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The Princess Virginia
by C. N. Williamson
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Her anxiety was even slightly allayed at this point in her reflections, by the thought (for she had not quite outgrown an innate love of romance) that the Emperor himself might go to Virginia's assistance. His friends were in the next room, having come down from the mountain about noon, and there seemed little doubt that he was among them. If he had not already looked out of his window, drawn by the landlady's excited voice, the Grand Duchess resolved that, in the circumstances, it was her part as a mother to make him look out. She had promised to help Virginia, and she would help her by promoting a romantic first encounter.

In a penetrating voice, which could not fail to reach the ears of the men next door, or the actors in the scene below, she adjured her daughter in English.

This language was the safest to employ, she decided hastily, because the brigand with the ruecksacks would not understand, while the flower of Rhaetian chivalry in the adjoining room were doubtless acquainted with all modern languages.

"Helen!" she screamed, loyally remembering in her excitement, the part she was playing, "Helen, where did you come across that ferocious-looking ruffian? Can't you see he intends to steal your ruecksacks, or—or blackmail you, or something? Is there no man-servant about the place whom the landlady can call to help her?"

All four of the actors on the little stage glanced up, aware for the first time of an audience; and had the Grand Duchess's eyes been younger, she might have been still further puzzled by the varying and vivid expressions of their faces. But she saw only that the dark-browed peasant man, who had glared so haughtily at poor Frau Yorvan, was throwing off his burden with haste and roughness.

"I do hope he hasn't already stolen anything of value," cried the Grand Duchess. "Better not let him go until you've looked into your ruecksacks. Remember that silver drinking cup you would take with you—"

She paused, not so much in deference to Virginia's quick reply, as in amazement at Frau Yorvan's renewed gesticulations. Was it possible that the woman understood more English than her guests supposed, and feared lest the brigand—perhaps equally well instructed—might seek immediate revenge? His bare knees alone were evidence against his character in the eyes of the Grand Duchess. They gave him a brazen, abandoned air; and a young man who cultivated so long a space between stockings and trousers might be capable of any crime.

"Oh, Mother, you're very much mistaken," Virginia was protesting. "This man is a great friend of mine, and has saved my life. You must thank him. If it were not for him, I might never have come back to you."

At last the meaning of her words penetrated to the intelligence of the Grand Duchess, through an armor of misapprehension.

"He saved your life?" she echoed. "Oh, then you have been in danger! Heaven be thanked for your safety—and also that the man's not likely to know English, or I should never forgive myself for what I've said. Here is my purse, dearest. Catch it as I throw, and give it to him just as it is. There are at least twenty pounds in it, and I only wish I could afford more. But what is the matter, my child? You look ready to faint."

As she began to speak, she snatched from a desk at which she had been writing, a netted silver purse. But while she paused, waiting for Virginia to hold out her hands, the girl forbade the contemplated act of generosity with an imploring gesture.

"He will accept no reward for what he has done, except our thanks; and those I give him once again," the girl answered. She then turned to the chamois hunter, and made him a present of her hand, over which he bowed with the air of a courtier rather than the rough manner of a peasant. And the Grand Duchess still hoped that the Emperor might be at the window, as really it was a pretty picture, and, it seemed to her, presented a pleasing phase of Virginia's character.

She eagerly awaited her daughter's coming, and having lingered at the window to watch with impatience the rather ceremonious leave-taking, she hastened to the door of the improvised sitting-room to welcome the mountaineers, as they returned to tell their adventures.

"My darling, who do you think was listening and looking from the window next ours?" she breathlessly inquired, when she had embraced her newly-restored treasure—for the secret of the adjoining room was too good to keep until questions had been put. "Can't you guess? I'm surprised at that, since you were so sure last night of a certain person's presence not far away. Why, who but your Emperor himself!"

The Princess laughed happily, and kissed her mother's pink cheek. "Then he must have an astral body," said she, "since one or the other has been with me all day; and it was to him—or his Doppelgaenger—that you offered your purse to make up for accusing him of stealing!"

The Grand Duchess sat down; not so much because she wished to assume a sitting position, as because she experienced a sudden, uncontrollable weakness of the knees. For a moment she was unable to speak, or even to speculate; but one vague thought did trail dimly across her brain. "Heavens! what have I done to him? And maybe some day he will be my son-in-law."

Meanwhile, Frau Yorvan—a strangely subdued Frau Yorvan—had droopingly followed the chamois hunter into the inn.

"My dear old friend, you must learn not to lose that well-meaning head of yours," said he in the hall.

"Oh, but, your Majesty—"

"Now, now, must I remind you again that his Majesty is at Kronburg, or Petersbrueck, or some other of his residences, when I am at Alleheiligen? This time I believe he's at the Baths of Melina. If you can't remember these things, I fear I shall be driven away from here, to look for chamois elsewhere than on the Schneehorn."

"Indeed, I will not be so stupid again, your—I mean, I will do my very best not to forget. But never before have I been so tried. To see your high-born, imperial shoulders loaded down as if—as if you had been a common Gepaecktraeger for tourists, instead of—"

"A chamois hunter. Don't distress yourself, good friend. I've had a day of excellent sport."

