"It's no more dangerous than riding across our prairie at dusk when you can't see the barbed wire. You are the last person in the world to find fault because a thing is dangerous," she added.
They had reached the farm, where they went to breakfast, and the young Englishman who was their host was receiving his guests in his garden, and the servants were passing among them, carrying cool drinks and powdered sweets and Turkish coffee. Kalonay gave their ponies to a servant and pointed with his whip to an arbor that stood at one end of the garden.
"May we sit down there a moment until they call us?" he said. "I have news of much importance—and I may not have another chance," he begged, looking at her wistfully. The girl stood motionless; her eyes were serious, and she measured the distance down the walk to the arbor as though she saw it beset with dangers more actual than precipices and twisted wire. The Prince watched her as though his fate was being weighed in his presence.
"Very well," she said at last, and moved on before him down the garden-path.
The arbor was open to the air with a low, broad roof of palm-leaves that overhung it on all sides and left it in deep shadow. Around it were many strange plants and flowers, some native to Morocco and some transplanted from their English home. From where they sat they could see the other guests moving in and out among the groves of orange and olive trees and swaying palms, and standing, outlined against the blue sky, upon the low, flat roof of the farm-house.
"I have dared to ask you to be so good as to give me this moment," the Prince said humbly, "only because I am going away, and it may be my last chance to speak with you. You do not mind? You do not think I presume?"
"No, I do not mind," said the girl, smiling. "In my country we do not think it a terrible offence to talk to a girl at a garden-party. But you said there was something of importance you wanted to say to me. You mean the expedition?"
"Yes," said Kalonay. "We start this evening." The girl raised her head slightly and stared past him at the burning white walls and the burning blue sky that lay outside the circle of shadow in which they sat.
"This evening—" she repeated to herself.
"We reach there in two days," Kalonay continued; "and then we—then we go on—until we enter the capital."
The girl's head was bent, and she looked at her hands as they lay in her lap and frowned at them, they seemed so white and pretty and useless.
"Yes, you go on," she repeated, "and we stay here. You are a man and able to go on. I know what that means. And you like it," she added, with a glance of mingled admiration and fear. "You are glad to fight and to risk death and to lead men on to kill other men."
Kalonay drew lines in the sand with his ridingwhip, and did not raise his head.
"I suppose it is because you are fighting for your home," the girl continued, "and to set your country free, and that you can live with your own people again, and because it is a holy war. That must be it. Now that it is really come, I see it all differently. I see things I had not thought about before. They frighten me," she said.
The Prince raised his head and faced the girl, clasping the end of his whip nervously in his hand. "If we should win the island for the King," he said, "I believe it will make a great change in me. I shall be able to go freely then to my home, as you say, to live there always, to give up the life I have led on the Continent. It has been a foolish life—a dog's life—and I have no one to blame for it but myself. I made it worse than it need to have been. But if we win, I have promised myself that I will not return to it; and if we fall I shall not return to it, for the reason that I shall have been killed. I shall have much power if we win. When I say much power, I mean much power in Messina, in that little corner of the world, and I wish to use it worthily and well. I am afraid I should not have thought of it," he went on, naively, as though he were trying to be quite fair, "had not Father Paul pointed out to me what I should do, how I could raise the people and stop the abuses which made them drive us from the island. The people must be taxed less heavily, and the money must be spent for them and not for us, on roads and harbors and schools, not at the Palace on banquets and fetes. These are Father Paul's ideas, not mine,—but now I make them mine." He rose and paced the length of the little arbor, his hands clasped behind him and his eyes bent on the ground. "Yes, that is what I mean to do," he said. "That is the way I mean to live. And if we fail, I mean to be among those who are to die on the fortifications of the capital, so that with me the Kalonay family will end, and end fighting for the King, as many of my people have done before me. There is no other way. For me there shall be no more idleness nor exile. I must either live on to help my people, or I must die with them." He stopped in his walk and regarded the girl closely. "You may be thinking, it is easy for him to promise this, it is easy to speak of what one will do. I know that. I know that I can point back at nothing I have done that gives me any right to ask you to believe me now. But I do ask it, for if you believe me—believe what I say—it makes it easier for me to tell you why after this I must live worthily. But you know why? You must know; it is not possible that you do not know."
He sat down beside her on the bench, leaning forward and crushing his hands together on his knee. "It is because I love you. Because I love you so that everything which is not worthy is hateful to me, myself most of all. It is the only thing that counts. I used to think I knew what love meant; I used to think love was a selfish thing that needed love in return, that it must be fed on love to live, that it needed vows and tender speeches and caresses, or it would die. I know now that when one truly cares, he does not ask whether the other cares or not. It is what one gives that counts, not what one receives. You have given me nothing—nothing—not a word nor a look; yet since I have known you I have been more madly happy in just knowing that you live than I would have been had any other woman in all the world thrown herself into my arms and said she loved me above all other men. I am not fit to tell you this. But to-night I go to try myself, either never to see you again, or to come back perhaps more worthy to love you. Think of this when I am gone. Do not speak to me now. I may have made you hate me for speaking so, or I may have made you pity me; so let me go not knowing, just loving you, worshipping you, and holding you apart and above all other people. I go to fight for you, do you understand? Not for our Church, not for my people, but for you, to live or die for you. And I ask nothing from you but that you will let me love you always."
The Prince bent, and catching up Miss Carson's riding-gloves that lay beside her on the bench, kissed them again and again, and then, rising quickly, walked out of the arbor into the white sunshine, and, without turning, mounted his pony and galloped across the burning desert in the direction of Tangier.
Archie Gordon had not been invited to join the excursion into the country, nor would he have accepted it, for he wished to be by himself that he might review the situation and consider what lay before him. He sat with his long legs dangling over the broad rampart which overlooks the harbor of Tangier. He was whistling meditatively to himself and beating an accompaniment to the tune with his heels. At intervals he ceased whistling while he placed a cigar between his teeth and pulled upon it thoughtfully, resuming his tune again at the point where it had been interrupted. Below him the waves ran up lazily on the level beach and sank again, dragging the long sea-weed with them, as they swept against the sharp rocks, and exposed them for an instant, naked and glistening in the sun. On either side of him the town stretched to meet the low, white, sand-hills in a crescent of low, white houses pierced by green minarets and royal palms. A warm sun had sent the world to sleep at mid-day, and an enforced peace hung over the glaring white town and the sparkling blue sea. Gordon blinked at the glare, but his eyes showed no signs of drowsiness. They were, on the contrary, awake to all that passed on the high road behind him, and on the sandy beach at his feet, while at the same time his mind was busily occupied in reviewing what had occurred the day before, and in adjusting new conditions. At the hotel he had found that the situation was becoming too complicated, and that it was impossible to feel sure of the truth of anything, or of the sincerity of anyone. Since the luncheon hour the day before he had become a fellow-conspirator with men who were as objectionable to him in every way as he knew he was obnoxious to them. But they had been forced to accept him because, so they supposed, he had them at the mercy of his own pleasure. He knew their secret, and in the legitimate pursuit of his profession he could, if he chose, inform the island of Messina, with the rest of the world, of their intention toward it, and bring their expedition to an end, though he had chosen, as a reward for his silence, to become one of themselves. Only the Countess Zara had guessed the truth, that it was Gordon himself who was at their mercy, and that so long as the American girl persisted in casting her fortunes with them her old young friend was only too eager to make any arrangement with them that would keep him at her side.
