you. My name is Daphne Heritage. Now, tell me yours ... Girofle?... Well, I am going back to the Pavilion now. I don't feel safe anywhere else.... Yes, you can see me out of this dreadful place—just in case there should be another snake about," she conceded, for her nerves were beginning to feel a reaction, and she was glad of his protection.

So he walked humbly by her side, saying little for fear of saying too much, till they came within sight of the Pavilion and then she dismissed him. "We will say good-bye here," she said; "and you mustn't keep at a distance any more—it would be too absurd, now—you must come and speak to me, of course. Though I may be sent back to England at a moment's notice, and then you won't see me again. But if you don't, I shall never forget how bravely you risked your life for me."

She gave him her hand; he held its cool silken softness for a moment and would have raised it to his lips but for this new humility of his. Then, with a friendly but almost careless little nod, she was gone, leaving him with the conviction that it was indifferent to her whether they ever met again or not.

He felt that the Fates had not been as propitious as they might. They had permitted him to rescue her—but then he had been rescued by her immediately afterwards—a most humiliating anti-climax! There was one service he could still do her, he thought, and, cutting himself a stout stick, he made a thorough search of the groves, where however, rather to his disappointment, he discovered no serpents of any kind. But, in his anxiety for Daphne, he insisted on seeing the Court Godmother at once and warning her of the dangers to which she was exposing her protegee.

The old Fairy was secretly disconcerted, though she did not of course admit that there had been any neglect on her part. "I am not at all surprised, Mirliflor. In fact, I fully expected something of this sort to happen," she said unblushingly. "But I knew very well that there was no danger while you were there to look after her."

"But it may happen again," he urged. "That accursed Xuriel may create another serpent, and the next time I mayn't be at hand—unless you can get me excused altogether from working in the gardens."

"I shall not do that, Mirliflor," said the inflexible old Fairy. "And what you fear will not happen again. To begin with, that serpent was never created by Xuriel."

"But I heard it say that he had called it into being!"

"And have you ever known a serpent tell the truth? No, no, Mirliflor, Master Xuriel is clever enough in his way, but he couldn't make a serpent of that size. From what you tell me, it was evidently a Crested Serpent which he had got hold of and trained, and I happen to know it was the last existing.... But I will have a rope of fine silk, woven with a certain spell, laid round the Pavilion, and no snake, magic or otherwise, will be able to cross that. It's quite unnecessary, and will be extremely exhausting to me, still I'll do it, just to set your mind at ease. And I'll tell her not to go about alone in future.... But I can't have you going in there whenever you choose in future. The Head Gardener was complaining to me that you are neglecting your work, and it won't do to excite his suspicion. You must not attempt to see her till the close of the day, which will leave you ample time for your lovemaking.... No, she is not going to be sent back to England. I shall take care of that. So you can keep a good heart, Mirliflor. I consider you have made an excellent beginning!"

He was far from sure of it himself, but at least Daphne would be better protected henceforth, and even if he could no longer look after her by day, which he fully intended to do when he found an opportunity, he could at least see her every evening. It was some comfort, too, to feel that he could rely on her remaining in Maerchenland.

On her next visit to the Pavilion the Court Godmother heard Daphne's version of the meeting with Girofle. "I take an interest in the young man," she said. "Indeed I got him his place here. He seems to have behaved very creditably—for a mere gardener. Though I dare say you think him beneath your notice."

"After he had saved my life!" said Daphne indignantly. "As if I could—whoever he was! But, as you take an interest in him, Court Godmother, you must know as well as I do that he isn't really a gardener at all."

"Oh, indeed," said the Fairy suspiciously. "And how did you find that out? From him?"

"No, I guessed. And then he had to admit it."

"And what did he admit?"

"Well, that he is a student and has had to go into hiding because he was suspected of being mixed up in some plot or other. He didn't tell me any more than that."

"Ah," said the Fairy, concealing her relief, "he told you more than was prudent as it was. But I suppose he thought he could trust you with his secret."

"And don't you, Court Godmother?" flashed Daphne.

"Oh, I don't think you would betray him. You mustn't go and lose your heart to him, though. That would never do!"

Daphne laughed. "Court Godmother!" she said, "you're not really afraid of my falling in love with him, are you?"

"Well, no, my dear. Fortunately he's not good-looking enough to make me very uneasy about that. I should be much more afraid that he might fall in love with you."

"Oh, I hope he won't do that, poor fellow," said Daphne with a sudden and uneasy recollection of how he had followed her in secret. "But I'm going home so soon that I mayn't even see him again."

"You may have to stay here some time longer," said the Fairy, "so it's quite possible that he will try to see more of you. However, it will be easy for you to tell him plainly that you don't want to have anything to do with him."

"But I don't mind his speaking to me," said Daphne. "I told him he might. I should hate hurting him like that. And, after all, Court Godmother, if he should show any signs of—of what you're afraid of, he will soon see that it's no use, and be sensible about it."