"For that I am thankful. But to see your—to see you coming back in such an unsuitable way, has given me a weakness of the heart. How can I order myself civilly to those ladies, who have—"

"Who have given peasant Leopold some hours of amusement. Be more civil than ever, for my sake. And by the way, can you tell me the names of the ladies? That one of them—a companion, I judge—is a Miss Manchester, I have heard in conversation; but the others—"

"They are mother and daughter—sir. The elder, who in her ignorance, cried out such treasonable abominations from the window (as I could tell even with the little English I have picked up) is Lady Mowbray. I have seen the name written down; and I know how to speak it because I have heard it pronounced by the companion, the Mees Manchester. The younger—the beautiful one—is also a Mees—and the mother calls her Helene. They talk together in English, also in French, and though I have so few words of either language, I could tell that London was mentioned between them more than once, while I waited on the table. Besides, it is painted in black letters on their traveling boxes."

"You did not expect their arrival?"

"Oh, no, sir. Had they written beforehand, at this season, when I generally expect to be honored by your presence, I should have answered that the house was full—or closed—or any excuse which occurred to me, to keep strangers away. But none have ever before arrived so late in the year, and I was taken all unawares when my son Alois drove them up last night. He did not know you had arrived, as the papers spoke so positively of your visit to the Baths; and I could not send travelers away; you have bidden me not to do so, once they are in the house. But these ladies are here but for a day or two more, on their way to Kronburg for a visit; and I thought—"

"You did quite right, Frau Yorvan. Has my messenger come up with letters?"

"Yes, your—yes, sir. Just now also a telegram was brought by another messenger, who came and left in a great hurry."

The chamois hunter shrugged his shoulders, and sighed an impatient sigh. "It's too much to expect that I should be left in peace for a single day, even here," he muttered, as he went toward the stairs.

To reach Frau Yorvan's best sitting-room (selfishly occupied, according to one opinion, by four men absent all day on a mountain), he was obliged to pass by a door through which issued unusual sounds. So unusual were they, that the Emperor paused.

Some one was striking the preliminary chords of a volkslied on his favorite instrument, a Rhaetian variation of the zither. As he lingered, listening, a voice began to sing—ah, but a voice!

Softly seductive it was as the cooing of a dove in the spring, to its mate; pure as the purling of a brook among meadow flowers; rich as the deep notes of a nightingale in his passion for the moon. And for the song, it was the heart-breaking cry of a young Rhaetian peasant who, lying near death in a strange land, longs for one ray of sunrise light on the bare mountain tops of the homeland, more earnestly than for his first sight of an unknown Heaven.

The man outside the door did not move until the voice was still. He knew well, though he could not see, who the singer had been. It was impossible for the plump lady at the window, or the thin lady with the glasses, to own a voice like that. It was the girl's. She only, of the trio, could so exhale her soul in the very perfume of sound. For to his fancy, it was like hearing the fragrance of a rose breathed aloud. "I have heard an angel," he said to himself. But in reality he had heard Princess Virginia of Baumenburg-Drippe, showing off her very prettiest accomplishment, in the childish hope that the man she loved might hear.

Leopold of Rhaetia had heard many golden voices—golden in more senses of the word than one—but never before, it seemed to him, a voice which so stirred his spirit with pain that was bitter-sweet, pleasure as blinding as pain, and a vague yearning for something beautiful which he had never known.

If he had been asked what that something was, he could not, if he would, have told; for a man cannot explain that part of himself which he has never even tried to understand.

Before he had moved many paces from the door, the lovely voice, no longer plaintive, but swelling to brilliant triumph, broke into the national anthem of Rhaetia—warlike, inspiring as the Marseillaise, but wilder, calling her sons to face death singing, in the defense.

"She's an English girl, yet she sings our Rhaetian music as no Rhaetian woman I have ever heard, can sing it," he told himself, slowly passing on to his own door. "She is a new type to me. I don't think there can be many like her. A pity that she is not a Princess, or else—that Leopold the Emperor and Leo the chamois hunter are not two men. Still, the chamois hunter of Rhaetia would be no match for Miss Mowbray of London, so the weights would balance in the scales as unevenly as now."

He gave a sigh, and a smile that lifted his eyebrows. Then he opened the door of his sitting-room, to forget among certain documents which urged the importance of an immediate return to duty, the difference between Leopold and Leo, the difference between women and a Woman.

"Good-by to our mountains, to-morrow morning," he said to his three chosen companions. "Hey for work and Kronburg."

She was going to Kronburg in a few days, according to Frau Yorvan. But Kronburg was not Alleheiligen; and Leopold, the Emperor, was not, at his palace, in the way of meeting tourists—or even "explorers."

"She'll never know to whom she gave her ring," he thought with the dense innocence of a man who has studied all books save women's looks. "And I'll never know who gives her a plain gold one for the finger on which she once wore this."

But in the next room, divided from him by a single wall, sat Princess Virginia of Baumenburg-Drippe.

"When we meet again at Kronburg, he mustn't dream that I knew all the time," she was saying to herself. "That would spoil everything—just at first. Yet oh, some day how I should love to confess all—all! Only I couldn't possibly confess except to a man who would excuse, or perhaps even approve, because he had learned to love me—well. And what shall I do, how shall I bear my life now I've seen him, if that day should never come?"



