"I've got someone wonderfully beautiful beside me," I answered.
"But have you no interest in the American?" she asked.
"None—except that she interests you. In the third box, did you say?" I asked, turning slowly toward it.
"Why, Armand, you know her!" said Dehra, suddenly.
Trust a woman to read a man's face.
"Yes," said I, "I have seen her before to-night."
She gave me a sharp look. "And have known her, too—n'est ce pas?"
"Yes—after a fashion," I answered.
She studied the woman for a space.
"Is that her husband behind her?" she asked, presently.
I smiled. "Very possibly," I said.
"Had she a husband when you knew her?" she persisted.
"Part of the time." I was a bit uncomfortable.
"And the man, yonder, is not he?"
"No," said I.
She gave me a sidelong glance. "And her name?" she asked.
"It used to be Madeline Spencer."
"You showed excellent taste, Armand—both in her looks and name." There was something of sarcasm in the tone.
"Don't be unjust, sweetheart," I said. "She never was anything to me."
"Are you quite sure?".
"On my honor."
She gave a little sigh of relief. "I am glad, dear; I would not want her for a rival. She is much too beautiful to be forgotten easily."
"The beauty is only external. She is ugly in heart," I said. "I wonder what brings her to Dornlitz?"
"The man beside her, doubtless," said Dehra.
"Then he's spending money on her like water—or she has some game afoot," I exclaimed.
"You paint her very dark, dear."
"Listen," I said. "She was the wife of Colonel Spencer of the American Army. He married her, one summer, in Paris, where he had gone to meet her upon her graduation from a convent school. She was his ward—the child of the officer who had been his room-mate at the Point. Within two years Colonel Spencer was dead—broken-hearted; a wealthy Lieutenant of his regiment had been cashiered and had shot himself after she had plucked him clean. Since then, she has lived in the odor of eminent respectability; yet, as I know, always waiting for a victim—and always having one. Money is her God."
"And, yet, there seems to be nothing in her appearance to suggest such viciousness," said Dehra.
"Nothing," I said; "and, hence, her danger and her power."
"You knew her when she was Colonel Spencer's wife?"
"I met her at the Post where he commanded—and, later, I saw her in Washington and New York. She had been in Pittsburgh for several months before I left—angling for some of the nouveaux riches, I fancy. There was plenty of gossip of her in the Clubs; though I, alone, I think, know her true history."
"And you did not warn anyone of her?"
"So long as she let my friends alone I cared not what pigeon she plucked. And the very fact that she knew I was in Pittsburgh, was enough to make her shy of anyone I would likely care for."
Dehra laughed lightly. "Maybe you were a little bit afraid of her, yourself," she said.
"Maybe I was," I admitted; "for she has a fascination almost irresistible—when she choose to exert it."
Dehra looked at me steadily.
"Yes," said I, "she has made a try at me; once in New York; again, and only recently, in Pittsburgh. I escaped both times, thank God."
"She may make another try at you here."
I laughed. "She failed twice in America; she can scarcely win in Dornlitz when you are beside me."
"But I'm not always beside you," she objected.
"Not physically," I said.
"What chance would a mentality have against that woman's actual presence?" she asked.
"It would depend entirely on the man, and I am immune—thanks to Spencer's dead face and your sweet one."
Dehra smiled brightly. "Spencer's dead face is a mentality infinitely more potent than my living one; but I think the two should hold you. Yet, I hate that woman yonder. I believe she has dared to follow you here."
I shook my head. "Never in my life have I used words to woman such as I used to her in Pittsburgh. Oh, no, she has not followed me."
"Then, why is she here—so soon after your coming?" Dehra persisted.
"Why do thousands visit Dornlitz every month?" I asked.
"She is no casual visitor."
"Very likely," I agreed. "Madeline Spencer is not the sort to do casual travelling. She has an object—but it is not I."
"I wish I could feel secure of it."
"Do you mean it's I you doubt, dear?" I asked.
She gave me her sweetest smile. "I shall doubt you, Armand, only when you yourself order me to—and, even then, I may disregard the order."
Before such love a man falls abject in his absolute unworthiness.
"I don't deserve such trust, sweetheart," I answered humbly—and I think my voice broke in the saying.
"I'll risk it," she replied. "If I were as sure that woman's presence meant no harm to you I would be altogether easy."
"What harm could she possibly do to an Archduke of Valeria?" I laughed.
"None that I can imagine, I admit—unless she seek to discredit you with the King."
"But from what possible motive?"
"Revenge for your double scorning of her."
I laughed. "Madame Spencer has no time for such foolishness as revenge."
"I hope you may be right, dear; but a woman's intuition bids you to beware."
"Would you like to have the authorities look into her business here?" I asked.
"Yes, I surely would."
Just then Major Moore entered. I motioned him forward.
"Everything is arranged for on the Garden as Your Highness ordered," he reported.
I thanked him. "One thing more, Major," I said. "My compliments to the senior officer of the Secret Police on duty here to-night, and ask him to send me, in the morning, a full report on the parties occupying the third box on the right in this row. And do you take a good look at them yourself; it may be well for you to know their faces."
"What a satisfactory Aide," said Dehra. "His eyes didn't even waver toward that other box."
"Not only that," I answered; "but, when Moore does do his looking, those in that box won't know it, you may be sure."
Then the bells rang for the last act—and the Radnors and Courtney were announced.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
To those who have never been to Dornlitz I may say that the Hanging Garden is the name for the great balcony of the Hotel Metzen. It suggests—very faintly—the Terrace at Westminster; though, of course, it is far more beautiful, with the dancing waters of Lake Lorg instead of the dirty, sluggish Thames. It is the peculiarly fashionable restaurant, and is always thronged in the evening with the aristocracy of the Kingdom. To-night, the extreme end of the balcony had been reserved for me, and a very slight bank of plants was arranged to separate us from the general crowd.
Just before the final curtain, His Highness of Lotzen had strolled into the Royal Box. To my surprise he congratulated me very heartily upon my appointment as Governor of Dornlitz; and, perforce, I invited him to join us at supper.
He hesitated a moment, and I urged him to come. In fact, I felt a bit sorry for him. He had just lost the Princess and, with her, likely, his chance at the Throne, as well. And I had won the one and, very possibly, the other, also. I could afford to be generous. After to-night, however,—when he had learned of these facts—it would be for him to indicate as to our future attitude. For my part, I was quite willing to be friendly.
The entrance of my party made something of a sensation. To reach our table, we were obliged to pass down the Garden almost half its length and the people arose instantly and bowed.
To Lotzen, this deference was such an ordinary incident of his daily life he, doubtless, scarcely noticed it. But I was still fresh in my Royalty and it did attract me—though, I think I appreciated what he did not; that their courtesy was, in truth, to the Princess only, and not to us. Indeed, it would have been just the same if the King himself had been with us. When Dehra was in presence the people had eyes for her alone.
The supper was deliciously cooked; the wine was excellent; the service beyond criticism. I had given the two Ambassadors to Dehra and had put Lady Helen between Lotzen and myself, with Lord Radnor on the Duke's left.
We were a merry party. Dehra was positively bewitching and Radnor was simply fascinated. He could scarcely take his eyes from her, even when addressed by Lotzen; which was very little, for the Duke devoted himself very assiduously to Lady Helen. So I was remitted to Lady Radnor, who was about the most tiresomely uninteresting mortal it had been my misfortune to know—a funeral service was an extravaganza in comparison to her talk. In Washington, my rank had never entitled me to a seat at her side at dinner; and many was the time I had chaffed Courtney, or some other unfortunate, who had been so stranded beside Her Ponderousness. To-night, however, my turn was come, and Courtney was getting his revenge.
My only solace were the occasional smiles that Dehra gave me—smiles that Courtney noted instantly and, I fancied, understood; and that Lotzen intercepted; but what he thought I did not know and did not care. Who ever cares what his defeated rival thinks!
We had been there for, possibly, half an hour when, happening to glance outward, I saw Madeline Spencer and an elderly woman, and the man who had been in the box with her, coming slowly down the Garden. It chanced that a table near us had just been vacated and they were shown to it by the head-waiter, whose excessive obsequiousness proved the size of his tip.
Mrs. Spencer gave our party a single quick glance, as she drew off her gloves, and then fell to conversing with her companions.
All this I had noted out of the corner of my eye, as it were. I had not the least doubt she had recognized me at the Opera, and I did not intend to give her a chance to speak to me—which I knew she would try to do, the Pittsburgh experience notwithstanding, if she thought it might further her present plans or pleasures.
Lotzen, however, had been drinking rather freely and was not so chary with his glances. Indeed, he stared so frankly that Lady Helen did not hesitate to prod him about it.
"I would take her to be an American," I heard him say.
"Without a doubt," Lady Helen answered.
Inwardly, I consigned the Spencer woman to perdition. They would be interrogating me about her, next; and I did not know just how to answer. I would have to admit knowing her; that would only whet their curiosity and bring further questions. To tell the whole story was absurd—and, yet, only a little of it would leave a rather unpleasant inference against me. At any rate, on Dehra's account, I did not want the matter discussed.
I could feel Lotzen's glance, and I knew he was waiting only for a break in Lady Radnor's discourse. I gave him as much of my back as possible, and encouraged her to proceed. She was on the Tenement House problem; but I had no idea what she was advocating, in particular. I did not care. All I wanted was talk—talk—talk. And, whenever she showed signs of slowing up, I flung in a word and spurred her on again.
And she responded nobly; and I marvelled at her staying powers—at Lord Radnor's fortitude through so many years—at Lady Helen being the child of such a mother. But, all the time, I was conscious of Lotzen waiting—waiting—waiting. I could hear his voice and Lady Helen's merry laugh, yet I knew nothing but the ending of the supper and the breaking of the party, with Lady Radnor still riding her hobby, would save me from the question. I threw in another remark to keep her going. It was fatal.