"I dare say you're right, my dear, I dare say you're right," agreed the Court Godmother. "And anyhow, it will be time enough to trouble about that when it happens—which very likely it never will."

But in her heart she was more convinced than ever that Mirliflor had made a very good beginning.



CHAPTER XVI

"A CLOUD THAT'S DRAGONISH"

At the first opportunity Mirliflor had returned to the pavilion groves, where he need no longer worship from a distance. Daphne had received him graciously enough, but somehow he went away with a feeling that he had lost ground. He saw her every day after that, occasionally in the daytime, whenever he could evade the Head Gardener's eye, and always in the evening. She would talk to him from her window, or sometimes she would consent to come out and stroll with him in the golden dusk along grass-grown paths bordered with high and ragged walls of yew. And yet he parted from her with a sorer heart every evening. She had been as enchanting as ever, but quite as indifferent. It was useless to tell her how he loved her; whenever he had tried she had made him understand that, if he said any more, he would spoil the friendship between them. So he said no more.

Sometimes she had made him angry. Unfortunately he could never quite forget his rank, and he resented the airy way in which she treated him as a person of no particular importance. She would even laugh at his efforts to assert his dignity—and he was unused to being laughed at, especially as he often did not even understand why she laughed. For Fairy Princes have never been noted for their sense of humour, and poor Mirliflor was certainly no exception. Once, when she had innocently permitted herself to remark that she thought Prince Mirliflor had shown very little spirit or determination in his wooing of Princess Edna, he lost his temper so completely as to tell her that she would be wiser not to pass judgment on matters of which she knew so little. Daphne's silence showed how deeply he had offended, but he was too proud to conciliate her, and so his evening came to an abrupt end in mutual coolness. On his way back he cursed himself for his folly. He had done for himself now—she would never forgive him, never speak to him again! How could he have been so mad when his only happiness was being near her? But when he ventured back the next evening, prepared for final dismissal, he found her as frank and friendly as ever; she seemed to have forgotten that they had ever fallen out at all. Unfortunately this was rather humiliating than gratifying, since it only showed how utterly insignificant he was in her eyes.

But Daphne did not actually consider him insignificant at all. She was rather interested in this plain, ordinary-looking youth with a lofty manner and an air of authority that seemed so incongruous, and yet, even while she laughed at him for them, impressed her in spite of herself. He was not quick at seeing a joke—especially against himself—and she enjoyed teasing and provoking him as she would not have done in the case of anyone she disliked.

She knew he was absolutely devoted to her, and although she had made him understand that he must avoid any approach to sentiment, she was touched by his devotion, and sorry that she could make him no better return.

"But it's no use," she thought remorsefully, "I simply couldn't care in that way for any man who hadn't some good looks. I can't be more than a friend to Girofle—and, luckily, I believe he's beginning to see that at last!"

Mirliflor had certainly begun to see that he was too severely handicapped to have a chance of success, and he paid a secret visit to his Godmother's apartments to tell her so. But she was deaf to all his protests, and declined to restore him to his own form until he had either won Daphne or been refused by her. He came away furious, regretting that he had ever been such a fool as to put himself at the mercy of this obstinate old Fairy's whims. If he had not, he would not have met Daphne—but better a thousand times that he had never seen her if she was not to be his!

His visit had one result. Old Baron von Eisenbaenden happened to observe him leaving the tower, and it struck him as suspicious that so august a personage as the Court Godmother should have any dealings with an under-gardener. She must be using the fellow as her agent in some intrigue or other, he concluded, and, as she had not chosen to confide in him, it was clearly his duty to his Sovereigns to discover what she was about.

His cap of darkness might be of service to him here, but since the fiasco of the self-supplying tables he had been distrustful of any article supplied by the Astrologer Royal. However, it seemed as though the sudden decay of the tables had been due less to any malicious revenge on Xuriel's part than to some imperfection in his magic—for the cap proved to be as efficient as ever. So, after satisfying himself of this, the worthy Baron put it on and prowled unseen about the Court Godmother's tower. For some days his vigilance was unrewarded, but at length he saw Girofle hurrying down a gallery that led to the Fairy's door, and immediately gave chase. Unfortunately he arrived too late to slip in behind him, and the thickness of the door made it impossible to overhear anything of the conversation till the very end of the interview. Then, as the door was open and the Court Godmother had accompanied Girofle to the threshold, their parting words were perfectly audible.

"You are setting me an impossible task, Godmother Voldoiseau!" he heard the mysterious young under-gardener declare. "I am no nearer her than when I came. And I never shall be till you restore me to my proper self!"

"I shall do that when I see fit, Mirliflor," the Fairy replied, "and not a moment before. You have only to be patient a little longer and all will be well. I know her better than you can, remember, and, believe me, you have no cause to despair."

"So you have told me before!" he said bitterly. "But I can't and won't endure this much longer, and if you refuse to make it easier for me, I shall give up and go back to Clairdelune!"

"My dear Mirliflor," she retorted, "you won't be such a fool!"