CHAPTER VI

NOT IN THE PROGRAM

Letters of introduction for Lady Mowbray and her daughter to influential and interesting persons attached to the Rhaetian Court, were necessarily a part of the wonderful plan connected in the English garden, though they were among the details thought out afterwards.

The widow of the Hereditary Grand Duke of Baumenburg-Drippe was reported in the journals of various countries, to be traveling with the Princess Virginia and a small suite, through Canada and the United States; and fortunately for the success of the innocent plot, the Grand Duchess had spent so many years of seclusion in England, and had, even in her youth, met so few Rhaetians, that there was little fear of detection. Her objections to Virginia's scheme for winning a lover instead of thanking Heaven quietly for a mere husband, were based on other grounds, but Virginia had overcome them, and eventually the Grand Duchess had proved not only docile, but positively fertile in expedient.

The choosing of the borrowed flag under which to sail had at first been a difficulty. It was pointed out by a friend taken into their confidence (a lady whose husband had been ambassador to Rhaetia), that a real name, and a name of some dignity, must be adopted, if proper introductions were to be given. And it was the Grand Duchess who suggested the name of Mowbray, on the plea that she had, in a way, the right to annex it.

The mother of the late Duke of Northmoreland had been a Miss Mowbray, and there were still several eminently respectable, inconspicuous Mowbray cousins. Among these cousins was a certain Lady Mowbray, widow of a baron of that ilk, and possessing a daughter some years older and innumerable degrees plainer than the Princess Virginia.

To this Lady Mowbray the Grand Duchess had gone out of her way to be kind in Germany, long years ago, when she was a very grand personage indeed, and Lady Mowbray comparatively a nobody. The humble connection had expressed herself as unspeakably grateful, and the two had kept up a friendship ever since. Therefore, when the difficulty of realism in a name presented itself, the Grand Duchess thought of Lady Mowbray and Miss Helen Mowbray. They were about to leave England for India, but had not yet left; and the widow of the Baron was flattered as well as amused by the romantic confidence reposed in her by the widow of the Grand Duke. She was delighted to lend her name, and her daughter's name; and who could blame the lady if her mind rushed forward to the time when she should have earned gratitude from the young Empress of Rhaetia? for of course she had no doubt of the way in which the adventure would end.

As for the wife of the late British Ambassador to the Rhaetian Court, she was not sentimental and therefore was not quite as comfortably sure of the sequel. As far as concerned her own part in the plot, however, she felt safe enough; for though she was, after a fashion, deceiving her old acquaintances at Kronburg, she was not foisting adventuresses upon them; on the contrary, she was giving them a chance of entertaining angels unawares, by sending them letters to ladies who were in reality the Grand Duchess of Baumenburg-Drippe and the Princess Virginia.

The four mysterious gentlemen left Alleheiligen the day after Virginia's encounter with the chamois hunter; but the Mowbrays lingered on. The adventure had begun so gloriously that the girl feared an anti-climax for the next step. Though she longed for the second meeting, she dreaded it as well, and put off the chance of it from day to day. The stay of the Mowbrays at Alleheiligen lengthened into a week, and when they left at last, it was only just in time for the great festivities at Kronburg, which were to celebrate the Emperor's thirty-first birthday, an event enhanced in national importance by the fact that the eighth anniversary of his coronation would fall on the same date.

On the morning of the journey, the Grand Duchess had neuralgia and was frankly cross.

"I don't see after all, what you've accomplished so far by this mad freak which has dragged us across Europe," she said, fretfully, in the train which they had taken at a town twenty miles from Alleheiligen. "We've perched on a mountain top, like the Ark on Ararat, for a week, freezing; the adventure you had there is only a complication. What have we to show for our trouble—unless incipient rheumatism?"

Virginia had nothing to show for it; at least, nothing that she meant to show, even to her mother; but in a little scented bag of silk which lay next her heart, was folded a bit of blotting-paper. If you looked at its reflection in a mirror, you saw, written twice over in a firm, individual hand, the name "Helen Mowbray."

The Princess had found it on a table in the best sitting-room, after Frau Yorvan had made that room ready for its new occupants. Therefore she loved Alleheiligen: therefore she thought with redoubled satisfaction of her visit there.

To learn her full name, he must have thought it worth while to make inquiries. It had lingered in his thoughts, or he would not have scrawled it twice on some bit of paper—since destroyed no doubt—in a moment of idle dreaming.

Through most of her life, Virginia had known the lack of money; but she would not have exchanged a thousand pounds for the contents of that little bag.

Hohenlangenwald is the name of the House from which the rulers of Rhaetia sprang; therefore everything in the beautiful city of Kronburg which can take the name of Hohenlangenwald, has taken it; and it was at the Hohenlangenwald Hotel that a suite of rooms had been engaged for Lady Mowbray.

The travelers broke the long journey at Melinabad; and Virginia's study of trains had timed their arrival in Kronburg for the morning of the birthday eve, early enough for the first ceremony of the festivities; the unveiling by the Emperor of a statue of Rhaetia in the Leopoldplatz, directly in front of the Hohenlangenwald Hotel.

Virginia looked forward to seeing the Emperor from her own windows; as according to her calculation, there was an hour to spare; but at the station they were told by the driver of the carriage sent to meet them, that the crowd in the streets being already very great, he feared it would be a tedious undertaking to get through. Some of the thoroughfares were closed for traffic; he would have to go by a roundabout way; and in any case could not reach the main entrance of the hotel. At best, he would have to deposit his passengers and their luggage at a side entrance, in a narrow street.