Lord Radnor heard it; and, catching his wife's reply, I saw him frown.
"Lord bless us!" he exclaimed to the Princess and Courtney, "we must rescue His Highness—Lady Radnor is on the Tenement problem."
I tried to signal Courtney to keep Radnor occupied; but he did not understand, and only smiled and whispered something to the Princess. Then Lord Radnor caught his wife's eye and the old lady's discourse ended abruptly.
"I fear I weary Your Royal Highness," she said.
"On the contrary, I am deeply interested," I assured her. "Pray continue."
Her glance wandered eagerly across the table, but she got no encouragement from the Ambassador.
"Your Highness is very gracious," she said, "and, sometime, if you are so minded, I shall gladly show you the late reports from the London Society."
I dared not urge her further; Lord Radnor would have suspected me of making sport of his wife. So I cudgelled my brain for some other subject to talk up with her. Of course, I failed to find it instantly, and, in the momentary silence, Lotzen's opportunity came.
"Armand," he said, leaning a bit forward, "Lady Helen and I have been discussing the woman in black, yonder—the pretty one. We take her to be an American—what is your opinion?"
The whole table heard the question, and every one looked at the lady—either immediately or when they could do it with proper discretion.
"You mean the woman with the elderly couple, just near us?" I asked, glancing thither, and so on around to the Princess, who met me with a smile.
"The same," said Lotzen.
"You're quite right," said I; "she is an American."
"You know her?" he asked.
"I used to know her."
He hesitated a moment—and, of course, everyone waited. "Couldn't you still know her enough to present me?" he asked.
I shook my head. "You would be most unfortunate in your sponsor," I answered.
He smiled indulgently. "I'll risk it," he said.
"But, maybe, I won't," I answered.
His smile broadened. "Come, come, cousin mine," he said; "don't be selfish with the lady."
I smiled blandly back at him, though my hand itched to strike him in the face.
"My dear Duke," I said, "you forget I may not yet have had time to acquire certain of the—dilettante accomplishments of Royalty."
His expression changed instantly. "I beg your pardon, Armand," he said, "I was only joking."
I saw Courtney glance at Lady Helen and slowly shut one eye. He knew, as did I, that Lotzen lied.
"There is naught to pardon, cousin," I said. "We both were joking."
Then Lady Helen came to my relief.
"But there is considerable for Her Royal Highness and me to pardon," she said.
"Yes," said I, "there is."
"I take all the blame," Lotzen interrupted. "I alone am guilty; proceed with the judgment."
"What shall it be?" said Lady Helen to the Princess.
Dehra shrugged her pretty shoulders and raised her hands expressively.
"The only punishment that fits the crime is to deprive the Duke of Lotzen of all wine for the rest of the evening."
It seemed to me the Duke winced.
"Your Highness is severe," he said.
She looked him straight in the eyes. "On the contrary, cousin, I am kind to put it so—and you know it."
But Lotzen's equanimity was not to be disturbed. He smiled with engaging frankness.
"The Queen can do no wrong," he said, and bowed over the table.
Just then, Madeline Spencer arose and I breathed a sigh of relief—she was going. The next instant I almost gasped. Instead of going, she came swiftly toward us—passed the low bank of plants—and straight to me.
I arose—all the men arose—and bowed stiffly. She hesitated and seemed a bit embarrassed—then, suddenly, held out her hand to me.
"I am afraid, Armand," she said, "you are not glad to see me."
Armand! Armand! Lord, what nerve! A rush of sharp anger almost choked me, yet I tried to look at her only in calm interrogation.
"I think, Mrs. Spencer," I said, just touching her hand, "almost every man is glad to see a pretty woman."
She gave me a look of surprise; then, threw up her head, disdainfully.
"You called me 'Mrs. Spencer'?" she asked.
I looked at her in surprise. "I was not aware you had changed your name," I answered.
She took a step backward. "You were not aware of what?" she exclaimed.
"That you were no longer Mrs. Spencer," I said—a trifle curtly, maybe. I thought she was playing for a presentation to the Princess and I had no intention of gratifying her, even if I had to be rude to her deliberately.
She passed her hand across her brow and stared at me incredulously. I turned half aside and glanced around the table. Every face but three showed blank amazement. Of those three, the Princess's wore a tolerant smile; Lotzen's a frown; but Courtney's was set in almost a sneer. And, at it, I marvelled. Later, I understood; he had, by some queer intuition, guessed what was to follow.
When I came back to Mrs. Spencer her expression had changed. The incredulous look was gone; bright anger flamed, instead.
"Do you still persist, sir, that you do not know my rightful name?" she demanded.
From my previous acquaintance with the lady I knew she was working herself into a passion; though, why, I could not imagine.
"My dear Madame," I said, "why such pother over such a trifle? If your name be, no longer, Madeline Spencer, tell me what it is. I shall be profoundly glad to call you by it—or any name than Spencer," I added.
She felt the thrust and her eyes answered it. Then, suddenly, she turned and faced those at the table.
"Your pardon," she said, speaking straight at Lord Radnor, "will you tell me if this man here"—waving her hand toward me—"is Major Armand Dalberg?"
Lord Radnor bowed. "That gentleman is His Royal Highness the Grand Duke Armand of Valeria," he said.
"Erstwhile, Major of Engineers in the American Army?" she asked.
"I believe so, Madame," said his Lordship, stiffly.
"Thank you," she said. "And now——"
But I broke in. "Madame," I said sharply, "you have presumed beyond forbearance. Major Moore, will you escort the lady to her companions."
Moore stepped forward and, bowing very low, offered his arm. Like a flash, her face changed and she met him with a smile.
"Just a moment, if you please," she said, with softest accents. Then, with studied deliberation, she turned her back on me and swept the Princess an elaborate courtesy.
"Your Royal Highness may pardon my intrusion," she said, "when I tell you that I am Armand Dalberg's wife—— Now, Major Moore, I am ready," and she put her hand upon his arm.
But Moore never moved. Instead, he looked at me for orders.
Language is utterly inadequate to describe my feelings at that moment; so I shall not try. Imagination is better than words. I know I had an almost uncontrollable impulse for violence—and I fancy Courtney feared it, for he stepped quickly over and put his hand on my shoulder.
"Thank you, old man," I said. Then I looked at the Princess.
She was leaning carelessly back in her chair, watching the Spencer woman through half-closed eyes—a bright flush on each cheek and: a faint smile, half sneer, half amusement, on her lips. Suddenly she looked at me, and the smile flashed out into such an one as she had given me in the Royal Box.
My heart gave a great bound—I knew she trusted me, still. I turned to the woman in black.
"Is it possible, Madame, that you claim to be my wife?" I asked.
She dropped Moore's arm and took a step toward me—and, as I live, there were tears in her eyes.
"What has changed you, Armand?" she asked. "Why do you flout me so?"
I stared at her. "God help me, woman, you must be crazy!" I said.
She put out her hand appealingly. "You don't mean that, dear, surely?" And, now, the tears were in her voice, too.
"What I mean, Madame, is that you are either crazy or playing some game," I answered curtly.
She brushed aside the tears and gave me a look of almost heart-broken appeal.
"Why do you deny me, Armand?" she cried. "Have I grown ugly in the last few months? Has the beauty you used to praise turned so soon to ashes?"
Unfortunately, for me, her beauty had not turned to ashes. She was, at that very moment, the handsomest woman I had ever seen—save only the Princess. The slender figure—the magnificent neck and shoulders—the roll upon roll of jet-black hair—the almost classic face—and all in distress and trouble.
She was a picture, surely; and one that was making its impression; judging from the faces of Lord and Lady Radnor. I changed my manner.
"My dear Mrs. Spencer," I said kindly, "no one may deny your beauty—and I, least of all. But I do deny that I am your husband. You are, evidently, ill, and laboring under some queer hallucination."
She shook her head. "You know perfectly well, Armand, I am not ill nor under a delusion," she said, and looked me straight in the eyes.
"Then, Madame, you are a wonderful—actress," I answered.
Again the tears welled up, and one trickled slowly down her cheek. She turned quickly and made as though to go. But Courtney stayed her.
"My dear Madame," he said, with that gracious courtesy of his, which I have never seen equalled by courtier of any Court, "may I ask you a question?"
She inclined her head in answer and waited.
"You have claimed a Royal Duke of Valeria as your husband, and he has denied the claim. It is a most serious matter. It was done in the presence of many witnesses, and your words, or some of them, were, doubtless, overheard by those at nearby tables. The Capital will be full of the affair; and the results may be most unfortunate for you, and for His Highness. I am the American Ambassador; here is the Ambassador of His Majesty of England; and, yonder, is His Royal Highness the Grand Duke Lotzen, Heir Presumptive to the Valerian Throne——"
"Your speech is long, sir," she said; "please come to the question."
Courtney bowed. "I was but trying to explain why I ventured to meddle in Madame's business," he said.
She smiled wearily. "Your pardon, Monsieur; pray proceed."
"The question I want to ask is this," said Courtney: "Will you not tell us when and where you became the wife of Armand Dalberg?"
"Yes, Monsieur, and gladly—and I thank you for the thought. I was married to Armand Dalberg—then a Major in the American Army—on the twenty-first day of last December in the City of New York."
(That was only two months before I had sailed for Valeria; and I had been in New York that very day.)
"And by whom, pray?" I exclaimed.
"By the official you provided," was the curt reply. Then, to Courtney, she added: "I don't recall his name but my certificate shows it, I suppose."
"And you have the certificate with you?" he asked.
"It is somewhere among my luggage. If you care to see it I shall try to find it to-morrow."
"Thank you, Madame," Courtney answered.
Then Lotzen took a hand.
"Will Madame permit me, also, to ask her a question?" he said.
"Certainly, Your Highness," she answered, and would have curtsied had he not waved her up.