He left her at that without another word, but the Court Chamberlain had heard enough to surprise him considerably. So this young gardener, it seemed, was really Prince Mirliflor transformed! The Baron knew that such a transformation was within the Fairy's powers, so, in spite of the total dissimilarity between the Prince and the Gardener, he never for a moment doubted that they were one and the same.

But why the Court Godmother should have chosen to act in this arbitrary manner, and how she supposed it could promote Prince Mirliflor's object, was incomprehensible.

It was only natural that he should rebel against her, and the Court Chamberlain felt so much sympathy for the ill-used young prince that he resolved to follow him to the gardens and offer his advice and assistance.

Mirliflor had already begun to rake a flower-bed with vindictive energy, when he heard himself addressed from behind, and turned to recognise the elderly official he had good cause to remember.

"Hard at work, I see," began the Baron, with a casual air intended for any witnesses of the interview. "Work," he added, cautiously lowering his voice, "which, if I may be allowed to say so, Sire, can hardly be other than distasteful to his Royal Highness Prince Mirliflor of Clairdelune."

Mirliflor noticed the purple cap which was still in the other's hand, and knew it would be useless to deny his identity. "So, Baron," he said, "you have been eavesdropping again, have you? Well, if you were in the Court Godmother's chamber just now, as I suppose you were, you know how I come to be in this position."

"I am aware, Sire," he said, "that your Royal Highness has been induced to accept it in the hope of obtaining the hand of—of a certain person whom it would perhaps be inadvisable to name."

"Certainly we will not name her," said Mirliflor, "nor need we discuss a matter that so entirely concerns myself."

"I should not permit myself the indiscretion, Sire, if I did not so ardently desire that your Royal Highness's suit may prosper. But, so long as you remain in—in the form you have deigned to assume, I cannot think you will approach your Princess with the least chance of success!"

"I agree, Baron, but as the Court Godmother happens to think otherwise, I'm powerless, you see."

"She is a most gracious and venerable lady," said the Baron; "but, though her will is as strong as ever, her mind is evidently weakening. If your Royal Highness would be guided by me, I will venture to say that you would find it more to your advantage."

"Well, Baron, and what is your suggestion?"

"I have but to inform her Majesty of the facts," he said, "and she will at once order the Court Godmother Vogelflug to restore your Royal Highness to your own form, in which, believe me, Sire, you need have no fear of refusal."

"Listen to me, Baron!" said Mirliflor, who knew very well how his old Godmother would treat such an order. "You will say nothing whatever to her Majesty of my being here—and I'll tell you why you will not. If you do, she will necessarily have to hear of your method of acquiring the information. And it's not a very creditable method, Baron!"

"I have done nothing I am ashamed of," he said doggedly; "her Majesty will recognise that I have acted solely from devotion to her interests."

"Possibly—but I fancy she will also recognise that a Court Chamberlain who uses a cap of darkness to overhear private conversations is an official whose devotion might be occasionally inconvenient. I really don't think I should mention it, Baron, if I were you."

Even he appeared to see the force of this. "Since your Royal Highness desires your presence here to remain unknown, I will observe the greatest discretion," he said stiffly; "I have the honour to leave your Royal Highness to pursue his occupation." And with this he withdrew, with very obvious affront. He left Mirliflor even more disturbed than before. The Baron, having been present unseen at his interview with his Godmother, evidently knew all about his hopes with regard to Daphne, and seemed—for some reason that Mirliflor could not fathom—anxious for his success. But, though the Court Chamberlain had promised discretion, Mirliflor doubted whether he would be able to keep such a secret long. He was quite capable of thinking that, in Mirliflor's own interests, he was justified in disclosing it. And then—Mirliflor pictured himself summoned in his present form before the whole Court—where he had last appeared as Princess Edna's suitor, the difficulty of explaining his recent behaviour—the general indignity and humiliation he would be exposed to—even if the Fairy did not repudiate all knowledge of him, which she was quite capable of doing! No, he could not stay to face all that—he must leave the Palace that very night, and without a word to his Godmother. Why should he see her when nothing he could urge would have the slightest effect? Perhaps, when she heard he was back at Clairdelune, it would bring her to her senses.

Nor would he go through any parting scene with Daphne—what was it to her whether he went or stayed? If he saw her, he might be tempted to tell her how passionately and hopelessly he loved her—and she would only laugh at him. In self-respect he would spare himself that.

He adhered to this resolution till long past their usual hour for meeting, and he had made all his preparations for departure, when he was suddenly seized with an uncontrollable longing to see her once more—whatever pain it might cost him afterwards. So, with some scorn of his own weakness, he let himself through the postern gate and went in search of her. At the end of one of the yew walks was a rusty astrolabe on a moss-grown marble pedestal, and by this he found her. Her back was towards him as she faced the western horizon, where clouds of rose and gold were sailing in a sky of warm apple-green which toned above them to a luminous silvery blue. On the edge of the slope in the foreground some cypresses were silhouetted in purplish bronze. She turned as she heard his footsteps, her face so wondrously fair in the half light that his heart ached afresh at the sight of her. "I'd quite given up expecting you, Girofle," she said, with a nonchalance that concealed her pique at his unusual tardiness—for it must be owned that she had become a trifle exacting of late. "It's so late now that I shall have to go in very soon."