As the carriage started, from far away came a burst of martial music; a military band playing the national air which the chamois hunter had heard a girl sing, behind a closed door at Alleheiligen.

The shops were all shut—would be shut until the day after to-morrow, but their windows were unshuttered and gaily decorated, to add to the brightness of the scene. Strange old shops displayed the marvelous, chased silver, the jeweled weapons and gorgeous embroideries from the far eastern provinces of Rhaetia; splendid new shops rivaled the best of the Rue de la Paix in Paris. Gray medieval buildings made wonderful backgrounds for drapery of crimson and blue, and garlands of blazing flowers. Modern buildings of purple-red porphyry and the famous honey-yellow marble of Rhaetia, fluttered with flags; and above all, in the heart of the town, between old and new, rose the Castle Rock. Virginia's pulses beat, as she saw the home of Leopold for the first time, and she was proud of its picturesqueness, its riches and grandeur, as if she had some right in it, too.

Ancient, narrow streets, and wide new streets, were alike arbors of evergreen and brilliant blossoms. Prosperous citizens in their best, inhabitants of the poorer quarters, and stalwart peasants from the country, elbowed and pushed each other good-naturedly, as they streamed toward the Leopoldplatz. Handsome people they were, the girl thought, her heart warming to them; and to her it seemed that the very air tingled with expectation. She believed that she could feel the magnetic thrill in it, even if she were blind and deaf, and could hear or see nothing of the excitement.

"We must be in time—we shall be in time!" she said to herself. "I shall lean out from my window and see him."

But at the hotel, which they did finally reach, the girl had to bear a keen disappointment. With many apologies the landlord explained that he had done his very best for Lady Mowbray's party when he received their letter a fortnight before, and that he had allotted them a good suite, with balconies overlooking the river at the back of the house—quite a venetian effect, as her ladyship would find. But, as to rooms at the front, impossible! All had been engaged fully six weeks in advance. One American millionaire was paying a thousand gulden solely for an hour's use of a small balcony, to-day for the unveiling and again to-morrow for the street procession. Virginia was pale with disappointment. "Then I'll go down into the crowd and take my chance of seeing something," she said to her mother, when they had been shown into handsome rooms, satisfactory in everything but situation. "I must hurry, or there'll be no hope."

"My dear child, impossible for you to do such a thing!" exclaimed the Grand Duchess. "I can't think of allowing it. Fancy what a crush there will be. All sorts of creatures trampling on each other for places. Besides, you could see nothing."

"Oh, Mother," pleaded the Princess, in her softest, sweetest voice—the voice she kept for extreme emergencies of cajoling. "I couldn't bear to stay shut up here while that music plays and the crowds shout themselves hoarse for my Emperor. Besides, it's the most curious thing—I feel as if a voice kept calling to me that I must be there. Miss Portman and I'll take care of each other. You will let me go, won't you?"

Of course the Grand Duchess yielded, her one stipulation being that the two should keep close to the hotel; and the Princess urged her reluctant companion away without waiting to hear her mother's last counsels.

Their rooms were on the first floor, and the girl hurried eagerly down the broad flight of marble stairs, Miss Portman following dutifully upon her heels.

They could not get out by way of the front door, for people had paid for standing room there, and would not yield an inch, even for an instant; while the two or three steps below, and the broad pavement in front were as closely blocked.

Matters began to look hopeless, but Virginia would not be daunted. They tried the side entrance and found it free, the street into which it led being comparatively empty; but just beyond, where it ran into the great open square of the Leopoldplatz, there was a solid wall of sight-seers.

"We might as well go back," said Miss Portman, who had none of the Princess's keenness for the undertaking. She was tired after the journey, and for herself, would rather have had a cup of tea than see fifty emperors unveil as many statues by celebrated sculptors.

"Oh no!" cried Virginia. "We'll get to the front, somehow, sooner or later, even if we're taken off our feet. Look at that man just ahead of us. He doesn't mean to turn back. He's not a nice man, but he's terribly determined. Let's keep close to him, and see what he means to do; then, maybe, we shall be able to do it as well."

Miss Portman glanced at the person indicated by a nod of the Princess's head. Undismayed by the mass of human beings that blocked the Leopoldplatz a few yards ahead, he walked rapidly along without the least hesitation. He had the air of knowing exactly what he wanted to do, and how to do it. Even Miss Portman, who had no imagination, saw this by his back. The set of the head on the shoulders was singularly determined, and the walk revealed a consciousness of importance accounted for, perhaps, by the gray and crimson uniform which might be that of some official order. On the sleek, black head was a large cocked hat, adorned with an eagle's feather, fastened in place by a gaudy jewel, and this hat was pulled down very far over the face.

"Perhaps he knows that they'll let him through," said Miss Portman. "He seems to be a dignitary of some sort. We can't do better, if you're determined to go on, than keep near him."

"He has the air of being ready to die," whispered Virginia, for they were close to the man now.

"How can you tell? We haven't seen his face," replied the other, in the same cautious tone.

"No. But look at the back of his neck, and his ears."