"Was the marriage secret?" he asked.
The answer was instant: "It was private but not secret."
"Then, why is it that Major Dalberg's record in the War office in Washington makes no mention of this marriage? I happen to know it does not."
"I do not know," she answered, rather tartly. "It was not, I assume, my duty to report it."
"And, further, Madame," Lotzen continued. "If Major Dalberg were lucky enough to marry you, why, in Heaven's name, should he deny you within a few short months?"
"I might guess one of the reasons," she answered languidly—and let her eyes rest upon the Princess.
And Dehra laughed in her face.
Lotzen shrugged his shoulders and was silent.
"Are there any more questions, Messieurs?" she asked.
No one answered.
"Then, with your permission, I will obey my husband's orders and withdraw," she said mockingly. "Major Moore, your arm."
When she was gone, Lotzen turned to me and held out his hand.
"I'm with you, Armand," he said heartily. "She's no wife of yours, certificate to the contrary notwithstanding."
I thanked him gratefully—the more so since it was so totally unexpected. Then, without giving the others an opportunity to express their opinion (they would, of course, have been constrained to agree with the Heir Presumptive; all except the Princess, and, of her, I had no doubt) and addressing, particularly, the Radnors, I said:
"The supper is spoiled beyond repair, I fear, but I shall ask you to go on with it, for I wish to acquaint you with some facts in the life of the woman who claims me as her husband."
"We are quite ready to accept Your Highness's simple denial," said Lord Radnor.
"I prefer you hear my story first," I answered.
Then I told them, in detail, what I had only outlined to the Princess, concerning Madeline Spencer. When I had finished, Lord Radnor shook his grey head gravely.
"His Highness of Lotzen is quite right," he said. "You never married that woman. Either she is a blackmailer or she is doing this in pure revenge. What's your notion, Courtney?"
"The marriage story is, of course, a pure lie," said Courtney, "but, there, I quit. I never try to guess a woman's purpose—and a pretty woman's least of all."
"God bless me, man!" Radnor exclaimed; "for a bachelor you are wondrous wise."
"Maybe that's why he is a bachelor," said Lady Helen.
"But even the wise get foolish at times," I said—and smiled at her. And she made a face at me behind her fan.
Then the Princess arose and, taking Lord Radnor's arm, she led the way down the garden. I came last with Lady Radnor. When we reached the exit Dehra insisted upon waiting until the Radnors and Courtney had gone. She was, she said, helping me do the honors. Then, when her own carriage was at the door, she turned to the Countess Giska.
"His Highness will drive with me," she said. "Major Moore, will you escort the Countess?"
"But, Dehra——" I protested.
She was in the brougham, now.
"You will not permit me to drive alone to the Palace," she said.
"But, Dehra——" I began again.
She reached over and took my hand.
Still I hesitated.
"Come, sweetheart," she said softly.
I could resist no longer. I sprang in; the door slammed, and we were alone together.
No, not alone, either. The Spencer woman was there with us—before us—all around us. "I am Armand Dalberg's wife" was pounding in my brain.
Then I felt a soft little hand slip into mine; a perfumed hair tress touched my cheek; and the sweetest voice, to me, on earth whispered in my ear.
"Don't I get my kiss now?"
I flung my arm about her and caught her close—then loosed her sharply and drew back.
"God help me, Dehra, I may not," I said.
She laughed softly, and again she found my hand—and I felt her hair brush my face—and her body rest against my shoulder.
"Why, Armand?" she asked. "Why may you not kiss your betrothed?"
"Because," said I, "because——"
"Yes, dear, go on," she whispered.
I drew my hand away from hers. "Did you not hear that woman claim me as her husband?" I said.
But she only pressed the closer. I was in the very corner of the carriage now; I could retreat no farther. And, maybe, I was glad. I think I was.
"But that's no reason," she insisted. "You are not her husband."
"You believe that, dear?" I cried.
She put her arms about my neck and kissed me, almost fiercely, on the lips—then, suddenly, drew back and, with both hands pressed against my breast, she viewed me at arm's length.
"Believe it?" she said; "believe it? I never believed anything else."
I took her hands and reverently touched them to my forehead—then, held them tight.
"After all these years, God would not send you to me just to mock my prayers," she added.
"But the certificate!" I objected.
"A lie or a forgery," she said scornfully.
I drew her head upon my shoulder. "Sweetheart," I whispered; "may I kiss you, now?"
She lifted her dear face and looked up into mine with glistening eyes, her lips half parted. My own eyes, too, were wet, I think.
"Yes, Armand—now and always," she answered.
And, so I held her, for a moment; then, bent and kissed her. And that kiss is on my lips this instant, and will be until they numb in death.
HER WORD AND HER CERTIFICATE
If any man—having lived a bachelor to early middle life, has then found his ideal, and has been, unexpectedly and undeservedly, favored with her love, and then, within two hours thereafter and in her very presence, has been claimed by another woman as her husband—that man will be able to appreciate something of my state of mind. No one else could, so it is not worth while attempting to describe it.
I admit I lay awake most of the night trying to determine how to meet the Spencer woman's attack. And I had reached no satisfactory decision when I went down to breakfast.
The formal ceremony of my taking over the Governorship of Dornlitz was fixed for noon. I would be occupied the remainder of the afternoon at headquarters; and then, in the evening, I was to give a dinner to the ranking military officers in the Capital. I wanted to get some plan of action arranged at once and, feeling the need of clear-headed counsel, I dispatched Bernheim to the American Embassy with a request that Courtney join me immediately. I had just finished my meal when he was announced, and we repaired to my private cabinet.
The top paper on my desk was the report of the Secret Police upon "The occupants of the third box on the right," which I had ordered the previous evening. I carried it to Courtney and we read it together. It was long and detailed and covered all the movements of the trio since their entry into Dornlitz.
In effect it was: That the elderly couple were only chance acquaintances of the younger woman, having met her on the train en route from Paris; that they had reached the Capital the previous day and had registered at the Hotel Metzen as "Mr. and Mrs. James Bacon, New York City," and "Mrs. Armand Dalberg and maid, Washington, D. C.;" that the Mrs. Dalberg had remained in her apartments until evening, had then dined in the public dining room with the Bacons, and the three had then gone to the Opera; that no callers had been received by any of them, so far as known by the hotel's officials; that, after the Opera, they had been driven directly to the hotel and had gone into the Hanging Garden and had taken a table; that, presently, the one known as Mrs. Dalberg had intruded upon certain personages of high rank, who were at a near-by table; that, after a rather prolonged discussion, she had been escorted back to her companions, the Bacons (who had, meanwhile, remained at their table) by an Aide-de-Camp of one of the high personages; that the lady in question and the Bacons, very shortly thereafter, retired to their apartments. At six A. M.—when the report was dated—they were still in their respective apartments.
I flung the report on the desk.
"Damn that woman!" I exclaimed.
Courtney sat down, and the inevitable cigarette case came out.
"That's scarcely emphatic enough, my dear boy," he said. "Go into the next room and cut loose a bit."
"I've nothing else to cut loose with," I replied. "I used up everything, last night."
"Good," said he. "If the pressure is off, you are in shape to think."
I shook my head. "No, I'm not—that's why I sent for you—to do the thinking."
He picked up the Police report. "I'm glad she registered as Mrs. Armand Dalberg," he said.
"The devil you are!" I exclaimed.
He nodded. "The first problem to solve is: What motive this woman has in proclaiming herself your wife. There are only two motives possible, I think, and this registry utterly eliminates one of them."
"You mean it is not blackmail," I said.
"And the other motive?"
"Oh, no," I said; "that woman didn't come from America to Dornlitz simply for revenge."
"Very good," said Courtney. "Then, the motive is not hers and we must look elsewhere for it."
"If you mean she is only a tool," said I, "that is almost as unlikely as revenge."
"On the contrary, why couldn't it be both—and, also, a big pile of money?" he asked.
"Because," said I, "she would balk at the notoriety."
Courtney laughed. "Good, yellow gold, and plenty of it, is a wonderful persuader."
"Come," said I; "what's your guess in the matter?"
He tossed aside his cigarette and leaned a bit forward in his chair.
"The lady has been purchased by someone to come here and pose as your wife; the moving consideration to her was enough cash to make her independently rich and the pleasure of thus being able to square off with you, on her own account. That's my guess—and I fancy it's yours too," he ended.
I laughed. "Yes," said I; "it is. I spent the night over the mix and that's the best solution I could make."
Courtney lit a fresh cigarette, "Of course, it's Lotzen," said he. "And a very clever plot it is. No Princess and no Crown for you, my boy, until this Madame Armand Dalberg is eliminated—and, maybe, not even then."
"Your 'then' is the only rift in the cloud," said I. "Eliminate the Spencer woman, and, I think, I can manage."
He looked at me questioningly.
"Her Highness was very gracious to me last night," I explained—and I felt my face getting red.
Courtney got up and came over to me,
"Is it up to a hand-shake, old man?" he asked.
I nodded, and we gripped fingers.
"It would have been up to the King, to-morrow, but for this miserable wife business," said I.
"Good!" he exclaimed. "Lotzen does not hold all the cards—you've got a few trumps, too. It will be a pretty game."
"For the spectators," I supplemented.
"For you, too; when you get into the swing of it."
"I wish I had your happy way of viewing things," I said.
He laughed. "Oh, it's easy to view some other fellow's affairs happily. That is why a friend's advice is usually serviceable."
I took a pipe and began to fill it. "It's that advice I want," I said.
He was silent for a space. I smoked and waited.
"I suppose you had no opportunity to talk with the Princess after the supper, last night?" he said.
I smiled. "I drove with her to the Palace."
"Alone?" he exclaimed.
"Yes—she ordered me in with her and sent the Countess with Moore."