"I shall not keep you long, Daphne," he replied, determined to show himself no less indifferent than was she. "I had to prepare for my journey, as I am leaving Eswareinmal to-night, and I have only come to say good-bye."

She was not only startled but deeply hurt. If he had really been so devoted as he had seemed, she thought, he could never have spoken of leaving her in this casual tone—but she would not let him see how he had wounded her. "To-night," she repeated, "I'd no idea you meant to go so soon as this. But I dare say you are only too glad to get away."

"Is one ever sorry," he said, in spite of himself, "to get away from a place where one has suffered?" She had turned to the astrolabe again, and was idly tracing out the incisions in one of its hoops with her supple forefinger, when she next spoke. "Of course I know it must have been hard for you, Girofle," she said, "still, I hoped—it was very foolish and conceited of me, I know—but I hoped that perhaps my being here made it more bearable."

"If you had not been here, I should never have come at all," he said; "you did not know that, Daphne, but I may tell you now. And at first, it is true, that just to see and be near you now and then, was happiness enough—but of late the hours I have spent here have brought me little but the misery of longing for what must ever be denied!"

She could no longer misunderstand. So far from his devotion having abated, it was stronger than she had ever imagined, and the discovery made her sorrier for him than ever. "Girofle!" she cried remorsefully, "I never knew you felt it like that—I thought you understood, and were content with—with all that I could give you. Oh, why can't you be?"

"And what have you given me, Daphne? What am I to you? Nothing! Nothing!"

"You are my friend—the dearest friend I have ever had. Is that nothing, Girofle?"

"Nothing compared with what I once hoped to be! Hoped—while, even then, I knew how impossible any hope was. And yet—and yet—what adds to my torment is that I know—yes, Daphne, I know—that—if—if by an evil fate I had not been what I am, I could have made you love me. I am very sure of that!"

She was looking at him as she spoke—and somehow she ceased to think him plain. And suddenly she knew that he had become necessary to her—so necessary that the thought of losing him was unendurable.

"And why," she said, "are you so sure that it is impossible now, Girofle?"

"Daphne," he cried incredulously, "do you mean that you can love me—even as I am?"

She did not reply in words, but her face as she raised it to his was answer enough; and then he held her in his arms, into which she nestled with a little sigh of perfect content. He could not understand how so marvellous and unlooked for a thing could have happened to him, and Daphne herself might have been at some loss to account for her sudden surrender. But she did not try—she only knew that she had been quite powerless to help it, and did not regret it.

"And you will not go away from Eswareinmal now, Girofle?" she said a little later, when they were sitting on a stone seat under an ilex, and the gold and silver stars were beginning to come out in the deep violet sky.

"Not alone, dearest," he replied. "But it will not be wise to stay here long. I was recognised this afternoon by that meddling old imbecile of a Court Chamberlain."

"Girofle!" she exclaimed, clinging to him in terror, "will he give you up—can they do anything to you? If there's danger, let us escape at once—for of course I shan't let you go alone!"

"There's no danger," he said. "If he lets out that I am here, it would be—inconvenient, but no worse. And I think my—the Court Godmother will see me through it now. I will tell her our news to-morrow morning."

"I'm afraid," said Daphne, "she won't at all approve of my marrying you—she may even try to prevent it, but she won't succeed!"

"She is more likely to be on our side," he said. He refrained, even then, from telling her why; he might be already released from his promise of silence, but he no longer rebelled against it, nor had he any impatience now to regain his own form. And so they talked on far into the night, discussing their future life together, which Daphne cheerfully assumed would be humble enough for a time—and he said nothing to disabuse her. Why should he not enjoy as long as he could the sensation—denied to most princes and millionaires—of being beloved "for himself alone?"

At an early hour the next morning, after carefully ascertaining that the Baron had not yet risen, he waited on the Fairy, who heard what he had to tell with high good-humour and complacency. "Most satisfactory, my dear Mirliflor!" she said. "And everything has turned out exactly as I always told you it would. I shall visit her this morning and prepare her for the future in store for her. As for you, you must get to your work as usual, and at noon you will find us at the end of the yew walk behind the Pavilion. I shall have to change you back to yourself again, and I'm thankful to say it will be the last time I shall ever be called upon to do anything of that sort. Then I shall take you both in the stork-car to Clairdelune, and we shall hear what your Royal father thinks of the bride you have chosen. He may consider that an ex-lady-in-waiting is not——"

"He has only to see her," declared Mirliflor. "But object as he may, no thing and no one shall separate us now."