It was a perplexing position, and Gordon turned it over and over in his mind. Had it not been that Miss Carson had a part in it he would have enjoyed the adventure, as an adventure, keenly. He had no objections to fighting on the side of rascals, or against rascals. He objected to them only in the calmer moments of private life; and as he was of course ignorant that the expedition was only a make-believe, he felt a certain respect for his fellow-conspirators as men who were willing to stake their lives for a chance of better fortune. But that their bravery was of the kind which would make them hesitate to rob and deceive a helpless girl he very much doubted; for he knew that even the bravest of warriors on their way to battle will requisition a herd of cattle or stop to loot a temple. The day before, Gordon had witnessed the brief ceremony which attended the presentation of the young noblemen from Paris who had volunteered for the expedition in all good faith, and he reviewed it and analyzed it as he sat smoking on the ramparts.
It had been an impressive ceremony, in spite of the fact that so few had taken part in it, but the earnestness of the visitors and the enthusiasm of Kalonay and the priest had made up for the lack of numbers. The scene had appealed to him as one of the most dramatic he had witnessed in the pursuit of a calling in which looking on at real dramas was the most frequent duty, and he had enjoyed the strange mixture of ancient terms of address and titles with the modern manners of the men themselves. It had interested him to watch Baron Barrat bring out the ancient crown and jewelled sceptre which had been the regalia of all the Kings of Messina since the Crusades and spread them out upon a wicker tea-table, from which Niccolas had just removed some empty coffee-cups, half filled with the ends of cigarettes, some yellow-backed novels, and a copy of the Paris Figaro. It was also interesting to him to note how the sight of the little heir-apparent affected both the peasants from the mountains and the young nobles from the Club Royale. The former fell upon their knees with the tears rolling down the furrows in their tanned cheeks, while the little wise-eyed boy stood clinging to his nurse's skirts with one hand and to his father's finger with the other, and nodded his head at them gravely like a toy mandarin.
Then the King had addressed them in a dignified, earnest, and almost eloquent speech, and had promised much and prophesied the best of fortunes, and then, at the last, had turned suddenly toward Miss Carson, where she stood in the background between her mother and Father Paul.
"Every cause has its Joan of Arc, or its Maria Theresa," he cried, looking steadfastly at Miss Carson. "No cause has succeeded without some good woman to aid it. To help us, my friends, we have a daughter of the people, as was Joan of Arc, and a queen, as was Maria Theresa, for she comes from that country where every woman is a queen in her own right, and where the love of liberty is inherent." The King took a quick step backward, and taking Miss Carson's hand drew her forward beside him and placed her facing his audience, while the girl made vain efforts to withdraw her hand. "This is she," he said earnestly, "the true daughter of the Church who has made it possible for us to return to our own again. It is due to her that the King of Messina shall sit once more on his throne; it is through her generosity alone that the churches will rise from their ruins and that you will once again hear the Angelus ring across the fields at sunset. Remember her, my friends and cousins, pray for her as a saint upon earth, and fight gloriously to help her to success!"
Gordon had restrained himself with difficulty while this scene was being enacted; he could not bear the thought of the King touching the girl's hand. He struggled to prevent himself from crying out at the false position into which he had dragged her; and yet there was something so admirably sincere in the King's words, something so courteous and manly, that it robbed his words of all the theatrical effect they held, and his tribute to the girl filled even Gordon with an emotion which on the part of the young nobles found expression in cheer upon cheer.
Gordon recalled these cheers and the looks of wondering admiration which had been turned upon Miss Carson, and he grew so hot at the recollection that he struck the wall beside him savagely with his clinched fist, and damned the obstinacy of his young and beautiful friend with a sincerity and vigor that was the highest expression of his interest in her behalf.
He threw his cigar into the rampart at his feet and dropped back into the high road. It was deserted at the time, except for the presence of a tall, slightly built stranger, who advanced toward him from the city gates. The man was dressed in garments of European fashion and carried himself like a soldier, and Gordon put him down at a glance as one of the volunteers from Paris. The stranger was walking leisurely, stopping to gaze at the feluccas in the bay, and then turning to look up at the fortress on the hill. He seemed to have no purpose in his walk except the interest of a tourist, and as he drew up even with Gordon he raised his helmet politely and, greeting him in English, asked if he were on the right road to the Bashaw's Palace. Gordon pointed to where the white walls of the palace rose above the other white walls about it.
"That is it," he said. "All the roads lead to it. You keep going up hill."
"Thank you," said the stranger. "I see I have taken a long way." He put his white umbrella in the sand, and, removing his helmet, mopped his forehead with his handkerchief. "It is a curious old town, Tangier," he said, affably, "but too many hills, is it not so? Algiers I like better. There is more life."
"Yes, Algiers is almost as good as the boulevards," Gordon assented, "if you like the boulevards. I prefer this place because it is unspoiled. But, as you say, there is not much to do here."
The stranger's eyes fell upon the Hotel Grande Bretagne, which stood a quarter of a mile away from them on the beach.
"That is the Hotel Bretagne, is it not?" he asked. Gordon answered him with a nod.
"The King Louis of Messina, so the chasseur at the hotel tells me, is stopping there en suite," the stranger added, with an interrogative air of one who volunteers an interesting fact, and who asks if it is true at the same moment.
"I can't say, I'm sure," Gordon replied. "I only arrived here yesterday."
The stranger bowed his head in recognition of this piece of personal information, and, putting on his helmet, picked up his umbrella as though to continue his stroll. As he did so his eyes wandered over the harbor and were arrested with apparent interest by the yacht, which lay a conspicuous object on the blue water. He pointed at it with his umbrella.
"One of your English men-of-war is in the harbor, I see. She is very pretty, but not large; not so large as many," he said.
Gordon turned his head obligingly and gazed at the yacht with polite interest. "Is that a man-of-war? I thought it was a yacht," he said. "I'm not familiar with the English war-vessels. I am an American."
"Ah, indeed!" commented the affable stranger. "I am French myself, but I think she is a man-of-war. I saw her guns when I passed on the steamer from Gibraltar."
Gordon knew that the steamer did not pass within half a mile of where the yacht lay at anchor, but he considered it might be possible to see her decks with the aid of a glass.
"You may be right," he answered, indifferently. As he turned his eyes from the boat he saw a woman, dressed in white, and carrying a parasol, leave the gardens of the Hotel Bretagne, and come toward them along the beach. The Frenchman, following the direction of his eyes, saw her also, and regarded her instantly with such evident concern that Gordon, who had recognized her even at that distance as the Countess Zara, felt assured that his inquisitor held, as he had already suspected, more than a tourist's interest in Tangier.
"Well, I will wish you a good-morning," said the Frenchman, hurriedly.
"Good-morning," Gordon replied, and taking a cigar from his case, he seated himself again upon the rampart. As he walked away the stranger glanced back over his shoulder, but Gordon was apparently absorbed in watching the waves below him, and had lost all interest in his chance acquaintance. But he watched both the woman and the Frenchman as they advanced slowly from opposite directions and drew nearer together, and he was not altogether surprised, when the in man was within twenty feet of her, to see her start and stand still, and then, with the indecision of a hunted animal, move uncertainly, and then turn and run in the direction of the hotel. Something the man apparently called after her caused her to stop, and Gordon observed them now with undisguised interest as they stood conversing together, oblivious of the conspicuous mark they made on the broad white beach under the brilliant sun.