He sat up sharply. "Gad! Major, she's a treasure!" he exclaimed. "That tells me what I want to know: she has measured the Spencer woman's story."
"Both story and certificate," said I. "She says the one is a lie and the other a forgery."
He raised his hand emphatically. "My dear fellow," he said, sternly, "if you didn't get down on your knees, last night, and thank the good God for that brave girl up yonder in the Palace, you deserve to lose her—and I shall go over to Lotzen's side, myself."
"Well," said I, "I didn't. I was too busy thinking about and praising her."
"That's the same thing," he said. "I'll stay with you."
I got up and bowed.
"Thank you, Your Excellency," I said.
Then we both smiled.
"It's queer," said Courtney, "how, even in the most embarrassing difficulties, a woman's love makes a man's heart light."
I nodded. I was thinking of the drive to the Palace.
Courtney's laugh aroused me. "Come out of the brougham," he called.
"That is where I was," I admitted.
"The next thing," said he, "is to see that marriage certificate."
"If there be one," I questioned.
"There is one—of that you may be sure."
"She offered to show it to you, to-day," said I. "Call her bluff."
"I'm going to accept her offer, when I leave here. And, what's more, I shall see the certificate," he said. "This plot has been too well laid for the essentials to have been overlooked. I'll bet a twenty you were in New York City on the twenty-first of last December."
"Yes," said I, "I was. So it's up to proving the certificate a forgery."
He shook his head. "I fear we shall find it a perfectly regular certificate."
"You mean," said I, "that they have bribed some official to make a false record?"
"Then, if the woman, the official and the records all convict me, how am I to prove my innocence?" I demanded.
"By waiting for the enemy to make a blunder. They have already made one which results delightfully for you."
"I reckon I'm a trifle thick-headed, Courtney," I said. "You'll have to explain."
"Never mind the head, old man; it will be all right to-morrow. Their blunder is in having unwittingly sprung their trap on the very evening the Princess and you came to an understanding. Had they been even a few hours earlier you would not have dared to speak of love to her—and so you might not have had the King's daughter as a special advocate. On the other hand, had they waited a day longer, your betrothal would, doubtless, have received Frederick's approval, and have been formally proclaimed. How embarrassing, then, to the Princess; how intensely irritating to the King, and how particularly injurious to you in the eyes of the nation—the people would think you won her under false colors; and, though you proved your innocence a hundred times, the taint would always linger."
"You're right, Courtney," I exclaimed; "right as Gospel."
"Now, see how lucky you are: You have the Princess—you are sure of her and no one knows it. You go to the King, to-day; tell him the whole story of the Princess and you, and of this Spencer woman's claim and history. Ask him to suspend judgment until you can establish the falsity of her charge. If I know Frederick, you need have no fear of his answer."
"It's the only course," said I; "but, first, I would like to know the facts as to that certificate."
Courtney arose. "You shall have a copy of it before candle-light," he said. "Where can I see you, if there is anything of my interview with the lady I think you need to know?"
"I'll be here at six o'clock," said I.
"Very good—and, of course, not a word to-night to the King as to Lotzen. Let him guess that for himself."
"Trust me," I answered; "I'm getting more awake."
Then I sent for Moore. "Colonel Moore," I said (as Aide to a Field Marshal he was entitled to a Colonelcy, and had been gazetted to it in the orders of the previous evening), "has the scene in the Garden, last night, become public talk?"
"I fear so, sir," he replied.
"Come, no sugar—out with it."
"Well, Your Highness, the town rings with it. It's the sensation of the hour."
"Good," said I. "The more they talk, to-day, the less they will talk, to-morrow."
I paused, and looked him over. He was a thorough-bred; clean-cut, handsome, manly. I never saw a finer figure than he made in his blue and white uniform.
"Now, why wasn't the lady sensible, Colonel, and marry herself to you instead of to me?" I asked.
He fairly jumped. "God forbid," he exclaimed. Then, he laughed. "Besides, I'm thinking, sir, it wasn't looks she was after."
I laughed, too. "Go 'long with you," I said; "you deserve court-martial."
Then I sent him to the King with the request to be received at seven o'clock. He also carried a note to the Princess, telling her I would call at six thirty.
In due time, he returned: The King would receive me at the hour named. The Princess, however, sent her reply by a footman. It was a note; and, except that I was expected for sure at six thirty, it is quite unnecessary to give its contents. They were not intended for general circulation. I might say, however, that the note was eminently satisfactory to me, and that I read it more than once. And it was in the inside pocket of my coat when I rode across to Headquarters to assume my new authority.
The ceremony was very brief. The retiring Governor, Marshal Perdez, with an Aide, met me at the causeway and escorted me to the large audience chamber, where His Majesty's formal order was read. Perdez then presented his staff, and the doors were thrown open and I received the officers of the Army and Navy on duty at the Capital. It was all over in an hour, and I was alone in my office with Bernheim.
I walked over to a window and stood there, in wondering reflection.
Less than three months ago, I was simply a Major in the American Army, with small hope of ever getting beyond a Colonel's eagles. The "Star" was so utterly unlikely that I never even considered the possibility. It was only a rainbow or a mirage; and I was not given to chasing either.
And, to-day, I looked down on the crowded Alta Avenue of Dornlitz—then, up at the portrait of my Sovereign—then, down at my uniform, with a Marshal's Insignia on the sleeve and the Princess Royal's note in the pocket.
What mirage could have pictured such realities! What rainbow could have appeared more dazzlingly evanescent!
Then I saw a Victoria approaching. And in it was the Spencer woman—brilliantly beautiful—haughtily indifferent. The passers-by stared at her; men stopped and gazed after; even women threw glances over their shoulders. And small wonder—for, the Devil knows, she was good to look upon.
As she came opposite me she looked up and our eyes met. I gave no greeting, you may be sure; but she leaned forward sharply and smiled and waved her hand. I gritted my teeth, and would have stepped back, but the crowd, following her direction, caught sight of me and a faint cheer went up. The men took off their hats and the women fluttered their kerchiefs. I bowed to them and saluted with my hand.
"Damn her!" I said, not knowing I spoke audibly. Then I remembered Bernheim; he was standing at another window.
"Colonel," said I, "did you see that woman in the Victoria?"
His heels came together with a click. "Yes, Your Highness.
"Have you heard of the occurrence in the Hanging Garden, last night?"
"Yes, Your Highness."
"Well, that's the lady," said I. "What do you think of her?"
"Speak out," I said.
"I think it is absolutely incomprehensible how such a woman would lend herself to Lotzen's plot," he answered, instantly.
I looked at him in vast surprise.
"So, you have guessed it," I said.
"I know Lotzen, Your Highness."
I motioned to a chair. "Sit down," I said.
Then I told him the whole story—saving only so much as concerned the Princess individually. He was plainly pleased at my confidence—and I learned many things from him, that afternoon, which opened my eyes concerning some of the Court officials and Ministers.
It was exactly six o'clock when Courtney was announced. Even as he came into the room, he drew an envelope from his pocket and handed it to me.
"A copy of the certificate," he said.
I read it very carefully. In effect, it certified that Patrick McGuire, an Alderman of the City of New York, had, on the twenty-first day of December, 190—, in that City, in the presence of John Edwards of said City, united in marriage Armand Dalberg, Major, U. S. Army, and Madeline Spencer, widow, of Washington, D. C.; there appearing, after due inquiry made, to be no legal impediment thereto; and the parties thereto having proven, on oath, their identity and their legal age.
"Well, I'm not a lawyer," said I, in disgust; "but this thing sounds pretty strong. I fancy it is about as close as I shall ever come to reading my own obituary."
"It's more than strong," said Courtney: "it's in strict conformity with the New York law.
"But, the license," I objected.
"None is required in New York."
I threw up my hands. "You saw the original certificate?" I asked.
"Yes. The lady, herself, had gone out, but had left it with her maid. And I have not the least doubt of its genuineness."
"Then, we are up to Alderman Patrick McGuire," I said.
"I cabled at noon to Washington asking the Department to obtain, immediately, full information as to his character and reputation."
"Courtney, you're a wonder," I said.
"I'm glad you approve," he answered. "I thought it well to move at once, so the inquiry could be in New York early this morning; and, even if it took the whole day to investigate, the answer should be here by midnight at the latest."
Just then, there was a knock on the door and a footman entered.
"For His Excellency, the American Ambassador," he said, and handed Courtney an envelope.
"Here it is, now," he said. "Cosgrove has hurried it to me."
Crossing to my desk he ran a knife under the flap and drew out a cablegram, glanced at it an instant, then, gave it to me without comment.
It was in cipher, of course; but, below it, Cosgrove had written the translation. It read:
"Individual named was killed last week by car at Twenty-third Street and Broadway. Character and reputation only ordinary. Integrity very doubtful. A professional ward politician."
"So," said I. "Exit the Alderman. It's a crying pity that car didn't get in its work four months ago."
"Let us be thankful for what it did do, last week."
"One lying mouth stopped," said I.
He nodded. "And only an inferior reputation left to bolster up his certificate."
I looked again at the copy. "I wonder if that car, by any possibility, might have hit Witness, John Edwards, too?"
Courtney smiled. "It's dollars to nickels the same blow killed them both."
"Then, it's my word against hers and the certificate."
"Not exactly. It's her word, her beauty and the certificate against your word, its corroborating circumstances and her history."
"That sounds logical," said I; "and yet, in fact, if there were nothing but her word it would still win out for Lotzen. I may not marry the Princess so long as another woman claims to be my wife."
Courtney frowned. "But, if you prove her a liar by cold facts?"
"It will not suffice," said I. "All doubt must be removed. She must admit her—error."
He raised his eyebrows, and out came the cigarette case.
"Then, do you appreciate that, until she does, you will have the disagreeable duty of preventing her from departing the Capital—certainly the Kingdom?"
"Practically that," I admitted. "I have already directed that she be not permitted to leave Dornlitz."