Miss Portman looked and gave a little shiver. She would never have thought of observing it, if her attention had not been called by the Princess. But it was true. The back of the man's neck and his ears were of a ghastly, yellow white.

"Horrid!" she ejaculated. "He's probably dying of some contagious disease. Do let's get away from him."

"No, no," said Virginia. "He's our only hope. They're going to let him pass through. Listen."

Miss Portman listened, but as she understood only such words of Rhaetian as she had picked up in the last few weeks, she could merely surmise that he was ordering the crowd out of his way because he had a special message from the Lord Chancellor to the Burgomaster.

The human wall opened; the man darted through, and Miss Portman was dragged after him by the Princess. So close to him had they kept, that they might easily be supposed to be under his escort; and in any case, they passed before there was time to dispute their right of way.

"It must be the secretary of Herr Koffman, the new Burgomaster," Virginia heard one man say to another. "And those ladies are with him."

On and on, through the crowd, passed the man in gray and crimson, oblivious of the two women who were using him. There was something about that disagreeable back of his which proclaimed him a man of but one idea at a time. Close to the front line of spectators, however, there came a check. People were vexed at the audacity of the girl and the elderly woman, and would have pushed them back, but at the critical second the blue and silver uniformed band of Rhaetia's crack regiment, the Imperial Life Guards, struck up an air which told that the Emperor was coming. Promptly the small group concerned forgot its grievance, in excitement, crowding together so that Virginia was pressed to the front, and only Miss Portman was pushed ruthlessly into the background.

The poor lady raised a feeble protest in English, which nobody heeded, unless it were the man who had inadvertently acted as pioneer. At her shrill outburst he turned quickly, as if startled by the sudden cry, and Virginia was so close to him that her chin almost touched his shoulder. For the first time she had a glimpse of his face, which matched the yellow wax of his neck in pallor.

The girl shrank away from him involuntarily. "What a death's head!" she thought. "A sly, wicked face, and awful eyes. He looks frightened. I wonder why!"

Assured that the sharp cry did not concern him, the man turned to the front again, and having obtained his object—a place in the foremost rank of the crowd, with one incidentally for the Princess—he proceeded to take from his breast a roll of parchment, tied with a narrow ribbon, and sealed with a large red seal. As he drew it out, and rearranged his coat, his hand trembled. It, too, was yellow white. The fellow seemed to have no blood in him.

Virginia, standing now shoulder to shoulder with the man in gray and crimson, had just time to feel a stirring of dislike and perhaps curiosity, when a great cheer arose from thousands of throats. The square rang with a roar of loyal acclamation; men waved tall hats, soft hats, and green peasant hats with feathers. Beautifully dressed women grouped on the high, decorated balconies waved handkerchiefs or scattered roses from gilded baskets; women in gorgeous costumes from far-off provinces held up half-frightened, half-laughing children; and then a white figure on a white charger came riding into the square under the triumphal arch wreathed with flags and flowers.

Other figures followed; men in uniforms of green and gold and red, on coal black horses, yet Virginia saw only the white figure, shining, wonderful.

Under the glittering helmet of steel with its gold eagle, the dark face was clear-cut as a cameo, and the eyes were bright with a proud light. To the crowd, he was the Emperor; a fine, popular, brilliant young man, who ruled his country better than it had been ruled yet by one of his House, and above all, provided many a pleasing spectacle for the people. But to Virginia he was far more; an ideal Sir Galahad, or a St. George strong and brave to slay all dragon-wrongs which might threaten his wide land.

"What if he should never love me?" was the one sharp thought which pierced her pride of him.

The people were proud, too, as he sat there controlling the white war-horse with its gold and silver trappings, the crusted jewels of many Orders sparkling on his breast, while he saluted his subjects, in his soldier's way.

For a moment there was a pause, save for a shouting, which rose and rose again; then he alighted, whereupon important looking men with ribbons and decorations came forward bowing, to receive the Emperor. The ceremony of unveiling the statue of Rhaetia was about to begin.

To reach the great crimson-draped platform on which he was to stand, the Emperor must pass within a few yards of Virginia. His gaze flashed over the gay crowd. What if it should rest upon her? The girl's heart was in her throat. She could feel it beating there; and for a moment the tall, white figure was lost in a mist which dimmed her eyes.

She had forgotten how she came to this place of vantage, forgotten the pale man in gray and red to whom she owed her good fortune; but suddenly, while her heart was at its loudest, and the mist before her eyes at its thickest, she grew conscious again of his existence, poignantly conscious of his close presence. So near her he stood that a quick start, a gathering of his muscles for a spring, shot like an electric message through her own body.

The mist was burnt up in the flame of a strange enlightenment, a clarity of vision which showed, not only the hero of the day, the throng, and the wax-white man beside her, but something which was in the soul of that man as well.

"He is going to kill the Emperor."

It was as if a voice spoke the words in her ear. She knew now why she had struggled to win this place, why she had succeeded, what she had to do—or die in failing to do.

Leopold was not half a dozen yards away, and was coming nearer. No one but Virginia suspected evil. She alone had felt the thrill of a murderer's nerves, the tense spring of his muscles. She alone guessed what the roll of parchment hid.

"Now—now!" the voice seemed to whisper again, and she had no fear.

While the crowd shouted wildly for "Unser Leo!" a man in gray and red leaped, catlike, at the white figure that advanced. Something sharp and bright flashed out from a roll of parchment, catching the sun in a streak of steely light.