"I wonder what he's up to now?" Gordon mused. "He was trying to pump me, that's evident, and he certainly recognized the lady, and she apparently did not want to recognize him. I wonder if he is a rejected lover, or another conspirator. This is a most amusing place, nothing but plots and counterplots and—Hello!" he exclaimed aloud. The man had moved quickly past Madame Zara, and had started toward the hotel, and Zara had held out her hand to him, as though to entreat him to remain. But he did not stop, and she had taken a few uncertain steps after him, and had then, much to the American's dismay, fallen limply on her back on the soft sand. She was not a hundred yards distant from where he sat, and in an instant he had slipped from the wall, and dropped on his hands and knees on the beach below. When Gordon reached her the Frenchman had returned, and was supporting her head on his knee and covering her head with her parasol.
"The lady has fainted!" he exclaimed, eagerly. His manner was no longer one of idle indolence. He was wide awake now and visibly excited.
"The sun has been too much for her," he said. "It is most dangerous walking about at this time of day."
Gordon ran down the beach and scooped up some water in his helmet, and dipping his handkerchief in it bathed her temples and cheek. He had time to note that she was a very beautiful girl, and the pallor of her face gave it a touch of gentleness that he had not seen there before.
"I will go to the hotel and bring assistance, said the stranger, uneasily, as the woman showed signs of regaining consciousness.
"No," said Gordon, "you'll stay where you are and shade her with her umbrella. She'll be all right in a minute."
The girl opened her eyes, and looking up saw Gordon bending over her. She regarded him for a moment and made an effort to rise, and in her endeavor to do so her eyes met those of the Frenchman, and with a sharp moan she shut them again and threw herself from Gordon's knee to the sand.
"Give me that umbrella," said Gordon, "and go stand over there out of the way."
The man rose from his knee without showing any resentment and walked some little distance away, where he stood with his arms folded, looking out to sea. He seemed much too occupied with something of personal interest to concern himself with a woman's fainting-spell. The girl lifted herself slowly to her elbow, and then, before Gordon could assist her, rose with a quick, graceful movement and stood erect upon her feet. She placed a detaining hand for an instant on the American's arm.
"Thank you very much," she said. "I am afraid I have been imprudent in going out into the sun." Her eyes were fixed upon the Frenchman, who stood moodily staring at the sea and tearing one of his finger-nails with his teeth. He seemed utterly oblivious of their presence. The girl held out her hand for the parasol she had dropped and took it from Gordon with a bow.
"May I walk back with you to your hotel?" he asked. "Unless this gentleman——"
"Thank you," the girl said, in tones which the Frenchman could have easily overheard had he been listening. "I am quite able to go alone now; it is only a step."
She was still regarding the Frenchman closely; but as he was obviously unconscious of them she moved so that Gordon hid her from him, and in an entirely different voice she said, speaking rapidly,—
"You are Mr. Gordon, the American who joined us last night. That man is a spy from Messina. He is Renauld, the Commander-in-Chief of their army. He must be gotten away from here at once. It is a matter for a man to attend to. Will you do it?"
"How do you know this?" Gordon asked. "How do you know he is General Renauld? I want to be certain."
The girl tossed her head impatiently.
"He was pointed out to me at Messina. I saw him there in command at a review. He has just spoken to me—that was what frightened me into that fainting-spell. I didn't think I was so weak," she said, shaking her head. "He offered me a bribe to inform him of our plans. I tell you he is a spy."
"That's all right," said Gordon, reassuringly; "you go back to the hotel now and send those guards here on a run. I'll make a charge against him and have him locked up until after we sail to-night. Hurry, please; I'll stay here."
Gordon felt a pleasurable glow of excitement. It was his nature to throw himself into everything he did and to at once become a partisan. It was a quality which made his writings attractive to the reader, and an object of concern to his editor. At the very word "spy," and at this first hint of opposition to the cause in which he had but just enlisted, he thrilled as though it had always been his own, and he regarded the Frenchman with a personal dislike as sudden as it was unfounded.
The Frenchman had turned and was walking in the direction of the city gate. His eyes were bent on the sandy beach which stretched before him, and he made his way utterly unmindful of the waves that stole up to his feet and left little pools of water in his path. Gordon beckoned impatiently to the two soldiers who came running toward him at the hotel, and moved forward to meet them the sooner. He took one of them by the wrist and pointed with his other hand at the retreating figure of the Frenchman.
"That man," he said, "is one of the King's enemies. The King is in danger while that man is here. Your duty is to protect the King, so he gives this foreigner into your charge."
The soldier nodded his head in assent. "The King himself sent us," he replied.
"You will place him in the Civil Prison," Gordon continued, "until the King is safe on his yacht, and you will not allow him to send for the French Consul-General. If he sees the Consul-General he will tell him a great many lies about you, and a great war-ship will come and your Bashaw will be forced to pay the foreigners much money. I will go with you and tell this man in his own tongue what you are going to do with him."
They walked hurriedly after the Frenchman, and when they had overtaken him Gordon halted and bowed.
"One moment, please," he said. "These soldiers have an order for your arrest. I speak the language, and if you have anything to say to them I will interpret for you."
The Frenchman stared from Gordon to the guards and then laughed incredulously but with no great confidence. He had much to say, but he demanded to know first why he should be arrested.
"The lady you insulted," Gordon answered, gravely, "happened, unfortunately for you, to be one of the King's guests. She has complained to him, and he has sent these soldiers to put you where you cannot trouble her again. You see, sir, you cannot annoy women with impunity even in this barbarous country."
"Insult her! I did not insult her," the man retorted. "That is not the reason I am arrested."
"You annoyed her so much that she fainted. I saw you," said Gordon, backing away with the evident purpose of abandoning the foreigner to his guards.
"She has lied," the man cried, "either to the King or to me. I do not know which, but I am here to find out. That is why I came to Tangier, and I intend to learn the truth."
"You've begun rather badly," Gordon answered, as he still retreated. "In the Civil Prison your field of investigation will be limited."
The Frenchman took a hasty step toward him, shrugging off the hand one of the soldiers had placed on his shoulder.
"Are you the Prince Kalonay, sir?" he demanded. "But surely not," he added.
"No, I am not the Prince," Gordon answered. "I bid you good-morning, sir."
"Then you are on the other side," the man called after him eagerly, with a tone of great relief. "I have been right from the very first. I see it plainly. It is a double plot, and you are one of that woman's dupes. Listen to me—I beg of you, listen to me—I have a story to tell."
Gordon paused and looked back at the man over his shoulder, doubtfully.
"It's like the Arabian Nights," he said, with a puzzled smile. "There was once a rich merchant of Bagdad and the Sultan was going to execute him, but they put off the execution until he could tell them the story of the Beautiful Countess and the French Envoy. I am sorry," he added, shaking his head, "but I cannot listen now. I must not be seen talking to you at all, and everyone can see us here."
They were as conspicuous figures on the flat surface of the beach as two palms in a desert, and Gordon was most anxious to escape, for he was conscious that he could be observed from every point in the town. A hundred yards away, on the terrace of the hotel, he saw the King, Madame Zara, Barrat, and Erhaupt standing together watching them.
"If the American leaves him now, we are safe," the King was saying. He spoke in a whisper, as though he feared that even at that distance Gordon and the Frenchman could overhear his words. "But if he remains with him he will find out the truth, and that means ruin. He will ruin us."
"Look, he is coming this way," Zara answered. "He is leaving him. The danger is past."
The Frenchman raised his eyes and saw the four figures grouped closely together on the terrace.
"See, what did I tell you?" he cried. "She is with the King now. It is a plot within a plot, and I believe you know it," he added, furiously. "You are one of these brave blackmailers yourself—that is why you will not let me speak."
"Blackmailers!" said Gordon. "Confound your impudence, what the devil do you mean by that?"
But the Frenchman was staring angrily at the distant group on the terrace, and Gordon turned his eyes in the same direction. Something he saw in the strained and eager attitude of the four conspirators moved him to a sudden determination.