He shook his head. "There, you send me over to the Enemy. If she appeal to the Embassy I may not suffer her to be restrained. She is an American subject."
"Not at all," said I. "If she be my wife, she is a subject of His Majesty, Frederick the Third."
"Come, Major, that's not half bad," he laughed. "And I'll stand on it, too. So long as the lady claims to be the wife of a Grand Duke of Valeria, the American Ambassador will absolutely decline to interfere in her behalf."
"She may get powerfully tired of having me for a husband," I observed.
He studied the smoke-rings a bit.
"I wonder just how far it would be well for you to play the husband?" he mused.
"What's that?" I almost shouted.
"I mean, how far would she be willing to go in this wife business?"
"God knows—but the whole way, I fancy."
"Would it be worth while to bluff her by pretending to acknowledge her claim and, then, inviting her to take her place at the head of your establishment?"
"Acknowledge her! Not for the millionth of a second."
"Oh, I mean only before witnesses who understood the scheme."
"You don't know the lady, Courtney," I answered. "She would call the bluff instantly—and do it so well the witnesses, themselves, would be deceived and turned against me."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Lotzen seems to be uncommonly lucky in his leading woman," he observed.
"The Devil usually helps his own," said I.
Then, I hastened to the Palace.
THE PRINCESS ROYAL SITS AS JUDGE
Dehra was alone in her library, and she came forward with both hands extended.
"It has been a long day, Armand," she said.
I took her hands and kissed first one and then the other.
"Yes, dear one, it has been a long day," I said.
I led her to a chair and stood before her. She held up her hands and regarded them critically. Then she looked up at me with quizzical eyes.
"You like my hands?" she asked.
"Better than my lips?"
"Well, one might think so. But, if you don't, then sir, I'm waiting." Her peremptoriness was very sweet.
I had gone there determined to take no lover's privileges until the cloud I was under had been removed. But, what would you! I was not stone, nor ice—and, no more was the Princess.
"You are a very imperious little sweetheart," I said, and kissed her; and whether once or twice or oftener does not matter.
She drew me down on the arm of the chair.
"I know what was in your mind, dear," she said; "and it's very good of you; yet, we settled all that last night. I don't care a rap for that woman."
I let my fingers stray softly through her hair.
"Not even if she have legal proof I am her husband?" I asked.
"You mean that certificate," she cut in. "Have you seen it?"
"Courtney has; and it's very regular and very formidable."
She tossed her head sharply.
"It certifies a lie. I wouldn't believe a hundred of them."
"You're a wonder, Dehra; a perfect wonder," I said. "Why should you trust me so?"
She looked up with one of those subduing smiles.
"I don't know, dear," she said. "I have not bothered to analyze it. It's enough for me that I do."
"And enough for me, too, sweetheart," I said and bent and caressed her cheek.
When I raised my head, the King was standing in the doorway. I sprang up and saluted.
"I assume you were not expecting me," he remarked, looking straight at me.
"Your Majesty's logic is faultless," I replied—and I saw the Princess smile.
He came nearer and let his eyes search my face a moment.
"Can you say as much for your conduct just now, my Lord Duke?" he demanded.
I gave him look for look.
"If judged upon the true facts I can," I answered.
He studied me a moment longer; then, motioned to a chair. As I made to take it, Dehra caught my hand.
"Sit here, Armand," she commanded, touching the arm of her own chair.
I hesitated; and the King regarded her in stern surprise. Then I smiled a negation and went on to the place Frederick had indicated. Straightway, Dehra got up and, coming behind me and leaning on the chair back, she put her arms about my neck.
I reached up and took her hand—then, arose and stood beside her.
"You see, Your Majesty," said she, with calm finality, "I know the true facts."
For a space, Frederick's face remained absolutely expressionless; then, it slowly softened.
"It seems to me there are a few facts which I, too, might, possibly, be permitted to know," he said.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"It was to tell Your Majesty those very facts that I sought an audience, this evening," I said.
Just then a clock began to chime slowly the hour. The king waited until the last stroke—the seventh—had sounded, then, he nodded.
"I am listening, Marshal," he said briskly.
It might be that, after one has asked twelve or thirteen fathers for a daughter, in marriage, he has got sufficiently hardened to confront the fourteenth with, at least, a show of indifference; but, as this was my first father, I admit I was a trifle uneasy along the spine; and, somehow, my voice seemed to get lost in my throat, and the words were very reluctant in coming. I suppose Frederick saw my embarrassment for he smiled broadly.
"Come, Armand," he said; "pull up that chair. I suppose we may not smoke here," he added; "though I think I detect the faint suggestion of a miserable cigarette," and he looked at the Princess.
Dehra took a tiny jeweled case from somewhere about her gown and offered it to the King.
"Will Your Majesty try a Nestor?" she said.
Frederick shook his head in repugnance.
"His Majesty, most certainly, will not," he said.
"But His Majesty's daughter will—with his permission."
Frederick laughed. "Or, without it, if need be," he said. "She is a very headstrong young woman, Armand," he observed to me.
"So His Highness has already done himself the honor to tell me," said she airily.
"Good!" said the King. "I admire his pluck."
Dehra blew a cloud of smoke at me.
"So do I," she answered.
Then she went over and kissed the King.
"Be nice to Armand," she whispered (but loud enough, for me to hear) and left the room, flinging me a farewell from her finger tips, as I held back the portiere.
And Frederick continued to smile, and my courage grew proportionately. I came straight to the point.
"May it please you, Sire," I said, "I have the honor to pray the hand of the Princess Royal in marriage."
The King's smile faded; and his eyes travelled slowly from my head to my feet and back again to my head, for all the world as though I were on inspection-parade.
I knew what was in his mind and my courage evaporated instantly. I began to feel like a soldier caught with uniform awry and equipment tarnished.
"Do you give me your word, sir, that you are free to marry her?" he demanded, suddenly.
"On my honor, as an officer and a Dalberg," I answered.
Instantly his manner changed.
"That's quite enough, lad," he said. "If the Princess wants you—and it would seem she does—I shall not say her nay. Maybe, I am rather glad to say yes."
I tried to thank him, but he would not let me.
"It's a matter for the two most concerned to arrange," he declared "I never did fancy these loveless royal marriages. They are very little better than false ones." Then he laughed. "Tell me about this one of yours," he said, "the 'true facts' as you called them."
So, I told him, in detail, of the supper in the Garden, the astonishing accusation of the Spencer woman, and of what I knew concerning her in America. It was a long story, but Frederick's interest never dulled. At the end, I handed him the copy of the marriage certificate and the cablegram to Courtney. He read them very carefully; then smoked awhile, in silence.
"I suppose you have your own notion as to this woman's motive?" he said.
"Yes," I answered.
"Do you care to give it to me?"
I let him see my hesitation.
"Well, I think it is not entirely revenge," I said.
"It might even be that she is only playing the cards someone else has dealt her," he said significantly.
I smiled and made no answer.
"They are mighty strong cards, Armand," he said.
"And a mighty strong player holds them," I added. "More's the pity."
He nodded. "I saw the lady this afternoon in the Park. I rather fancy almost any man would be quite willing to have her claim him as her husband."
"And, therefore, her story will be very generally accepted," I said.
"Doubtless—it's far easier to accept it than to disbelieve it."
"Consequently, if it please you, Sire, let my betrothal to Her Royal Highness remain secret until this woman's claim has been thoroughly disproved."
Frederick thought a moment. "You are entirely right," he said; "and, particularly, since, under old Henry's Decree, she would be your legal wife—assuming, that is, that you had married her." Then he smiled. "You see, sir, the very thing you were so insistent upon, now works to your disadvantage. If it were not for that Decree you could laugh at this woman. I could simply pronounce her morganatic, and you would be quite free to marry Dehra, at once."
But I shook my head. "I must bring Dehra a clean record," I said; "and I have no fault to find with that Decree. But for it, I would not be here—though, neither would Madame Spencer," I added inadvertently.
The King stared at me.
"You don't think she knows the Decree," he exclaimed.
"I think she never heard of the Laws of the Dalbergs," I answered. "I mean that it was my being here that brought her."
Again the King smiled.
"What you mean is that she would not be here but for the fact that by Henry's Decree she would be your lawful wife and I powerless to interfere."
I made no answer. I was rather anxious for him to pursue the premise to its conclusion.
"You see where that deduction leads," he went on: "only Dehra and Lotzen know the Laws of our House."
"I ask Your Majesty to observe that I have made no deduction," I said.
He stopped short and looked at me, a moment.
"Quite right," he said; "and it's proper you should not to me. But, I suppose you will concede it was not the Princess."
"Certainly," I agreed.
"Ergo—it must have been——"
"I stop at the Princess," said I.
He sat silent, frowning very slightly.
"If I were quite sure that Lotzen were the instigator of this plot, I would remove him utterly from the line of succession and banish him from the Kingdom."
I thought it a proper time for me to be very quiet.
"In the meantime, however, I shall send that infernal woman packing over the border by the quickest route," he said vehemently.
"I trust not, Sire," I said. "As Governor of Dornlitz, I gave orders, this morning, that she be not permitted to leave the Capital."
"But, she's an American subject!" he exclaimed. "She can't be held prisoner."
"If she's my wife, she's a subject of Your Majesty."
"True! But why do you want to keep her here?"
"To give time to investigate her doings since I became an Archduke," I said. "I may not marry Dehra in the face of that certificate and old Henry's Decree; and, since the Alderman is dead, only through Madeline Spencer herself can the falsity of her claim be shown. Every moment here she must act her part and be under our constant surveillance. Sometime, she is sure to make a slip or forget her lines. But, let her be at large and, with plenty of funds at her command, she will be a will-o-the-wisp, to be followed over the world for years—and her slips will be few and very far between, and with no one there to note them."