"Well, well, if it comes to that, I dare say I shall manage to overcome his objections," she said. She might have been more explicit if she had not decided to reserve the surprise of Daphne's royal descent until the final scene at Clairdelune—which would be far more effective, as well as safer.

"And don't worry yourself about that foolish old Baron," she concluded. "We shall be gone before he can give any trouble. Now be off with you—I shan't want you till noon, and a few more hours' gardening won't hurt you!"

There was no need to hurry, so she did not leave her tower till it was nearly half an hour to mid-day, when she went slowly and by unfrequented paths through the gardens and thence to the Pavilion. Daphne, who had been anxiously expecting her, saw her from the Pavilion and came to meet her, feeling and looking rather guilty.

"Have you heard?" she asked. "But I can see you have.... Well, Court Godmother?"

"Well," said the Fairy, bent on prolonging the test to the last moment, "this is a pretty thing you have done, upon my word! You to fall in love with a penniless student! If you had only had the patience to wait," she continued, as she led her towards the yew walk, "I'd have found a handsome young Prince for you. It's not too late, even now."

"I used to think I would only marry a Prince, I don't now," said Daphne. "I wouldn't change Girofle for any Prince in the world. And what am I, after all? Just a Governess!"

"And when you have married your student, what do you suppose you are going to live on?"

"Oh, we shall manage somehow," said Daphne tranquilly. "We shall be poor, of course, but what does that matter so long as we're together?"

"Ah," said the Fairy, "but I can't understand what a beautiful girl like you can see in such an ugly young fellow!"

"He isn't ugly!" Daphne declared. "And I shouldn't mind a bit if he was! He'd still be Girofle!"

"All the same," pursued the Fairy, "you wouldn't object to his being handsomer?"

"I don't know," replied Daphne, contracting her pretty brows, "I can't imagine him any different." And then she laughed. "It's not a bit of use trying to put me out of conceit with him, Court Godmother—so you may as well give it up!"

The Fairy was satisfied at last; Daphne had stood the test triumphantly, and the time had come for her to be told of the reward that awaited her. "I am far from wishing to lower him in your eyes, my child," she said. "On the contrary, I may now tell you that he possesses advantages you little dream of. And though true love may be inspired without the aid of wealth, rank, or good looks, there was never a maiden yet who—but I perceive," she broke off with offended dignity, "that I am not so fortunate as to have secured your attention!"

They had left the yew walk by this time and entered an avenue of ilexes, beyond which lay the valley and distant hills. "I'm so sorry, Court Godmother," said Daphne, whose eyes were fixed on the view, "but—but doesn't Drachenstolz lie over there?"

"It does," said the Fairy drily, "though I fail to see why that should interest you just now."

"I—I can see something flying," explained Daphne. "It may be only a vulture—a large vulture."

"A vulture—where?" cried the old Fairy. "Nonsense. It's your fancy, child. I see nothing."

"It is a dragon!" faltered Daphne. "Can't you see it now? It's coming towards us! And oh, I'm afraid the Count has sent it—like that snake—to—to kill me!"

A dragon was a danger which the Fairy, with all her precautions, had somehow omitted to foresee, and for a time she exhibited about as much calmness and self-possession as a hen at a fox-raid. "Heaven preserve us!" she wailed. "If we were but safe at Clairdelune! What can we do?"

"Hide," said Daphne, trembling. "Quick! In the undergrowth!"

"It would spy us out from above," groaned the Fairy. "No, we must run for the Pavilion and shelter there."

Daphne seized her hand and they ran together, but they had not gone far before the Court Godmother suddenly collapsed. "My old legs fail me!" she said, "I can go no further! Run on, child, while you can!"

"And leave you!" cried Daphne. "No, I shan't do that! But oh, can't you do anything to save us! Think!"

The Fairy rose to her feet, shaking all over. "I knew a spell once," she mumbled. "I never tried it—but if I could only remember it now, it might—But I can't—I'm too old—too old! That all my plans should have come to this!"

The dragon was forging along at a tremendous pace. It would soon be near enough to single out its prey—and still the old Fairy stood there, racking her memory in vain.

Close upon noon Mirliflor had thrown away his hoe and torn off his apron for ever. In a few minutes more he would be with his love—and yet his heart was oppressed by a certain fear that had been haunting him all the morning. The Fairy would re-transform him—but could he be sure of the effect on Daphne? What if he lost, as Mirliflor, the love that Girofle had won? He was so absorbed in these disquieting reflections, as he alternately hastened and checked his pace down the broad walks, that he scarcely noticed a faint outcry, and sounds as though firearms were being discharged, which seemed to come from the Palace behind him. Perhaps, he thought, a revolt had broken out, but, if so, it did not concern him. His Daphne was in no danger in those grounds beyond the wall. He passed through the gate, and presently came to the astrolabe, and then the stone bench, both hallowed now by the sweetest associations. And yet it might be that those associations would be his last with her! It was almost a relief, on reaching the yew walk, to find it deserted. He went to the Pavilion, and there he elicited from Daphne's elderly duenna, who was rather hard of hearing, that, as her young mistress was certainly not indoors, he would probably find her in the grounds.