Leopold saw, but not in time to swerve. The crowd shrieked, rushed forward, too late, and the blade would have drunk his life, had not the girl who had felt all, seen all, struck up the arm before it fell.

The rest was darkness for her. She knew only that she was sobbing, and that the great square with its crowded balconies, its ropes of green, its waving flags, seemed to collapse upon her and blot her out.

* * * * *

It was Leopold who caught her as she swayed: and while the people surged around the thwarted murderer, the Emperor sprang up the steps of the great crimson platform, with the girl against his heart.

It was her blood that stained the pure white of his uniform, the blood from her arm wounded in his defense. And holding her up he stood dominating the crowd.

Down there at the foot of the steps, the man in gray and red was like a spent fox among the hounds, and Leopold's people in the fury of their rage would have torn him in pieces as the hounds tear the fox, despite the cordon of police that gathered round him. But the voice of the Emperor bade his subjects fall back.

"My people shall not be assassins," he cried to them. "Let the law deal with the madman; it is my will. Look at me, alive and unhurt. Now, give your cheers for the lady who has saved my life, and the ceremonies shall go on."

Three cheers, had he said? They gave three times three, and bade fair to split the skies with shouts for the Emperor. While women laughed and wept and all eyes were upon that noble pair on the red platform, something limp and gray was hurried out of sight and off to prison. On a signal the national anthem began; the voices of the people joined the brass instruments. All Kronburg was singing; or asking "Who is she?" of the girl at the Emperor's side.



CHAPTER VII

THE HONORS OF THE DAY

It is those in the thick of the battle who can afterwards tell least about it; and to the Princess those five minutes—moments the most tremendous, the most vital of her life—were afterwards in memory like a dream.

She had seen that a man was ghastly pale; she had caught a gleam of fear in his eye; she had felt a tigerish quiver run through his frame as the crowd pressed him against her. Instinct—and love—had told her the rest, and taught her how to act.

Vaguely she recalled later, that she had thrown herself forward and struck up the knife. An impression of that knife as the light gleamed on it, alone was clear. Sickening, she had thought of the dull sound it would make in falling, of the blood that would spout from a rent in the white coat, among the jeweled orders. She had thought, as one thinks in dying, of existence in a world empty of Leopold, and she had known that unless he could be saved, her one wish was to go out of the world with him.

More than this she had not thought or known. What she did was done scarcely by her own volition, and she seemed to wake with a start at last, to hear herself sobbing, and to feel the throb, throb, of a hot pain in her arm.

A hundred hands—not quick enough to save, yet quick enough to follow the lead given by her—had fought to seize the man in gray, and stop a second blow. They had borne him away; while as for Virginia, her work done, she forgot everything and every one but Leopold.

Reviving, she had heard him speak to the crowd, and told herself dreamily that, were she dying, his voice could bring her back if he called. She even listened to each word that rang out like a cathedral bell, above the babel. Still he held her, and when the cheers came, she scarcely understood that they were for her as well as for Leopold the Emperor. Afterwards, the necessity for public action over, he bent his head close enough to whisper, "Thank you"; and then for Virginia every syllable was clear.

"You are the bravest woman alive," he said. "I had to keep them from killing that ruffian, but now I can speak to you alone. I thank you for what you did, with my whole heart, and I pray Heaven you're not seriously hurt."

"No, not hurt, and very happy," the Princess answered, hardly knowing what she said. She felt like a soul released from its body, floating in blue ether. What could it matter if that body ached or bled? Leopold was safe, and she had saved him.

He pointed to her sleeve. "The knife struck you. Your arm's bleeding, and the wound must be seen immediately by my own surgeon. Would that I could go with you myself, but duty keeps me here; you understand that. Baron von Lyndal and his wife will at once take you home, wherever you may be staying. They—"

"But I would rather stop and see the rest," said Virginia. "I'm quite well now, not even weak, and I can go down to my friend—"

"If you're able to stop, it must be here with me," answered Leopold. "After the service you have done for me and for the country, it is your place."

The ladies of the court, who, with their husbands, had been waiting to congratulate Leopold, crowded round the girl as the Emperor turned to them with a look and gesture of invitation. A seat was given her, and the arm in its blood-stained sleeve was hastily bound up. She was the heroine of the day, dividing honors with its hero.

There was scarcely a grande dame among the brilliant assemblage on the Emperor's platform, to whom Lady Mowbray and her daughter had not a letter of introduction, from their invaluable friend. But no one knew at this moment of any title to their recognition possessed by the girl, other than the right she had earned by her splendid deed. All smiled on her through grateful tears, though there were some who would have given their ten fingers to have stepped into her place.

Thus Virginia sat through the ceremonies, careless that thousands of eyes were on her face, thinking only of one pair of eyes, which spared a glance for her now and then; hardly seeing the statue of Rhaetia whose glorious marble womanhood unveiled roused a storm of enthusiasm from the crowd; hearing only the short, stirring speech made by Leopold.

When everything was over, and the people had no excuse to linger save to see the Emperor ride away and the great personages disperse, Leopold turned again to Virginia.

All the world was listening, of course; all the world was watching, too; and no matter what his inclination might have been, his words could be but few.