"Very good," said Frederick; "keep her or send her, as you see fit—only, don't embroil me with America, if you can avoid it."
"There is no danger," I assured him. "Courtney says he will not interfere, so long as she claims to be my wife."
Frederick laughed. "Courtney's a friend," he said heartily.
"None better lives," I replied.
He lit a fresh cigar and studied the coal, a bit.
"I wish you would tell me," he said, "whether you have any evidence connecting Lotzen with this matter."
"Not a scrap nor a syllable," I answered promptly.
"Has he ever exhibited any ill will toward you?"
"None, whatever. On the contrary, he has been uniformly courteous and considerate—and I have told you of his action, last night, at the supper."
"All of which is just what he would do if he were guilty," was the answer. "No, no, Armand; your refusal to implicate Lotzen does you credit, but this attack on you comes at such an opportune moment, for him, that he may not escape the suspicion which it breeds. I don't want to believe him guilty, yet——" and he raised his hands expressively.
Then the portieres parted and the Princess stood in the doorway. Frederick saw her.
"Come in, Your Highness," he said.
She crossed to him and patted his cheek.
"Have you been nice to Armand?" she asked.
"He seemed to think so. I told him he might have you."
"You dear old father!" she exclaimed; and slipping to his knee, she gave him a long hug.
"Hold on, daughter; there are two conditions," he said. "One is that you order Armand about, now, instead of your Father."
"Oh, don't worry about me, Sire," said she, "I'm quite able to order you both."
"There's not a grain of doubt of that. But, you would better hold off on Armand until you have him safely tied up; he may rue bargain."
"I fancy I can wait that very short time," she laughed, looking at me.
"But, maybe, it won't be a very short time," the King remarked.
She tossed her head.
"It's the woman's privilege to fix the day."
"Which brings me to the second condition," said he; "that, until the present wife, which some one seems to have provided for Armand, has been eliminated, not only may there be no marriage, but the betrothal, itself, must remain a secret with us three."
"But she's not his wife!" Dehra exclaimed.
"No," said the King, "she is not his wife. If I thought she were, there would be no betrothal."
Dehra's small foot began to tap the floor.
"I have told Armand I don't care a rap for that woman," she answered. "And if, as Your Majesty admits, she is not his wife, why should she be permitted to control the situation to her own liking?"
The King looked at me with an amused smile.
"There, sir," said he, "you see what an unreasonable little woman you're seeking to marry."
I leaned forward and took Dehra's hand.
"I think I rather like this particular sort of unreasonableness," I said. Then, to her, I added: "But I must endorse His Majesty's second condition."
She frowned; then seated herself on one end of the high writing table.
"I am prepared to hear your arguments, messieurs," she said. "Pray proceed and be brief."
The King nodded to me.
"You have the opening," he said.
So, I explained the whole matter, as best I could, and the reasons which moved the King and me in our decision as to the betrothal remaining secret and the marriage deferred.
Dehra heard me through without comment; then she turned to the King.
"May it please your Honoress," said Frederick, "I cannot do more than endorse and support all that my colleague has so ably presented. We appeal to the Court's well-known sense of propriety, and throw ourselves upon her mercy."
"We have been much impressed by the argument of the learned counsel," said Dehra, in formal tones, "and, while not agreeing with all that it contained, yet, we are disposed to regard it, in the main, as sound. The second condition is therefore sustained.—But, I wish I could tell that woman what I think of her!" she exclaimed.
"God forbid!" the King ejaculated.
Dehra went over and kissed him.
"You're a dear," she said.
Then, she came across to me.
"And what is he?" asked Frederick, with a laugh.
She drew back quickly.
"According to his argument, he is only my cousin, the Grand Duke Armand," she answered.
"But, you said you did not agree with part of my argument," I objected.
"Did I?—Well, then, that must have been the part," she said.
The King arose.
"I think it's time for me to go," he said.
PITCH AND TOSS
The following morning, I cabled a detective agency, in New York, giving them all the material facts in the case and requesting them to make an exhaustive investigation of the movements of Madeline Spencer during the period intervening between my confirmation as an Archduke and her sailing for Europe. I told them I required evidence, promptly, to disprove the marriage, and gave them carte blanche in its gathering. At the same time, I wired a prominent Army officer, at Governor's Island, to vouch for my order. I wanted no time lost while the Agency was investigating me.
Of course, the natural method would have been to direct the Valerian Ambassador, at Washington, to procure the information; but, I felt quite sure, that would simply be playing into Lotzen's hand. Some one in the Embassy would be very willing to oblige the Heir Presumptive by betraying me. And it was only reasonable to suppose the Duke had already arranged for it. It was one of those "trifles" which, as Courtney had said, would not be overlooked.
About noon, Bernheim came in with a card in his fingers and a queer smile about his firm-set lips.
I took the card.
"The devil!" I exclaimed. Then I looked at Bernheim. "What's the move, now?"
"That is what I tried to find out, sir," he answered.
"Completely. And, yet, I didn't dare to dismiss her without your direct order."
"As she well knew."
"And as she had the effrontery to tell me," he added.
I laughed. "And did it very prettily, too, I'll wager."
"Quite too prettily. 'Come, Colonel Bernheim,' she said, looking me straight in the eyes, and smiling sweetly enough to turn most any man's head, 'you want to refuse to let me see the Marshal, but, you know perfectly well, you dare not. He might be glad for a word with me in private; and then, again, he might not—but you don't know and you are afraid to risk it. Voila!' And then she laughed."
"Well," said I, "I can't imagine what she wants, but you may admit her—Stay a moment—could you manage to overhear the conversation?"
"Only by leaving the door ajar."
"Well, do what you can," I said.
I was curious by what name he would announce the lady; but he used none. He simply swung back the door and spoke into the outer room:
"Madame, His Royal Highness will receive you."
"You are most kind, Colonel Bernheim," she said, in her sweetest tones, as she passed him; "I owe you many thanks."
"You owe me none, madame," was the rather gruff answer.
Then he went out, and closed the door with altogether unnecessary vigor.
She turned and looked after him.
"What a great bear he is, Armand," she said, with a confidential air.
I stiffened. "You wished to see me, Mrs. Spencer," I said.
She laughed. "Still denying me, are you?" she rippled—"And even in your own private office!"
I looked at her, in silence.
"Please don't trouble to offer me a chair, dear," she went on; "this one looks comfortable,"—then calmly seated herself, and began to draw off her gloves.
The cool assurance of the woman was so absurd I had to smile.
"I fancy it would be quite superfluous to offer you anything that chanced to be within your reach," I said.
"Certainly, dear, when, at the same time, it chances to be my husband's," she answered, and fell to smoothing out her gloves.
"Come, come!" I exclaimed. "What's the sense in keeping up the farce?"
"What farce, Armand, dear?"
"That I am your husband," I answered curtly. Her 'dears' and her 'Armands' were getting on my nerves.
Her face took on an injured look.
"Judging from your action, the other night and now, it would be well for me if it were a farce," she said sadly.
I walked over to the table, on the far side of which she sat.
"Is it possible, madame, that, here, alone with me, you still have the effrontery to maintain you are my wife?"
She put her elbows on the table and, resting her chin in her hands, looked me straight in the eyes.
"And do you, sir, here, alone with me, still have the effrontery to maintain that I am not your wife?" she asked.
"It's not necessary," said I, "for you know it quite as well as I do."
She shrugged her shoulders. "You're a good bit of a brute, Armand."
"And you're a——" I began quickly—then stopped.
"Yes?" she inflected. "I am a——?"
"I leave the blank to your own filling," I said, with a bow.
She laughed gayly. "Do you know you have played this scene very nicely, my dear," she said. "If Colonel Bernheim has chanced to stay close enough to the door, he so neatly slammed ajar, he has heard all that we have said. Though, whether it was by your order or due to his own curiosity, I, of course, do not know. Either way, however, you scored with him."
I was so sure that Bernheim would now be far enough away from the door that I reached across and flung it back.
The ante-room was empty, and, through its open doorway, we could see Bernheim and Moore coming slowly down the corridor and twenty feet away.
But she only laughed again.
"Which simply proves Colonel Bernheim's wonderful agility," she said. "He must be a most valuable Aide."
I closed the door.
"We are drifting from the point," I said. "You did me the honor to request an interview."
"Not exactly, my dear Armand. I sought admittance to my husband."
"By 'husband' you mean——?" I asked.
She smiled tolerantly. "By all means, keep up the play," she said; "but we shall save time and energy by assuming that, whenever I speak of my husband, I mean you."
"I take it, we may also assume that you did not seek such admission to me for the sole pleasure of looking at me?" I said.
"Quite right, Armand; though there was a time—and not so long ago—when we both were more than glad to look at each other.—And, maybe, I have not changed." And she leaned forward and smiled with the frankness of a sweet-faced child.
I made a gesture of repugnance.
"For Heaven's sake, madame, lay aside this simulated sentiment and be good enough to come to the point."
"The point?—the point?" she replied absently. "True, I was forgetting—the sight of you, dear, always stirs me so. I came here very angry with you, and, now, I have almost forgiven you."
I put my finger on the electric button, and Colonel Moore responded.
"Mrs. Spencer desires her carriage," I said.
She gave him one of her sweetest smiles.
"It's too bad, Colonel Moore, that I am always imposed upon you when your chief sends me from his august presence;" and she held out her hand to him.
Moore's bow over it was positively blarneying in its deference.
"It is a great pleasure, I assure you," he said.
She shook her head at him.
"Rather double entendre, Colonel."
"Madame knows it was not so meant," was the quick reply.
She gave him a glance of amused indifference; then arose.
"And Your Royal Highness does not wish to hear my particular errand?" she said.
"No more than before you—entered," I replied.
"Intruded, you mean."
"Possibly, that would be more accurate," I admitted.
She gave a sarcastic laugh.