He searched all the yew walks in vain, and then, with a new and growing uneasiness, turned towards the avenue, but he had got no farther than a small pool in a marble basin when he heard a strange and dreadful noise above him. He glanced upwards, and saw the bulk of a huge dragon sailing high above the tree-tops. It was making swiftly for the valley; one of its claws held a pendent form in fluttering drapery, and he knew too well that the captive could only be she for whom he had been searching. He had saved her once from the malice of her enemies—this time he was powerless! He raved and cursed in impotent rage and despair while a sudden gust swept the pool and sent it surging over the brim, and a slender cypress that stood hard by rustled and shivered as though in terror. And as he stood there, he suddenly saw the old Court Chamberlain before him, holding in one hand his silken cap and in the other a sword and belt.

"Sire, Sire!" he stammered, "that accursed beast! It is bearing her off to Drachenstolz! But you may save her yet!"

"Show me how to get there!" said Mirliflor fiercely. "If I can't save her I can at least die with her. But those two devils shall pay for it first!"

"Follow me," said the Baron, giving him the sword and, followed by Mirliflor, he ran at a very creditable speed for his years in the direction of the Palace.

* * * * *

A little before noon that morning the Royal Family had collected on one of the terraces. King Sidney was pacing up and down engaged in private and apparently important conversation with the Crown Prince. The Court as usual kept a respectful distance and chattered and gossiped in whispers. The Princess Royal and Princess Ruby were sitting at a jade table playing the game that resembled Halma, while the Queen was confiding her maternal anxieties to the Court Chamberlain's sympathetic ear.

"To tell you the truth, Baron," she confessed, "I've not been at all happy lately about Princess Edna. She says nothing, but I can see she's fretting over Prince Mirliflor's silence. I hear he hasn't been seen at Clairdelune lately—taken his dismissal so much to heart that he can't appear in public, I suppose. But surely if he meant to try again he would have done so before this!"

The worthy Baron was too faithful a servant to refrain from saying something to reassure his Royal mistress, though a salutary recollection of Mirliflor's warning made him careful not to say too much.

"I can assure your Majesty from my own personal knowledge," he replied, "that his Royal Highness has by no means given up his intention of renewing his addresses to the Princess Edna."

"Then why doesn't he? There's nothing to prevent him—now."

"That, Madam," said the Baron importantly, "I am not at liberty to explain" (as a matter of fact he had no idea why Mirliflor was conducting his courtship in so eccentric a manner), "but I may say I have reason to know that at this very moment he may be nearer the Palace than is generally supposed."

"Really?" cried the Queen. "I must go and tell dear Edna that. It will cheer her up."

"I must beg of your Majesty to treat it as strictly confidential for the present," said the Baron hastily. "His Royal Highness prefers to take the Princess by surprise."

"What a dear romantic person he is!" said Queen Selina. "Then, of course, he must be humoured and I'll say nothing. But I'm so glad you told me, Baron. It's taken such a load off my mind!"

"Well," the King was telling Clarence, "those are old Goldenbergenland's terms. If you'll marry his daughter, Princess Popanza, he'll let us have all the gold we want; if you refuse, he won't even advance us a ducat. Couldn't you see your way to—to meeting him, my boy?"

"Nothing doing!" said Clarence very decidedly. "Why, Hansmeinigel was telling me the other day she's humpbacked, with a squint or something. I couldn't take it on—even if," he added gloomily, "there weren't other reasons to prevent me."

"Then," said his father, "I don't know how we're to get a fresh supply of gold—the mine's stopped working, and the confounded Council won't do anything for us."

"What's the matter with selling a few jewels?" suggested Clarence, as his eye fell on the Halma board in passing, "they must be worth a lot."

"Not here. Too common. The people think they're of no value except to kings and queens. Nothing but gold will go down in these parts. So you see, my boy, that unless you can bring yourself to——"

"I say, Guv'nor," interrupted Clarence, who seemed to welcome a distraction just then. "Look over there. That beggar Rubenfresser has let loose that poisonous dragon of his! Infernal cheek!"

"He was expressly told to keep it under control," said the King. "Most irregular!"

"It's not only loose," said Clarence, "but it's coming straight over here."

Ruby had seen it too, and sprang up delighted. "Look!" she cried, "there's darling Tuetzi! He's got away from his horrid master—and now he's coming to live with us! I must get some cake for him!" and she darted into the Palace.

"I'll go and tell those sentry-johnnies to take a pot at it," said Clarence, as he went down to a lower terrace, where the Palace sentinels were on duty. By the time he returned with them Tuetzi was almost overhead, his great wings beating with a resonant leathery clang as he flew round in ever descending circles, stretching his scaled neck and horny head in deliberate quest, until he was so low that the sunlit chalcedony slabs shed a reflected glare on his great burnished belly. "Now blaze away at it, can't you!" shouted Clarence to the sentinels, who appeared to have some difficulty in loading their antiquated pieces. "You mustn't shoot Tuetzi!" cried Ruby, running out at that moment with a heavily gilded slice of gingerhead, "he's only come for some cake!"