Once more he thanked and praised her for her courage, her presence of mind; thanked her for remaining, as if she had been granting a favor to him; and asked where she was stopping, in Kronburg as he promised himself the honor of sending to inquire for her health that evening.

His desire would be to call at once in person, he added, but, owing to the program arranged for this day and several days to follow, not only each hour but each moment would be officially occupied. These birthday festivities were troublesome, but duly must be done. And then, Leopold repeated (when he had Miss Mowbray's name and address), the court surgeon and physician would be commanded to attend upon her without delay.

With these words and a chivalrous courtesy at parting, the Emperor was gone, Baron von Lyndal, Grand Master of Ceremonies, and his Baroness having been told off to take care of Miss Mowbray.

In another mood it would have pricked Virginia's sense of humor to see Baroness von Lyndal's almost shocked surprise at discovering her to be the daughter of that Lady Mowbray whom she was asked to meet. (Luckily all the letters of introduction had reached their destination, it merely remaining, according to etiquette in Rhaetia, for Lady Mowbray to announce her arrival in Kronburg by sending cards to the recipients.) But Virginia had no heart for laughter now.

She had been on the point of forgetting, until reminded by a dig from the spur of necessity, that she was only a masquerader, acting her borrowed part in a pageant. For the first time since she had hopefully taken it up, that part became detestable. She would have given almost anything to throw it off, and be herself: for nothing less than clear sincerity seemed worthy of this day and the event which crowned it.

Nevertheless, in the vulgar language of proverb which no well brought-up Princess should ever stoop to use, she had made her own bed, and she must lie in it. It would not do for her suddenly to give out to the world of Kronburg that she was not, after all, Miss Mowbray, but Princess Virginia of Baumenburg-Drippe. That would not be fair to the Grand Duchess, who had yielded to her wishes, nor fair to her own plans. Above all, it would not be fair to the Emperor, handicapped as he now was by a debt of gratitude. No; Miss Mowbray she was, and Miss Mowbray she must for the present remain.

Naturally the Grand Duchess fainted when her daughter was brought back with ominous red stains upon the gray background of her traveling dress. But the wound was neither deep nor dangerous. The court surgeon was as consoling as he was complimentary, and by the time that messengers from the palace had arrived with inquiries from the Emperor and invitations to the Emperor's ball, the mother of the heroine could dispense with her sal volatile.

She had fortunately much to think of. There was the important question of dress for the ball to-morrow night; there was the still more pressing question of the newspapers, which must not be allowed to publish the borrowed name of Mowbray, lest complications should arise; and there were the questions to be asked of Virginia. How had she felt? How had she dared? How had the Emperor looked, and what had the Emperor said?

If it had been natural for the Grand Duchess to faint, it was equally natural that she should not faint twice. She began to believe, after all, that Providence smiled upon Virginia and her adventure; and she wondered whether the Princess's white satin embroidered with seed pearls, or the silver spangled blue tulle would be more becoming to wear to the ball.

Next day the Rhaetian newspapers devoted columns to the attack upon the Emperor by an anarchist from a certain province (once Italian), who had disguised himself as an official in the employ of the Burgomaster. There were long paragraphs in praise of the lady who, with marvelous courage and presence of mind, had sprung between the Emperor and the assassin, receiving on the arm with which she had shielded Unser Leo a glancing blow from the weapon aimed at the Imperial breast. But, thanks to a few earnestly imploring words written by "Lady Mowbray" to Baron von Lyndal, commands impressed upon the landlord of the hotel, and the fact that Rhaetian editors are not as modern as Americans in their methods, the lady was not named. She was a foreigner and a stranger to the capital of Rhaetia; she was, according to the papers, "as yet unknown."



CHAPTER VIII

THE EMPEROR'S BALL

Not a window of the fourteenth century, yellow marble palace on the hill, with its famous Garden of the Nine Fountains, that was not ablaze with light, glittering against a far-away background of violet mountains crowned by snow.

Outside the tall, bronze gates where marble lions crouched, the crowd who might not pass beyond stared, chattered, pointed and exclaimed, without jealousy of their betters. Unser Leo was giving a ball, and it was enough for their happiness to watch the slow moving line of splendid state coaches, gorgeous automobiles, and neat broughams with well-known crests upon their doors; to strive good-naturedly for a peep at the faces and dresses, the jewels and picturesque uniforms; to comment upon all freely but never impudently, asking one another what would be for supper, and with whom the Emperor would dance.

"There she is—there's the beautiful young foreign lady who saved him!" cried a girl in the throng. "I was there and saw her, I tell you. Isn't she an angel?"

Instantly a hearty cheer went up, growing in volume, and the green-coated policemen had to keep back the crowd that would have stopped the horses and pressed close for a long look into a plain, dark-blue brougham.

Virginia shrank out of sight against the cushions, blushing, and breathing quickly as she caught her mother's hand.

"Dear people,—dear, kind people," she thought. "I love them for loving him. I wonder, oh I wonder, if they will ever see me and cheer me, driving by his side?"

She had chosen to wear the white dress with the pearls, though up to the last moment the Grand Duchess had suffered tortures of indecision between that and the blue, to say nothing of a pink chiffon trimmed with crushed roses. Before the carriage brought them to the palace doors, the girl's blush had faded, and her face was as white as her gown when at her mother's side she passed between bowing lackeys through the marble Hall of Lions, on through the frescoed Rittersaal to the throne room where the Emperor's guests awaited his coming.