"That will do, you must go," he commanded, pointing with his arm toward the city gate; and before the Frenchman could reply, he gave an order to the guards, and they seized the foreigner roughly by either arm and hurried him away.
"Thank God!" exclaimed the King, piously. "They have separated, and the boy thinks he is rendering us great service. Well, and so he is, the young fool."
The group on the piazza remained motionless, watching Gordon as he leisurely lit a cigar and stood looking out at the harbor until the Frenchman had disappeared inside the city wall. Then he turned and walked slowly after him.
"I do not like that. I do not like his following him," said Barrat, suspiciously.
"That is nothing," answered the King. "He is going to play the spy and see that the man is safely in jail. Then he will return and report to us. We must congratulate him warmly. He follows at a discreet distance, you observe, and keeps himself well out of sight. The boy knows better than to compromise himself by being seen in conversation with the man. Of course, if Renauld is set free we must say we had no part in his arrest, that the American made the arrest on his own authority. What a convenient tool the young man is. Why, his coming really frightened us at first, and now—now we make a cat's-paw of him." The King laughed merrily. "We undervalue ourselves sometimes, do we not?"
"He is a nice boy," said Zara. "I feel rather sorry for him. He looked so anxious and distressed when I was so silly as to faint on the beach just now. He handled me as tenderly as a woman would have done—not that women have generally handled me tenderly," she added.
"I was thinking the simile was rather misplaced," said the King.
Gordon passed the city wall and heard the gates swing to behind him. The Frenchman and his two captors were just ahead, toiling heavily up the steep and narrow street. Gordon threw his cigar from him and ran leaping over the huge cobbles to the Frenchman's side and touched him on the shoulder.
"We are out of sight of the hotel, now, General," he said. He pointed to the dark, cool recesses of a coffee-shop and held back the rug that hung before it. "Come in here," he said, "and tell me that story."
Baron Barrat was suspicious by education—his experience of life and his own conduct had tended to render him so; and accordingly when, three hours after he had seen Gordon apparently commit the French officer to jail, he found them leaving a cafe in the most friendly and amicable spirit, he wasted no time in investigation, but hurried at once to warn the King.
"What we feared would happen, has happened," he said. "The Frenchman has told Gordon that Zara and Kalonay sold the secret of the expedition, and Gordon will be coming here to warn you of it. Now, what are you going to do? We must act quickly."
"I shall refuse to believe the Frenchman, of course," said the King. "I shall ask Zara in his presence to answer his charges, and she will tell him he lies. That is all there will be of it. What does it matter what he says? We sail at midnight. We can keep him quiet until then."
"If he is troublesome I can call for help from this room, and the servants of the hotel and the guards will rush in and find us struggling together. We will charge him with an attempt at assassination, and this time he surely will go to jail. By to-morrow morning we shall be many miles at sea."
"But he can cable to Messina, by way of Gibraltar, and head us off," objected Barrat.
"What can he cable?" demanded the King. "Nothing the people of the Republic do not already know. It is our friends here that must not find us out. That is the main thing. Thank Heaven!" he exclaimed, "Kalonay and Paul are out of the way, and those crazy boys from Paris. We will settle it here among ourselves in five minutes."
"And the American?" asked Zara. "He knows, he will come with him. Suppose he believes, suppose he believes that Kalonay and I have sold you out, but suspects that you know it?"
"The American can go to the devil," said the King. "Confound him and his insolence. I'll have him in the prison too, if he interferes. Or Erhaupt can pick a quarrel with him here and fight it out behind the sand-hills before the others get back from their picnic. He has done as much for me before."
Zara stood up. She was trembling slightly, and she glanced fearfully from Erhaupt to the King.
"You will not do that," she said.
"And why not, madame?" demanded Louis.
"Because it will be murder," Zara whispered. "He will murder him as he did that boy in the Park at Pesth."
"What does the woman mean?" growled the German. "Is she mad? Send her to her room, Louis."
"You know what I mean," Zara answered, her voice rising, in her excitement. "You fired before they gave the word. I know you did. Oh, Louis," she cried, "you never warned me it might come to this. I am afraid. I am afraid to meet that man——"
She gave a sudden cry. "And Kalonay!" She held out her hands appealingly. "Indeed," she cried, "do not let Kalonay question me."
"Silence!" commanded the King. "You are acting like a fool." He advanced toward her, and clasped her wrist firmly in his hand. "No nerves, now," he said. "I'll not have it. You shall meet Kalonay, and you shall swear that he is in the plot against me. If you fail us now, we are ruined. As it is, we are sure to lose the bribe from the Republic, but we may still get Miss Carson's money if you play your part. It is your word and the word of the Frenchman against Kalonay's. And we have the paper signed by you for Kalonay as evidence. Have you got it with you?"
Zara bowed her head. "It is always with me," she answered.
"Good," said the King. "It will be a difficult chance, but if you stand to your story, and we pretend to believe you, the others may believe you, too."
"But I cannot," Zara cried. "I know I cannot. I tell you if you put me face to face with Kalonay, I shall fail you. I shall break down. They will see that I am lying. Send me away. Send me away before they come. Tell them I saw the Frenchman, and suspected I had been found out, and that I have gone away. Tell them you don't know where I am."
"I believe she's right," Erhaupt said. "She will do us more harm than good. Let her go to her room and wait there."
"She will remain where she is," said the King, sternly. "And she will keep her courage and her wits about her, or——"
He was interrupted by an exclamation from Barrat. "Whatever you mean to do, you must do it at once," he said, grimly. He was standing at the window which overlooked the beach. "Here they come now," he continued. "The American has taken no chances, he is bringing an audience with him."
The King and Erhaupt ran to the window, and peered over Barrat's shoulder.
Advancing toward them along the beach, some on foot, and some on horseback, were all the members of the expedition, those who had been of the riding-party and those who had remained in Tangier. Gordon and the Frenchman Renauld were far in the lead, walking by themselves and speaking earnestly together; Father Paul was walking with Mrs. Carson and her daughter, and Kalonay was riding with two of the volunteers, the Count de Rouen and Prince Henri of Poitiers.
When the King and Erhaupt turned from the window the Countess Zara had disappeared. "It is better so," said Erhaupt; "she was so badly frightened she would have told the truth."
The King stood leaning on the back of a large arm-chair. "Well, the moment has come, it is our last chance," he said. "Send for the Crown Prince, Baron. I shall be discovered in the act of taking a tender farewell of my son."
Barrat made an eager gesture of dissent.
"I would not do that," he cried. "If we are to make charges against the jackal do not have the boy present; the boy must not hear them. You know how Kalonay worships the child, and it would enrage him more to be exposed before the Prince than before all the rest of the world. He will be hard enough to handle without that. Don't try him too far."
"You are absurd, Barrat," exclaimed the King. "The boy won't understand what is said."
"No, but the Jackal will," Barrat returned. "You don't understand him, Louis, he is like a woman; he has sentiment and feelings, and when we all turn on him he will act like a madman. Keep the boy out of his sight, I tell you. It's the only thing he cares for in the world. He has been a better father to him than you ever have been."
"That was quite natural; that was because it was his duty," said the King, calmly. "A Kalonay has always been the protector and tutor of the heir-apparent. If this one chooses to give his heart with his service, that is not my concern. Why, confound them, they all think more of the child than they do of me. That is why I need him by me now."