"Your royalty seems to have been fatal to your courtesy."
"At least, there is one particular instance in which it seems to have increased my forbearance."
She gathered up her skirts, as though to go—then turned.
"And that instance is myself?" she asked.
"Your intuition is marvellous," I replied.
She sat down on the chair arm.
"But, why do you forbear, my dear?" she said. "If I am not your wife, why don't you do something to prove it?"
"What, for example?" I inquired.
She shrugged her shoulders. "How ingenious you are, Armand! You would even have me believe that, having decided to deny me, you did not, also, arrange how to proceed when I appeared."
"My dear Mrs. Spencer, I said, the other night, that you were a great actress; permit me to repeat it."
"It is very easy to act the truth, Armand," she answered.
"And your appearance in Dornlitz is, I suppose, in the interest of truth?" I mocked.
She looked at me very steadily, a moment.
"At any rate, you must admit it was well for truth and decency that I did appear."
"We but waste each other's time, Mrs. Spencer," I answered curtly, and nodded to Moore.
But she gave no heed to the Aide's proffered arm. She did not even glance at him, but leaned back on the chair, swinging her foot and looking as insolently tantalizing as possible. It was a very pretty pose.
"I may be very stupid, Armand," she said, "but, I cannot understand why, if my presence in Dornlitz is so annoying to you, you prevent me leaving it."
I smiled. "At last," said I, "we are coming to the point."
"As though you hadn't guessed it from the first," she laughed.
"Unfortunately, I have not Mrs. Spencer's keenness of intuition," I returned.
She glanced over at my desk.
"The Governor of Dornlitz needs none. Official reports are better than intuition."
"But not so rapid," I replied.
She smiled. "I was looking at the telephone," she said dryly.
"An admirable medium for unpleasant conversations," I observed.
"Particularly, between husband and wife, you mean."
I answered with a shrug.
"And, also, between the city gates and headquarters," she continued.
"You are pleased to speak in riddles," I said.
She let herself sink, with sinuous grace, into the chair.
I sighed, with suggestive audibility, and waited.
It was a good deal of a cat and dog business—and the cat was having all the fun—and knew it.
I could not well have her dragged from the room; and the other alternative—to leave, myself—was not to my taste. It looked too much like flight.
"I wish you would explain why I am not permitted to leave Dornlitz," she said.
"Have you been restrained from leaving?" I asked.
"Still pretending ignorance, my dear," she laughed. "Well, then, I was refused exit at the North gate this morning; and that, though I was only going for a short drive in the country."
"Why didn't you try another gate?" I asked.
"I did—three others."
"With similar results?"
"Therefore, you inferred?" I asked.
"Nothing, my dear Armand, nothing. I know. At one of the gates, the officer condescended to tell me that he was acting under the express order of Field Marshal, His Royal Highness the Governor of Dornlitz."
"And he told you the truth," I said.
"Of course he did," she laughed. "I never doubted it. What I want to know is your reason for the order."
"And that is what brought you here?" I asked.
"That—and the pleasure of seeing my dear husband," she drawled.
"I'll make a bargain with you, Mrs. Spencer," I said: "My motive for the order, in exchange, in strict confidence, for your motive for coming to Dornlitz."
Of course, I had no notion she would disclose the actual motive in the plot. What I was after was the story they had prepared to explain why I came to Valeria alone and left her to follow and, in the interim, posed as a bachelor.
"Surely, Armand, you're not serious!" she exclaimed.
"I never was more so," I said.
"But why should you want me to tell you something you already know?" she asked—with a quick glance at Moore.
"Come, come!" said I; "Colonel Moore is totally deaf, at times. I promise your secret shall remain within this room."
"My secret!" she laughed. "Really, Armand, you are delicious."
"I don't quite understand," I said.
She laughed again. "It seems to me that why I followed you to Valeria, instead of coming with you, is, particularly, your secret. You wouldn't care for His Majesty to know it, would you?"
"If it's my secret," said I, "don't you think I ought to be let into it?"
She thought a moment—evidently considering how much she should reveal to me. Of course, she understood what I wanted and why; but this order of mine, restricting her within the Capital, had evidently been totally unexpected, and she was set upon having some explanation of it. Hence, she was ready to bargain.
"Come!" said I. "In this game you're playing, you will have to disclose it very soon, anyway."
"But, it seems so silly, Armand, to tell you what you yourself arranged."
"Oh! So I arranged for your coming!" I exclaimed. "I suppose I also arranged for what you have done since you've been here."
She smiled sweetly. "Not quite all, my dear. I've been arranging a few things myself, thanks to your perfidy."
"We are getting away from the main point," I said. "You were about to tell me why you came to Dornlitz."
She arose languidly, and began to draw on her gloves.
"Oh, was I? Well, then, I've changed my mind."
"I bid you good-day, Mrs. Spencer," I said, and turned away.
She gave a light laugh. "Aren't you glad to be rid of me, dear?"
I faced about.
"Very," I said bluntly.
She put out a hand, as though to ward off a blow, and her face flushed, an instant.
"Armand, my dear——" she began.
I turned my back and walked toward the window.
Then, there came the rustle of silk behind me—a soft arm was flung about my neck, and a tear-choked voice exclaimed:
"Haven't you one kind word for me, dear?"
I reached up and put her arm sharply aside.
"It seems to me, madame, there has been enough of this nonsense," I said. "There is no gallery here to play to, as you had in the Hanging Garden."
She studied my face a moment—drawing her tiny lace handkerchief nervously from hand to hand.
"I must ask you to leave my office immediately," I went on. "If you decline, I shall leave and not return until you have gone."
She slowly drew herself up, and stepped back.
"And this is your last word to your wife?" she asked.
"It is my last word to you, Mrs. Spencer," I said curtly. "Are you going—or shall I?"
She swept me a bit of a courtesy, smiling the while.
"I am going, my dear Armand, I am going—but it is only au revoir."
I bowed stiffly, and motioned to Moore to escort her.
He swung open the door—then stopped short. Just entering the ante-room, from the corridor, were the King, the Princess Royal, and the American Ambassador.
Instantly, Mrs. Spencer drew back, and gave me a mocking smile.
"I've changed my mind again, dear," she said. "I'll make that trade of motives, now."
ANOTHER ACT IN THE PLAY
I hastened to the door, saluted the King, and greeted the Princess and Courtney.
"I am honored over much," I said—then watched their actions, as they saw Mrs. Spencer.
Frederick stopped short, frowned, then turned to me interrogatingly. Courtney raised his eyebrows, bowed to Mrs. Spencer, and, then, gave me a quizzical smile. Dehra flouted her enemy with one of those deliberately ignoring stares; then, she smiled at me, and went over and sat down at my desk.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Spencer stood near the table; one hand resting on it, the other holding up her gown. The attitude was most becoming and effective—and she knew it. So far as her bearing showed, the situation was the most natural imaginable. And, chancing to catch my eye, she actually gave me her most fetching smile.
She got a stare in answer, and I turned to the King.
"I have told Your Majesty of a Mrs. Spencer, who claims to be my wife," I said. "She has sought an audience with the Governor of Dornlitz, and demanded to know why orders have been issued that she be refused exit from the city. I offered to explain, if she, on her part, would disclose her reasons for coming to Valeria. She refused, and was about to depart, when, seeing Your Majesty, she suddenly changed her mind and agreed to bargain. Have we your permission to proceed?"
The King understood the situation, instantly—and I could detect a bit of a smile under his grey moustache.
"Be seated, madame," he said. "I am interested—unless, of course, you do not care for us to hear it."
She dropped him a wonderful courtesy—acquired, doubtless, in her French Convent school.
"Your Majesty is more than welcome to every word of my story," she answered, with ready frankness. "The Grand Duke Armand knows it quite as well as I; though he affects otherwise, because it pleases him to pretend that I am not his wife."
"My dear madame," the King said, "you are not to tell me anything. You are simply graciously permitting me to be present when you carry out the bargain you have just made with the Governor of Dornlitz."
She smiled very sweetly at the King; then, turned to me.
"Will you begin, Armand," she said.
I bowed. "After you, madame," said I. "And, perchance, when I have heard your story, I may revoke the order."
She smiled disdainfully—then, addressed the King:
"I consented to this exchange only because Your Majesty would, thus, hear at least some truth as to this marriage. I confess, however, I am surprised that Major Dalberg permits it to be disclosed."
She turned to me with affected hesitation.
"Are you quite sure, Armand, you really want me to tell it?" she asked.
I laughed. "You play it very cleverly, Mrs. Spencer," I said.
She shrugged her shoulders most expressively.
"On your head be it, then," she answered. Then, addressing the King, she went on. "When it was determined that Major Dalberg was to be the American Military Attache with the Valerian Army, he told me, for the first time, of his kinship to Your Majesty. On my insistent urging, he then decided to make a bid for your favor, to the end that you might acknowledge his birth and restore to him the lost estates and titles of his ancestor, Prince Hugo. Apprehending, however, that Your Majesty would look with more kindness upon him as a bachelor than as a married man, it was arranged that I should remain in America. Then, as soon as the scheme had either succeeded or definitely failed, I was to be sent for." She turned and looked at me. "It is rather needless to say—in view of Monsieur Armand's present attitude toward me—that he never sent for me. But I saw the accounts, in the daily Press, of the wonderful story of an American Army Officer, Armand Dalberg, being, in truth, a Prince of Valeria; and how he had been so accepted and proclaimed by the King. I waited two weeks and more—for word from my husband—then I came hither—and met the kind reception he gave me in the Hanging Garden."
She paused an instant; then spoke to me:
"Is there anything material that I have omitted?" she asked.
"Naturally, I do not know, Mrs. Spencer," I answered; "but, judging from your marvellous power of—invention, I should fancy not."
She turned aside the thrust with a smile.
"The bargain is, now, with you, monsieur," she said. "I await the explanation of your order."