"Don't encourage the thing!" said the King, dragging her back. "Get away, you brute! Go home, Sir!"

As he spoke the monster made a sudden downward swoop at Edna, and, with a deftness that was quite extraordinary, hooked one of its steely claws in her girdle and soared rapidly aloft with her. It was fortunate that the belt, which was of stout jewel-studded leather, was able to sustain her weight.

"Stop firing, you fools!" yelled Clarence, as the sentinels opened a wild fusillade. "You'll only hit her!"

And, even if their bullets could have pierced the dragon's plated hide, it was soon out of range.

"It's carrying her off to that wretch!" screamed the distracted Queen. "Is there nothing we can do?"

"One thing, your Majesty," said the Baron eagerly. "Offer the Princess in marriage to anyone who will rescue her. It's the usual course!"

"To—to anyone?" repeated Queen Selina in despair. "Oh, Baron—must we?"

"You can safely do so, Madam," he whispered. "Mirliflor will be the man—and I know where to find him." And with this he rushed off first to his own chamber, then to the Crown Prince's apartments, and finally to the gardens in search of Girofle.

"Sidney," said the Queen, "tell the heralds to proclaim that we will give our poor darling to anyone who succeeds in delivering her.... Don't argue about it—do as I tell you!" which King Sidney did.

As for the Court, they were too paralysed by so unexpected a calamity to be of the least assistance. The ladies-in-waiting were all in floods of tears, distressed, not only by the awful fate that had overtaken "Princess Four-eyes," but by the painful reflection that any one of them might be the dragon's next victim.

"This couldn't have happened except in a place like this!" declared the Queen, now on the verge of hysteria. "And why it should have been permitted to happen to US!—It wouldn't have, Sidney, if you had only had the sense to insist on that thing being destroyed! But you didn't—and this is the result!"

"My love," said the King, "you forget. The poor girl herself insisted on its being spared. It—it's most unfortunate!"

And it certainly was.



CHAPTER XVII

THE REWARD OF VALOUR

If the Fairy Vogelflug could only have known that it was Edna and not Daphne who was really in danger from the dragon, she would have been comparatively calm. But since she did not know this, she was, as has been already stated, entirely unnerved for a time.

Fortunately—or at least she thought it fortunate then,—just before the creature was near enough to detect them, the long-forgotten words that formed the spell recurred to her memory. It was a spell that was admirably adapted to enable any fugitive to escape discovery, but she had never had occasion to use it before, and to perform it required an amount of mental concentration from which, in ordinary circumstances, she would have shrunk. Now she must act at once or they would both perish, and so she gabbled the necessary incantations, till, though the effort took a great deal out of her, she eventually succeeded in changing Daphne into a tall and slender cypress, and herself into a circular pool in a marble basin—a double transformation which was calculated to deceive the most observant and intelligent dragon. But, changed as she was, Daphne remained perfectly conscious of her own identity and aware of all that was happening. At first she was much impressed by the Court Godmother's ingenuity and presence of mind, but as time went on, and the dragon, instead of searching for them, seemed to have swerved away towards the Palace, she began to wonder whether there had been any real need for such excessive precautions.

And then Girofle appeared, and she gathered from his despair what must have happened to the ill-fated Edna, and that he was under the erroneous impression that she herself was the victim. Surely now the moment had come for the Fairy to reverse the spell—but, except that the surface of the pool was becoming violently disturbed, she made no sign. Daphne tried by rustling all her branches to attract his attention and assure him of her safety, but naturally failed. Even when the Court Chamberlain arrived and Girofle had rushed away with him, she was forced to stay behind as an apparent cypress, while the Fairy still retained the semblance of a more and more agitated pool. Daphne's uneasiness and anxiety would have been even greater, but for the fact that the reason for this agitation was mercifully hidden from her. The truth was that one of those accidents had happened which are not infrequent with persons who only occasionally practise the Magic Art. The Fairy had impulsively pronounced the spell that accomplished the transformation without waiting to recall the precise formula that was needed to regain her normal appearance, and for several agonising minutes the vitally important words persisted in evading her. To Daphne it seemed an age before the marble rim began to contract and the pool dry up, and presently, to her unspeakable relief, all trace of pool and basin disappeared, and in their place stood the Fairy Godmother in a sadly shaken and exhausted condition. She had strength enough, however, to restore Daphne, which she did with many groans. "I've been trying to do this for the last quarter of an hour, child," she panted. "I was beginning to think I'd forgotten the spell altogether. And now he's gone off on a fool's errand to rescue you! But I may still be in time to stop him!"

"You won't stop Girofle!" declared Daphne. "He will try to rescue Edna, just as he would me. And if it can be done he'll do it. I can't bear his going, Godmother—and yet I hope I shouldn't prevent him, even if I could!"