Barrat shook his head. "I tell you it will make trouble," he persisted. "Kalonay will not stand it. He and the child are more like comrades than a tutor and his pupil. Why, Kalonay would rather sit with the boy in the Champs-Elysees and point out the people as they go by than drive at the side of the prettiest woman in Paris. He always treats him as though he saw the invisible crown upon his head; he will throw over any of us to stay in the nursery and play tin soldiers with him. And when he was ill—" Barrat nodded his head significantly. "You remember."
"That will do," said the King. "We have no time to consider the finer feelings of the jackal; he is to be sacrificed, and that is all there is of it. The presence of the child may make him more unmanageable, but it will certainly make it easier for me. So go, bring the boy here as I bid you."
Barrat left the room and returned immediately, followed by the Crown Prince and his nurse. The Prince was a dark, handsome little fellow of four years. His mother had died when he was born, and he had never played with children of his own age, and his face was absurdly wise and wistful; but it lighted with a sweet and grateful smile when anyone showed him kindness or sought to arouse his interest. To the Crown Prince Kalonay was an awful and wonderful being. He was the one person who could make him laugh out of pure happiness and for no reason, as a child should laugh. And people who had seen them together asked which of the princes was the older of the two. When the child entered the room, clinging to Barrat's finger, he carried in his other hand a wooden spade and bucket, still damp with sand, and he was dressed in a shabby blue sailor suit which left his little legs bare, and exposed the scratches and bruises of many falls. A few moments later, when the conspirators entered the King's salon, preceded by Erhaupt, they found the boy standing by his father's knee. The King had his hand upon the child's head, and had been interrupted apparently in a discourse on the dignity of kingship, for the royal crown of Messina had been brought out and stood beside him on the table, and his other hand rested on it reverently. It was an effective tableau, and the visitors observed it with varying emotions, but with silence.
The King rose, taking his son's hand in his, and bowed, looking inquiringly from Barrat to the Prince Kalonay.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" he asked. "Was it discreet of you to come together in this way? But you are most welcome. Place chairs for the ladies, Barrat."
Kalonay glanced at the others, and they nodded to him as though to make him their spokesman. He pointed at Gordon with his cap.
"We are here on the invitation of this gentleman, your Majesty," he said. "He took it upon himself to send after those of us who had gone into the country, and came in person for the others who remained in town. He tells us he has news of the greatest importance to communicate, which he cannot disclose except to you, and in the presence of all of those who are to take part in the expedition. We decided to accompany him here, as he asked us, and to leave it to your Majesty to say whether or not you wished us to remain." Kalonay smiled in apology at the King, and the King answered him with a smile.
"The procedure is perhaps unconventional," the King said, "but in America they move quickly. No doubt our young companion has acted as he thought was for the best. If he has taken a liberty, the nature of his news will probably excuse him. Perhaps, Mr. Gordon," he added, turning to the American, "you had better first tell me what this discovery is, and I will decide whether it is best to discuss it in open council."
Gordon did not appear to be the least disturbed by the criticism Kalonay and the King had passed upon his conduct. He only smiled pleasantly when the King had finished speaking, and showed no inclination to accept a private audience.
"What I have to say, your Majesty," he began, "is this. I have learned that all the secrets of your expedition have been sold to the Republic of Messina. One of those now present in this room is charged with having sold them. Shall I go on," he asked, "or do you still think it advisable for anyone to leave the room?"
He paused and glanced from the King to the double row of conspirators, who were standing together in a close semicircle facing the King and himself. The instant he ceased speaking there rose from their ranks an outburst of consternation, of anger, and of indignant denial. The King's spirits rose within him at the sound, although he frowned and made a gesture as though to command silence.
"Mr. Gordon, this is a serious charge you make," he said, smiling grimly. "One that may cost you a great deal—it might cost you your life perhaps." He paused significantly, and there was a second outburst, this time from the younger men, which came so suddenly that it was as though Louis had played upon certain chords on a keyboard, and the sounds he wanted had answered to his touch.
"Pardon me, that is not the question," said Gordon. "That I make charges or run risks in making charges is not important. That your expedition has failed before it has even started is, however, of great importance, at least so it sees to me."
There was a movement in the circle, and Father Paul pushed his way forward from his place beside Miss Carson's chair. He was so greatly moved that when he spoke his voice was harsh and broken. "What is your authority for saying we have failed?" he demanded.
Gordon bowed gravely and turned and pointed to the Frenchman. "This gentleman," he said, "is General Renauld, Commander-in-Chief of the army of Messina. He is my authority. He knows all that you mean to do. If he knows it, it is likely, is it not, that his army and the President of the Republic know it also, and that when we attempt to land they will be waiting for us."
The King silenced the second outburst that followed this by rising and holding up his hand.
"Silence! I believe I can explain," he said. He was smiling, and his bearing was easy and so full of assurance that the exclamations and whispers died away on the instant. "I am afraid I see what has happened," the King said. "But there need be no cause for alarm. This gentleman is, as Mr. Gordon says, the Commander-in-Chief of the Messinian army, and it is true he suspected that an armed force would invade the island. It is not strange that he should have suspected it, and it needed no traitor to enlighten him. The visit of Father Paul and the Prince Kalonay in the yacht, and their speeches inciting the people to rebellion, would have warned the government that an expedition might soon follow. The return of our yacht to this place has no doubt been made known in Messina through the public press, and General Renauld followed the yacht here to learn what he could of our plans—of our intended movements. He came here to spy on us, and as a spy I ordered Mr. Gordon to arrest him this morning on any charge he pleased, and to place him out of our way until after to-night, when we should have sailed. I chose Mr. Gordon to undertake this service because he happened to speak the language of the country, and it was necessary to deal directly with the local authorities without the intervention of an outsider. What has happened is only too evident. The spy, who when he came here only suspected, now, as Mr. Gordon says, knows the truth, and he could have learned it only from one person, to whom he has no doubt paid a pretty price for the information." The King took a step forward and pointed with his hand at the American. "I gave that man into your keeping, sir," he cried, "but I had you watched. Instead of placing him in jail you took him to a cafe and remained there with him for three hours, and from that cafe you came directly here to this room. If he knows the truth, he learned it in that cafe, and he learned it from you!" There was a ring of such earnestness and sincerity in the King's speech, and he delivered it with such indignation and bitter contempt that a shout of relief, of approbation and conviction, went up from his hearers, and fell as quickly on the words as the applause of an audience drowns out the last note of a great burst of song. Barrat, in the excess of his relief, turned his back sharply on the King, glancing sideways at Erhaupt and shaking his head in speechless admiration.
"He is wonderful, simply wonderful," Erhaupt muttered; "he would have made a great actor or a great diplomat."
"He is wasted as a King," whispered Barrat.
There was a menacing movement on the part of the younger men toward Gordon and General Renauld, which the King noted, but which he made no effort to check. Neither Gordon nor General Renauld gave any sign that they observed it. The American was busily engaged in searching his pockets, and from one of these he produced two pieces of paper, which he held up above his head, so that those in the room might see them.
"One moment, please," he began, and then waited until the tumult in the room had ceased. "Again, I must point out to you," he said, in brisk, business-like tones, "that we are digressing. The important thing is not who did, or did not, sell out the expedition, but that it is in danger of failing altogether. What his Majesty says is in part correct. I did not take this gentleman to jail; I did take him to a cafe, and there he told me much more concerning the expedition than I had learned from those directly interested. His information, he told me, had been sold to the Republic by one who visited the island and who claimed to act for one other. I appreciated the importance of what he said, and I also guessed that my word and his unsupported might be doubted, as you have just doubted it. So I took the liberty of verifying what General Renauld told me by cabling to the President of Messina."