"It is very simple, Mrs. Spencer," I said curtly; "so simple, indeed, I am quite sure you guessed it, long ago."
Her smile still lingered.
"The bargain, sir, the bargain!"
"I issued the order, madame, because you have falsely proclaimed yourself my wife, and I intend to confine your acting as such within the limits of this town. So long as you pose as my wife you will never pass the gates of Dornlitz."
"In other words, I am to be prisoner for life," she said.
"That is for you to determine," I answered.
She studied my face, a bit.
"I suppose you want me to consent to a divorce," she said.
"Divorce implies marriage," I answered.
She shook her head and smiled tolerantly.
"I really can't promise to die just to accommodate Your Highness," she said.
I made no reply.
"And that suggests the inquiry, Your Majesty," she said; "as the wife of the Prince Armand am I not a Grand Duchess of Valeria and a Royal Highness?"
Surely, the woman's impudence was almost beyond belief!
But the King was very courteous.
"The Decree of Restoration applies only to the Grand Duke Armand," he said.
"And I remain, simply, Mrs. Armand Dalberg?" she asked.
"You remain exactly what you were before the Decree was signed," he said.
She turned to me.
"Since I am to live in Dornlitz the rest of my days, where is it your gracious purpose that I reside—in the Epsau Palace or where?"
"Except to assure you it will not be in the Epsau, it is no concern of mine where you live," I answered.
"Then, it will be the Hotel Metzen—and, of course, the bill will be sent to you."
"Oh, no, it won't," I answered.
"Surely!" she exclaimed, "you can't intend to hold me prisoner, and, then, oblige me to provide my own subsistence."
"Your subsistence, Mrs. Spencer, is not my affair," I said, "since the length of your enforced detention in Dornlitz is optional with yourself."
"I mean, that when you admit I am not and never was your husband, and that the marriage certificate is false, that instant you are free to depart."
She shook her head.
"I am willing to permit you to obtain a divorce," she said, "but I may not deny the truth of the certificate."
"Very good," said I. "I trust you will enjoy your stay in Dornlitz."
She swung around toward Courtney.
"You are the American Ambassador, are you not, monsieur?" she said.
Courtney answered by a bow.
"Then, I ask if you will suffer an American citizen to be kept prisoner by the Valerian authorities without trial or legal judgment?"
"Not for a moment, madame," said Courtney, instantly, and with a quick smile at the King.
"You would protest?"
"Most strenuously—and so would Washington."
She looked at me with a triumphant sneer.
"You hear, Your Highness!" she exclaimed.
"Yes," said I, "I hear."
"I presume I am now at liberty to depart."
"From the room?—undoubtedly," I answered.
"Thank you—I mean from Dornlitz."
"Whenever you will," said I; "on the terms I gave you."
She turned, again, to Courtney.
"I appeal to Your Excellency for protection."
"Upon what basis, madame?" he asked formally.
She looked surprised.
"As an American subject," she said.
"And under what name?" Courtney asked.
"My rightful one, of course," she laughed: "Madeline Dalberg."
"Wife of the Grand Duke Armand?" he went on.
"Surely, monsieur—who else?"
"That, madame, if you will pardon, is the material point. As wife of a Valerian Prince you are a subject of His Majesty, Frederick the Third, and the American Government has no jurisdiction to interfere."
"But, His Majesty has just said I was not comprehended in the Decree restoring my husband," she objected.
"Of course, I can speak only according to the doctrine of the United States," said Courtney. "It asks only if you are the wife of a foreigner. If you are, then, his citizenship determines yours."
She gave Courtney a sarcastic smile, and addressed the King.
"Will Your Majesty tell me wherein the Valerian doctrine differs from the American?" she asked.
"It is precisely similar," said Frederick.
She leaned forward. "Then, though not an Archduchess, I am, nevertheless, a subject of Your Majesty," she said.
The King frowned. "My dear madame," he said, "questions of citizenship are not presented to me, originally. They are passed upon by the proper Department of my Government and reach me, only, in case of peculiarly extraordinary circumstances."
She arose, and went close over to the King.
"Your Majesty has heard me appeal for protection to the Ambassador of my native land and be refused, because I was no longer an American citizen," she began. "And you, yourself, have practically admitted he was correct, and that I am a Valerian subject. Therefore, I demand that freedom of action which is granted to all your citizens, and that the order of the Governor of Dornlitz be revoked."
Frederick looked at her sternly for a moment.
"Pray be seated, madame," he said; "and permit me to observe that, if you are my subject, your manner of address is scarcely respectful to your King."
"I do not desire to be disrespectful," she replied; "but, if I am your subject, I have the undoubted right to the protection of your laws. I ask Your Majesty if I am receiving that protection? I ask Your Majesty if those laws permit one, unaccused of any crime or wrong-doing, to be held prisoner within the limits of a town? I ask Your Majesty if those laws sanction such an order as your Governor, yonder, has made respecting me?"
There was just the proper touch of dignified indignation and feminine pathos. Indeed, I never saw this rather remarkable woman act her part better than in that short speech.
The King looked at her, for a bit, in silence—though, whether he was admiring her as a beautiful woman or as an artistic impersonator, I could not make out. Doubtless, it was something of both.
"As simple abstract propositions, my dear madame," he said, presently, "your questions, as put, are entitled to negative replies. But, when they are applied to the actual facts in the case, as just given by you, there is a vast difference. If you are the lawfully wedded wife of the Grand Duke Armand, there is nothing illegal in the order you complain of. In Valeria, the husband has lawful authority, upon proper cause, to restrain his wife within even smaller limits than are prescribed for you."
"But, where, in my case, is there any proper cause?" she demanded. "Besides, he avers I am not his wife—therefore, he can have no authority over me."
The King smiled. "My dear madame, you forget that it is you who insist upon submitting yourself to his authority."
"That may be, Sire; yet, I appeal to your sense of fairness. Should he be permitted to exercise a husband's authority to imprison me, and, at the same time, deny that he is my husband?"
Of course, theoretically, she was in the right. My action was, in that particular, utterly inconsistent with my position and protestations. For a moment, I was a trifle uneasy as to the King's answer.
But he brushed it lightly aside.
"The circumstances of the case are so extraordinary, madame, that I fear it cannot well be judged by the usual standard."
She smiled very sweetly. "Which means that I am to be held to the strict obligations of my position, but that the Grand Duke Armand can perpetrate any inconsistency he choose."
The King smiled back at her. "I do not doubt that His Royal Highness will be most happy to be relieved of the necessity for being inconsistent," he said.
"Good!" she exclaimed. "I am ready to leave Dornlitz and Valeria this very day."
The King turned to me, interrogatingly.
"Then, you admit you are not Madeline Dalberg?" I asked.
"On the contrary, I re-affirm it; but, I offer you a divorce."
I shrugged my shoulders and made no reply.
"You see, Sire," she said, "how reasonable he is. He condescends to be consistent only if, by forcing me to perjure myself, he can further his—schemes"—and she deliberately turned and looked at the Princess.
I stepped quickly between them.
She laughed scornfully.
"How like you, Armand," she said. "It's only a short while since you were just as thoughtful for me."
I was too angry to reply, but she could read my thoughts in my eyes. And she answered them with a taunting smile and a toss of her head.
So there was silence, for a space; then, she spoke to Courtney:
"I understand. Your Excellency refuses me your protection because I am a Valerian subject?"
"Made so by your own statements," he answered.
"And Your Majesty refuses to interfere between the Governor of Dornlitz and me, because, as his wife, I am subject to his authority?"
"In effect, yes," said Frederick.
"And you, my Lord Armand, declare that I am not your wife and, therefore, that I am an American subject?"
"I think, Mrs. Spencer, we have gone over that matter ad nauseam," I said.
"I grant you the nauseousness," she retorted.
"A bare-faced lie may not be over chary as to the defence it provokes," I answered.
She gathered up her skirts, and turned toward the door.
"What a pretty sight you three are," she sneered. "A King, an Ambassador and a Royal Archduke playing with one poor woman like cats with a mouse. Truly, sirs, you should have lived three hundred years ago. You would have shown rare skill in the torture chambers of the Holy Inquisition."
"'Pon my soul, madame!" Frederick exclaimed, "I'm glad to hear a frank opinion of myself. It's a privilege that rarely comes to a King."
"More's the pity for the King," she replied. "And more's the shame for his selfish advisers," and she looked at Courtney, and, then, at me.
"Have I Your Majesty's permission to depart—to my hotel?" she ended.
The King nodded, without replying.
She swept him another of those wonderful curtsies; then turned to Moore, who swung back the door for her.
At the threshold she looked back and smiled at me.
"Au revoir, Armand, dear, au revoir," she said almost caressingly; "you will come back to me soon, I know."
Before I could frame an answer she was gone.
MY COUSIN, THE DUKE
For the next few weeks, matters went along without any particular incident. The snarl, in which I was entangled, showed no signs of unravelling, and my marriage to the Princess and the Royal succession seemed farther away than ever.
The investigations, in the United States, had yielded nothing of any utility. Indeed, they had been practically barren, for they had told me little more than Courtney's cablegram.
Edwards, the witness named in the certificate, had not been located, though New York had been scraped as with a fine-tooth comb; so, it was safe to assume his existence was only on paper and in Alderman McGuire's brain.
The movements of Madeline Spencer had been very difficult to trace, as was entirely natural—for what hotel servant would remember, weeks after, the doings of a woman guest, whose life had been at all regular. All that could be ascertained, definitely, was that she had sailed from New York ten days prior to her arrival at Dornlitz; and that she had registered as Mrs. Armand Dalberg at the Waldorf a week before sailing; her luggage having been checked there from Philadelphia. The floor-clerk and some of the pages recalled her very readily, and were rather positive that they had not seen any foreigner with her, who resembled a Valerian.