"He can't do anything!" said the Fairy. "He couldn't even get into the Castle, and he won't be so mad as to attempt it. Go you to the Pavilion, and stay there till I can find out what that old fool of a Baron is about with him."

Daphne obeyed. She would not deter Girofle, but to encourage him in his desperate errand was more than she was equal to just then. The Court Godmother hitched up her quilted skirts, and went off at a hobbling run in the direction of the Palace Gardens.

* * * * *

The Baron had led Mirliflor through the Gardens, and then round to a Courtyard at the back of the Palace in which stood a massive round tower pierced with many pigeon-holes. Here he brought out a small shell-shaped car on two wheels, and at his whistle a flock of white doves fluttered down from the tower, and permitted him to attach them by collars and traces to the car. "The most gracious the Court Godmother is nowhere to be found," he explained as he did so, "but assuredly she would not grudge lending her car for such a purpose as yours, since by no other means could you hope to get over the walls of Drachenstolz. Once within them you will find the sword of inestimable service, and I doubt not that you will wield it to better effect than would its owner. I would willingly lend you this," he added, fingering the cap, "only maybe your Royal Highness would not deign to employ means which I understood you are pleased to consider discreditable?"

"Don't be an ass, Baron!" said Mirliflor, seizing the cap and stepping into the car. "Where her life is at stake I have no scruples in using anything whatever. But I've no experience in driving doves—how do I guide them?"

"They need no guidance, Sire. You have but to utter the words 'To Drachenstolz,' and they will carry you straight to the Castle and set you down within its walls. God speed you!" cried the Court Chamberlain, as the Prince gave the direction, and the birds ascended with the car. "Heaven grant you bring back your Princess unharmed!"

"Heaven grant I reach her in time!" came the answer from the dove-chariot, which, after making a few preliminary circles, flew away, to all appearances unoccupied.

It had scarcely disappeared when the Court Godmother arrived on the scene. "Where is Girofle?" she demanded breathlessly.

"His Royal Highness Prince Mirliflor of Clairdelune," replied the Baron, "has just departed for Drachenstolz in the dove-car, which I knew you would wish to be at his disposal."

"And pray," said the old Fairy, "what made you think I should wish him to throw away his life for Princess Edna?"

"He will not fail to rescue her, never fear, Madam. No Prince ever does fail in these enterprises. And if he succeeds—he need no longer hesitate to disclose himself, for you will be gratified to hear that his Majesty has promised the Princess's hand to the person who may accomplish her rescue. At," added the Baron proudly, "my own suggestion."

"Oh, indeed?" retorted the Fairy. "Then it is high time you knew what kind of a Royal Family you have given to Maerchenland!" And in a few sharp sentences she let him know the truth about the pendant which he had so rashly accepted as all-sufficient proof of Mrs. Wibberley-Stimpson's title to the throne.

The poor Baron was aghast at the information, and still more when he heard who was really entitled to the crown. "The Lady Daphne!" he cried. "But she has been sent away to that far country—and who knows where she may be now!"

"She is here still, and under my protection," said the Court Godmother. "In her own interests I had determined to keep silent as to her claims, and planned that Mirliflor should win her under the form I made him assume. All had fallen out as I expected—I had just arranged to carry them both off to Clairdelune, and leave these usurpers in possession for as long as the Country would endure them—when you blunder in, like the meddlesome idiot you are, Baron, and upset everything!"

"I have been blind indeed!" he confessed. "A traitor when I thought myself most loyal! Tell me, most Gracious Court Godmother, how I may best repair my error?"

"You can't repair it without making more mischief," she said. "The only thing you can do now is to hold your tongue about it, as I shall do myself unless I am obliged to speak out. And now we had better go and see what this precious King and Queen of yours are doing, and remember, Baron, your own safety will depend on your preserving absolute secrecy as to all the matters I have found it necessary to acquaint you with."

* * * * *

On the terrace meanwhile Queen Selina had implored the Marshal to do something—anything—towards the rescue of her elder daughter. He was not sanguine; "We could raise a force, your Majesty," he said, "to ride to Drachenstolz and assault the Castle walls,—but it would be quite impossible to take it by storm, even if that dragon were not among its defenders."

"We'll have a try anyway," said Clarence gallantly. "Come on, you chaps—get into your fighting kit," he cried to the Courtiers. "And two of you boys," he added to the pages, "just run and fetch me a helmet and breastplate and things—and bring me down a sword you'll find in my room somewhere. I shouldn't mind tackling even a dragon with that sword," he added to his mother, as the Courtiers and pages ran into the Palace. "It goes clean through anything."

But the pages, when they returned with the breastplate and helmet and riding-boots, reported that the sword was nowhere to be found, so Clarence had to content himself with a more ordinary weapon. At the last moment the Queen tried to detain him. "No, Clarence!" she cried, "you mustn't go. Your life is too valuable to be risked—there are enough going without you! Stay here—if only to protect us!"

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