There was a shout of consternation at these words, but Gordon's manner was so confident and the audacity of his admission so surprised his hearers that they were silent again immediately, and waited, with breathless interest, while Gordon unfolded one of the pieces of paper.
"This is a copy of the cablegram I sent the President," he said, "and to which, with his permission, I signed General Renauld's name. It is as follows:—
The President. The Palace, Messina.—They will not believe you are fully informed. Cable at once the exact hour when they will leave Tangier, at what hour they expect to land, at what place they expect to land, what sum you have promised to pay for this information, and the names of those to whom it is to be paid.
Gordon lowered the paper. "Is that quite clear?" he asked. "Do you follow me? I have invited the enemy himself to inform you of your plans, and to tell you who has betrayed them. His answer, which was received a half hour ago, removes all suspicion from any save those he names. General Renauld and myself cease to be of the least consequence in the matter; we are only messengers. It is the President of Messina who will speak to you now. If you still doubt that the secret of your expedition is known to the President you will have to doubt him."
The King sprang quickly to his feet and struck the arm of his chair sharply with his open hand.
"I shall not permit that message to be read," he said. "If we have a traitor here, he is a traitor against me. And I shall deal with him as I see fit, in private."
There was a murmur of disappointment and of disapproval even, and the King again struck the arm of his chair for silence. Kalonay advanced toward him, shaking his head and holding out his hands in protest.
"Your Majesty, I beseech you," he began. "This concerns us all," he cried. "It is too evident that we have been betrayed; but it is not fair to any of us that we should all lie under suspicion, as we must unless it is told who has been guilty of this infamy. I beg your Majesty to reconsider. There is no one in this room who is not in our secret, and whoever has betrayed us must be with us here and now. I, who have an interest second only to your own, ask that that cablegram be read."
There was a murmur of approbation from the conspirators, and exclamations of approval and entreaty. Miss Carson, in her excitement, had risen to her feet and was standing holding her mother's hand. The King glanced uncertainly at Kalonay, and then turned to Barrat and Erhaupt as if in doubt.
Gordon's eyes were fixed for a moment on Kalonay with a strange and puzzled expression. Then he gave a short sigh of relief, and turning quickly searched the faces of those around him. What he saw seemed to confirm him in his purpose, for he folded the paper and placed it in his pocket. "His Majesty is right," he said. "I shall not read this."
Kalonay and Father Paul turned upon him angrily. "You have no choice in the matter, sir," Kalonay cried. "It has passed entirely out of your hands."
"I beg your Majesty that the cablegram be read," the priest demanded, in a voice that held less the tone of a request than of a command.
"I shall not read it," persisted Gordon, "because the person chiefly concerned is not present."
"That is all the more reason for reading it," said Kalonay. "Your Majesty must reconsider."
The King whispered to Barrat, and the others waited in silence that expressed their interest more clearly than a chorus of questions would have done.
"It shall be as you ask," the King said, at last. "You may read the message, Mr. Gordon."
Gordon opened the paper and looked at it for some seconds of time with a grave and perplexed expression, and then, with a short breath, as one who takes a plunge, read it aloud. "This is it," he said.
To General Renauld. Cable Office, Tangier.—They leave Tangier Tuesday at midnight, they land at daybreak Thursday morning on the south beach below the old breakwater. The secret of the expedition was sold us for three hundred thousand francs by the Countess Zara and the Prince Kalonay.
Gordon stuck the paper in his pocket, and, crossing to Kalonay, held out his hand, with a smile. "I don't believe it, of course," he said; "but you would have it."
Kalonay neither saw the gesture nor heard the words. He was turning in bewilderment from the King to Father Paul, and he laughed uncertainly.
"What nonsense is this?" he demanded. "Whose sorry trick is this? The lie is not even ingenious."
General Renauld had not spoken since he had entered the room, but now he advanced in front of Kalonay and faced him with a threatening gesture.
"The President of Messina does not lie, sir," he said, sternly. "I myself saw the Countess Zara write out that paper, which I and others signed, and in which we agreed to pay to her and to you the money you asked for betraying your King."
Father Paul pressed his hand heavily on Kalonay's shoulder. "Do not answer him," he commanded. Gordon had moved to Kalonay's other side, and the three men had unconsciously assumed an attitude of defence, and stood back to back in a little group facing the angry circle that encompassed them. The priest raised his arm to command a hearing.
"Where is Madame Zara?" he cried.
"Ah, where indeed?" echoed the King, sinking back into his chair. "She has fled. It is all too evident now; she has betrayed us and she has fled."
But on his words, as if in answer to the priest's summons, the curtains that hid the door into the King's private room were pulled to one side, and Madame Zara appeared between them, glancing fearfully at the excited crowd before her. As she stood hesitating on the threshold, she swayed slightly and clutched the curtains for a moment as though for support. The priest advanced, and led her to the centre of the room. She held a folded paper in her hand, which she gave to him in silence.
"You have heard what has passed?" he asked, with a toss of his head toward the heavy curtains. The woman raised her head and bowed. The priest unfolded the paper.
"Am I to read this?" he asked. The woman bowed again.
There was silence in the room while the priest's eyes ran quickly over the paper. He crushed it in his hand.
"It is as General Renauld says," he exclaimed. "In this the Republic of Messina agrees to pay the Countess Zara and the Prince Kalonay three hundred thousand francs, if the expedition is withdrawn after it has made a pretence of landing on the shores of Messina."
He took a step forward. "Madame Zara," he cried, in a tone of warning, "do you pretend that the Prince Kalonay was your accomplice in this; that he knew what you meant to do?"
Madame Zara once more bowed her head.
"No! You must speak," commanded the priest. "Answer me!"
Zara hesitated, in evident distress, and glanced appealingly at the King; but the expression on his face was one of grief and of unrelenting virtue. "I do," she said, at last, in a low voice. "Kalonay did know. He thought the revolution would not succeed; he thought it would fail, and so—and so—and we needed money. They made me—I, O my God, I cannot—I cannot!" she cried, suddenly, sinking on her knees and hiding her face with her hands.
Kalonay stepped toward her and lifted her gently to her feet; but when she looked and saw who it was that held her, she gave a cry and pulled herself free. She staggered and would have fallen, had not Gordon caught and held her by the arm. The King rose from his chair and pointed at the shrinking figure of the woman.
"Stand aside from her," he said, sternly. "Why should we pity her, what pity has she shown for us—for me? She has robbed me of my inheritance. But let her go, she is a woman; we cannot punish her. Her sins rest on her own head. But you—you," he cried, turning fiercely on Kalonay, his voice rising to a high and melancholy key, "you whom I have heaped with honors, whom I have leaned upon as on the arm of a brother, that you should have sold me for silver, that you should have turned Judas!"
The crowd of volunteers, bewildered by the rapid succession of events, and confused and rendered desperate by the failure of their expedition, caught up the word, and pressing forward with a rush, surrounded Kalonay in an angry circle, crying "Judas!" "Traitor!" and "Coward!"
Kalonay turned from side to side. On some he smiled bitterly in silence, and at others he broke out into swift and fierce denunciations; but the men around him crowded closer and would not permit him to be heard. He had turned upon them, again challenging them to listen, when there was an opening in the circle and the men stepped back, and Miss Carson pushed her way among them and halted at Kalonay's side. She did not look at him, but at the men about him. She was the only calm figure in the group, and her calmness at such a crisis, and her youth, and the fineness and fearlessness of her beauty, surprised them into a sudden quiet. There was instantly a cry for order, and the men stood curious and puzzled, watching to see what she would do.
"Gentlemen," she said, in a clear, grave voice. "Gentlemen," she repeated, sharply, as a few murmurs still greeted her, "if you are gentlemen, let this lady speak. She has not finished." She crossed quickly and took the Countess Zara by the hand. "Go on, madame," she urged, gently. "Do not be afraid. You say they made you do it. Who made you do it? You have told us a part of the truth. Now tell us the whole truth." For a moment the girl seemed much the older of the two, and as Zara glanced up at her fearfully, she smiled to reassure her, and stroked the woman's hand with her own. "Who made you do it?" she repeated. "Not the Prince Kalonay, surely. You cannot hope to make us believe that. We trust him absolutely. Who was it, then?"
The King sprang forward with an oath; his apathy and mock dignity had fallen from him like a mask. His face was mottled, and his vicious little eyes flashed with fear and anger. Erhaupt crowded close behind him, crouching like a dog at his heels.
"She has lied enough already," the King cried. "We will not listen to her. Take her away."
"Yes, let her go," shouted Erhaupt, with a laugh. "If she had been a decent woman——"
There was a quick parting in the group and the sound of a heavy blow as Kalonay flung himself upon Erhaupt and struck him in the face, so that he staggered and fell at length upon the floor. Gordon stood over him, his fingers twitching at his side.
"Stand up, you bully," he said, "and get out of this, before we throw you out."
Zara's face had turned a pitiful crimson, but her eyes flashed and burned with resolve and indignation. She stood erect and menacing, like an angry goddess, and more beautiful in her indignation than they had ever seen her.
"Now, I shall tell them the truth," she said, sternly. "That man," she cried, pointing her finger at the King, "that man whom they call a King—that man who would have sacrificed the only friend who serves him unselfishly—is the man who sold your secret to the enemy. It was he who made me do it. He sent me to Messina, and while the priest and the Prince Kalonay were working in the south, I sold them to the government at the capital. Barrat knew it, Erhaupt knew it, the King himself planned it—to get money. He has robbed all of his own people; he had meant to rob this young girl; and he is so mean and pitiful a creature that to save himself he now tries to hide behind the skirts of a woman, and to sacrifice her,—the woman who has given her soul to him. And for this—my God!" she cried, her voice rising in an accent of agony and bitter contempt—"for this!"
There was a grim and momentous silence in the room while Zara turned, and without waiting to learn what effect her words might have, made her way swiftly through the crowd and passed on out of the room and on to the terrace beyond.
The King crouched back in his chair like a common criminal in the dock, glancing fearfully from under his lowered eyebrows at the faces about him, and on none did he see the least question of doubt but that Zara had at last spoken the truth.
"She lies," the King muttered, as though answering their unspoken thoughts, "the woman lies."
There was no movement from the men about him. Shame for him, and grief and bitter disappointment for themselves, showed on the face of each. From outside a sea-breeze caught up the sand of the beach and drove it whispering against the high windows, and the beat of the waves upon the shores filled out and marked the silence of the room.
The Prince Kalonay stepped from the circle and stood for a moment before the King, regarding him with an expression of grief and bitter irony. The King's eyes rose insolently, and faltered, and sank.
"For many years, your Majesty," the Prince said, but so solemnly that it was as though he were a judge upon the bench, or a priest speaking across an open grave, "the Princes of my house have served the Kings of yours. In times of war they fought for the King in battle, they beggared themselves for him in times of peace; our women sold their jewels for the King, our men gave him their lives, and in all of these centuries the story of their loyalty, of their devotion, has had but one sequel, and has met with but one reward,—ingratitude and selfishness and treachery. You know how I have served you, Louis. You know that I gave up my fortune and my home to go into exile with you, and I did that gladly. But I did more than that. I did more than any king or any man has the right to expect of any other man. I served your idle purposes so well that you, yourself, called me your jackal, the only title your Majesty has ever bestowed that was deserved. There is no low thing nor no base thing that I have not done for you. To serve your pleasures, to gain you money, I have sunken so low that all the royal blood in Europe could not make me clean. But there is a limit to what a man may do for his King, and to the loyalty a King may have the right to demand. And to-day and here, with me, the story of our devotion to your House ends, and you go your way and I go mine, and the last of my race breaks his sword and throws it at your feet, and is done with you and yours forever."
Even those in the room who held no sympathy in their hearts for the sentiment that had inspired the young man, felt that at that moment and in their hearing he had renounced what was to him his religion and his faith, and on the faces of all was the expression of a deep pity and concern. Their own adventure, in the light of his grief and bitterness of spirit, seemed selfish and little, and they stood motionless, in an awed and sorrowful silence.
The tense strain of the moment was broken suddenly by the advent on the scene of an actor who had, in the rush of events, been neglected and forgotten. The little Crown Prince had stood clinging to his nurse's skirts, an uncomprehending spectator of what was going forward. But he now advanced slowly, feeling that the silence invited him to claim his father's notice. He halted beside the chair in which Louis sat, his head bent on his hands, and made an effort to draw himself up to his father's knee.
But the King pushed him down, and hid his face from him. The child turned irresolutely, with a troubled countenance, and, looking up, saw that the attention of all was fixed upon him. At this discovery a sudden flood of shyness overtook him, and he retreated hastily until his eyes fell on the Prince Kalonay, standing alone, with his own eyes turned resolutely away. There was a breathless hush in the room as the child, with a happy sigh, ran to his former friend and comrade, and reached up both his arms. The tableau was a familiar one to those who knew them, and meant only that the child asked to be lifted up and swung to the man's shoulder; but following as it did on what had just passed, the gesture and the attitude carried with them the significance of an appeal. Kalonay, as though with a great effort, lowered his eyes to the upturned face of the child below him, but held himself back and stood stiffly erect. A sharp shake of the head, as though he argued with himself, was the only sign he gave of the struggle that was going on within him.
At this second repulse, the child's arms dropped to his side, his lips quivered, and he stood, a lonely little figure, glancing up at the circle of men about him, and struggling to press back the tears that came creeping to his eyes.
Kalonay regarded him steadfastly for a brief moment, as though he saw him as a stranger, searching his face with eyes as pitiful as the child's own; and then, with a sudden, sharp cry, the Prince dropped on his knee and caught the child toward him, crushing him against his heart, and burying his face on his shoulder. There was a shout of exultation from the nobles, and an uttered prayer from the priest, and in a moment the young men had crowded in around them, struggling to be the first to kiss the child's hands, and to ask pardon of the man who held him in his arms.
"Gentlemen," Kalonay cried, his voice laughing through his tears, "we shall still sail for the island of Messina. They shall not say of us that we visited the sins of the father on a child. I was weak, my friends, and I was credulous. I thought I could break the tradition of centuries. But our instincts are stronger than our pride, and the House I have always served I shall serve to the last." He swung the Crown Prince high upon his shoulder, and held his other arm above his head. "You will help me place this child upon his throne," he commanded, and the room rang with cheers. "You will appeal to his people," he cried. "Do you not think they will rise to this standard-bearer, will they not rally to his call? For he is a true Prince, my comrades, who comes to them with no stain of wrong or treachery, without a taint, as untarnished as the white snow that lies summer and winter in the hollow of our hills, 'and a child shall lead us, and a child shall set them free.' To the yacht!" he shouted. "We will sail at once, and while they wait for us to be betrayed into their hands at the north, we shall be landing in the south, and thousands will be hurrying to our standard."
His last words were lost in a tumult of cheers and cries, and the young men poured out upon the terrace, running toward the shore, and filling the soft night-air with shouts of "Long live the Prince Regent!" "Long live our King!"
As the room grew empty Kalonay crossed it swiftly and advancing to Miss Carson took her hand. His face was radiant with triumph and content. He regarded her steadily for a moment, as though he could not find words to tell his feelings.
"You had faith in me," he said, at last. "Can I ever make you understand how much that means to me? When all had turned against me you trusted me, you had faith in me, in the King's jackal."
"Silence; you must never say that again," the girl commanded, gently. "You have shown it to be the lie it always was. We shall call you the Defender of the Faith now; you are the guardian of a King." She smiled at the little boy in his arms, and made a slight courtesy to them both. "You have outgrown your old title," she said; "you have a proud one now, you will be the Prince Regent."
Kalonay, with the child in his arms, and Miss Carson were standing quite alone. General Renauld had been led away, guarded by a merry band of youngsters; the King still crouched in his chair, with Barrat bowed behind him, but pulling, with philosophic calm, on a cigarette, and Father Paul and Gordon were in close conversation with Mrs. Carson at the farther end of the room. The sun had set, and the apartment was in semi-darkness. Kalonay moved closer to Miss Carson and looked boldly into her eyes, "There is a prouder title than that of the Regent," he whispered; "will you ever give it me?"
The girl started, breathing quickly, and turned her head aside, making an effort to free her hand, but Kalonay held it closer in his own. "Will you give it me?" he begged.
Then the girl looked up at him smiling, but with such confidence and love in her eyes that he read his answer, though she shook her head, as though to belie the truth her eyes had told him.
"When you have done your work," she said, "come to me or send for me, and I shall come and give you my answer; and whether you fail or succeed the answer will be the same."
Kalonay stooped quickly and kissed her hand, and when he raised his face his eyes were smiling with such happiness that the little child in his arms read it there, and smiled too in sympathy, and pressed his face closer against his comrade's shoulder.
Gordon at this moment moved across the room and bowed, making a deep obeisance to the child.
"Might I be permitted," he asked, "to kiss his Royal Highness? I should like to boast of the fact, later," he explained.
The Crown Prince turned his sad, wise eyes on him in silence, and gravely extended a little hand.
"You may kiss his Highness's hand," said Kalonay, smiling.
Gordon laughed and pressed the fingers in his own.
"When you talk like that, Kalonay," he said, "you make me feel like Alice in the court-room with the Kings and Queens around her. A dozen times this afternoon I've felt like saying, 'After all, they are only a pack of cards.'"
Kalonay shook his head and glanced toward Miss Carson for enlightenment.
"I don't understand," he said.
"No, you couldn't be expected to," said Gordon; "You have not been educated up to that. It is the point of view."
He stuck out the middle finger of his hand, and drove it three times deliberately into the side of the Crown Prince. The child gasped and stared open-mouthed at the friendly stranger, and then catching the laugh in Gordon's eyes, laughed with him.
"Now," said Gordon, "I shall say that I have dug the King of Messina in the ribs—that is even better than having kissed him. God bless your Royal Highness," he said, bowing gravely. "You may find me disrespectful at times," he added; "but then, you must remember, I am going to risk a valuable life for you. At least it's an extremely valuable one to me."
Kalonay looked at Gordon for a moment with serious consideration, and then held out his hand. "You also had faith in me," he said. "I thank you. Are you in earnest; do you really wish to serve us?"
"I mean to stay by you until the boy is crowned," said the American, "unless we separate on our several paths of glory—where they will lead depends, I imagine, on how we have lived."
"Or on how we die," Kalonay added. "I am glad to hear you speak so. If you wish, I shall attach you to the person of the Crown Prince. You shall be on the staff with the rank of Colonel."
Gordon made a low and sweeping bow.
"Rise, Sir Archibald Gordon," he said. "I thank you," he added. "We shall strive to please."
Miss Carson shook her head at him, and sighed in protest.
"Will you always take everything as a joke, Archie?" she said.
"My dear Patty," he answered, "the situation is much too serious to take in any other way."
They moved to the door, and there the priest and Mrs. Carson joined them; but on the threshold Kalonay stopped and looked for the first time since he had addressed him at the King.
He regarded him for some seconds sternly in silence, and then pointed, with his free hand, at the crown of Messina, which still rested on the table at the King's elbow. "Colonel Gordon," he said, in a tone of assured authority, "I give the crown of Messina into your keeping. You will convey it, with all proper regard for its dignity, safely on board the yacht, and then bring it at once to me."
When he had finished speaking the Prince turned and, without looking at the King, passed on with the others across the terrace and disappeared in the direction of the shore, where the launch lay waiting.
Gordon crossed the room and picked up the crown from the table, lifting it with both hands, the King and Barrat watching him in silence as he did so. He hesitated, and held it for a moment, regarding it with much the same expression of awe and amusement that a man shows when he is permitted to hold a strange baby in his arms. Turning, he saw the sinister eyes of the King and of Barrat fastened upon him, and he smiled awkwardly, and in some embarrassment turned the crown about in his hands, so that the jewels in its circle gleamed dully in the dim light of the room. Gordon raised the crown and balanced it on his finger-tips, regarding it severely and shaking his head.
"There are very few of these left in the world now, your Majesty," he said, cheerfully, "and the number is getting smaller every year. We have none at all in my country, and I should think—seeing they are so few—that those who have them would take better care of them, and try to keep them untarnished, and brushed up, and clean." He turned his head and looked inquiringly at the King, but Louis made no sign that he heard him.
"I have no desire, you understand me," continued Gordon, unabashed, "to take advantage of a man when he is down, but the temptation to say 'I told you so' seems almost impossible to resist. What?" he asked—"I beg your pardon, I thought you spoke." But the King continued scornfully silent, and only a contemptuous snort from Barrat expressed his feelings.
Gordon placed the crown carefully under his arm, and then removed it quickly, with a guilty look of dismay at its former owner, and let it swing from his hand; but this fashion of carrying it seemed also lacking in respect, so he held it up again with both hands and glanced at the King in some perplexity.
"There ought to be a sofa-cushion to go with this, or something to carry it on," he said, in a grieved tone. "You see, I am new at this sort of thing. Perhaps your Majesty would kindly give me some expert information. How do you generally carry it?"
The King's eyes snapped open and shut again.
"On my head," he said, grimly.
Gordon laughed in great relief.
"Now, do you know, I like that," he cried. "That shows spirit. I am glad to see you take it so cheerfully. Well, I must be going, sir," he added, nodding, and moving toward the door. "Don't be discouraged. As someone says, 'It's always morning somewhere,' and in my country there's just as good men out of office as there are in it. Good-night."
While the sound of Gordon's footsteps died away across the marble terrace, the King and Barrat remained motionless and silent. The darkness in the room deepened and the silence seemed to deepen with it; and still they remained immovable, two shadowy figures in the deserted apartment where the denunciations of those who had abandoned them still seemed to hang and echo in the darkness. What thoughts passed through their minds or for how long a time they might still have sat in bitter contemplation can only be guessed, for they were surprised by the sharp rattle of a lock, the two great doors of the adjoining room were thrown wide open, and a broad and brilliant light flooded the apartment. Niccolas, the King's majordomo, stood between the doors, a black silhouette against the glare of many candles.
"His Majesty is served!" he said.
The King lifted his head sharply, as though he found some lurking mockery in the words, or some fresh affront; but in the obsequious bow of his majordomo there was no mockery, and the table beyond glistened with silver, while a pungent and convincing odor of rich food was wafted insidiously through the open doors.
The King rose with a gentle sigh, and nodded to his companion.
"Come, Barrat," he said, taking the baron's arm in his. "The rascals have robbed us of our throne, but, thank God, they have had the grace to leave me my appetite."