It was etiquette not to arrive a moment later than ten o'clock; and a few minutes after the hour Baron von Lyndal, in his official capacity as Grand Master of Ceremonies, struck the polished floor twice with his gold-knobbed wand of ivory. This signaled the approach of the court from the Imperial dinner party, and Leopold entered, with a stout, middle-aged Royal Highness from Russia on his arm.

Until his arrival the beautiful Miss Mowbray had held all eyes; and even when he appeared, she was not forgotten. Every one was on tenter hooks to see how she would be greeted by the grateful Emperor.

The instant that his dark head towered above other heads in the throne room, it was observed even by those not usually observant, that never had Leopold been so handsome.

His was a face remarkable for intellect and firmness rather than for classical beauty of feature, though his features were strong and clearly cut; but to-night the sternness that sometimes marred them in the eyes of women was smoothed away. He looked young and ardent, almost boyish, like a man who has suddenly found an absorbing new interest in life.

The first dance he went through with the Russian Royalty, who was the guest of the evening; and, still rigidly conforming to the line of duty (which obtains in court ball-rooms as on battlefields), the second, third and fourth dances were for the Emperor penances instead of pleasures. But for the fifth—a waltz—he bowed before Virginia.

During this long hour there had been hardly a movement, smile or glance of hers which he had not contrived to see, since his entrance. He knew just how well Baron von Lyndal carried out his instructions concerning Miss Mowbray. He saw each partner presented to her for a dance the Emperor might not claim; and to save his life, or a national crisis, he could not have forced the same expression in speaking with her Royal Highness from Russia, as that which spontaneously brightened his face when at last he approached Virginia.

"Who is that girl?" asked Count von Breitstein, in his usual abrupt manner, as the arm of Leopold girdled the slim waist of the Princess, and the eyes of Leopold drank light from another pair of eyes lifted to his in laughter.

It was to Baroness von Lyndal that the old Chancellor put his question, and she fluttered a tiny, diamond-spangled fan of lace to hide lips that would smile, as she answered, "What, Chancellor, are you jesting, or don't you really know who that girl is?"

Count von Breitstein turned eyes cold and gray as glass away from the two figures moving rhythmically with the music, to the face of the once celebrated beauty. Long ago he had admired Baroness von Lyndal as passionately as it was in him to admire any woman; but that day was so far distant as to be remembered with scorn, and now, such power as she had over him was merely to excite a feeling of irritation.

"I seldom trouble myself to jest," he answered.

"Ah, one knows that truly great men are born without a sense of humor; those who have it are never as successful in life as those without," smiled the Baroness, who was by birth a Hungarian, and loved laughter better than anything else, except compliments upon her vanishing beauty. "How stupid of me to have tried your patience. 'That girl,' as you so uncompromisingly call her, has two claims to attention at court. She is the English Miss Helen Mowbray whose mother has come to Kronburg armed with sheaves of introductions to us all. She is also the young woman of whom the papers are full to-day, for it is she who saved the Emperor's life."

"Indeed," said the Chancellor, a gray gleam in his eye as he watched the white figure floating on the tide of music, in the arms of Leopold. "Indeed."

"I thought you would have known, for you know most things before other people hear of them," went on the Baroness. "Lady Mowbray and her daughter are stopping at the Hohenlangenwald Hotel. That's the mother sitting on the left of Princess Neufried,—the pretty, Dresden china person. But the girl is a great beauty."

"It's generous of you to say so, Baroness," replied the Chancellor. "I didn't see the young lady's face at all clearly yesterday; I was stationed too far away; and dress makes a great difference. As for what she did," went on the old man, whose coldness to women and merciless justice to both sexes alike had earned him the nickname of "Iron Heart," "as for what she did, if it had not been she who intervened between the Emperor and death, it would have been the fate of another to do so. It was a fortunate thing for the girl, we may say, that it happened to be her arm which struck up the weapon."

"Or she wouldn't be here to-night, you mean," laughed the Baroness. "Don't you think, then, that his Majesty is right to single her out for so much honor?" Her eyes were on the dancers; yet that mysterious skill which most women of the world have learned, taught her how not to miss the slightest change of expression, if there were any, on the Chancellor's square, lined face.

"His Majesty is always right," he replied diplomatically. "An invitation to a ball; a dance or two; a few compliments; a call to pay his respects; a gentleman could not be less gracious. And his Majesty is one of the first gentlemen in Europe."

"He has had good training, what to do and what not to do." The Baroness flung her little sop of flattery to Cerberus with a dainty ghost of a bow for the man who had been as a second father to Leopold since the late Emperor's death. "But—we're old friends, Chancellor," (she was not to blame that they had not been more in the days before she became Baroness von Lyndal), "so tell me; can you look at the girl's face and the Emperor's, and still say that everything will end with an invitation, a dance, some compliments, and a call to pay respects?"

Iron Heart frowned and sneered, wondering what he could have seen, twenty-two years ago, to admire in this flighty woman. He would have escaped from her now, if escape had been feasible; but he could not be openly rude to the wife of the Grand Master of Ceremonies, at the Emperor's ball. And besides, he was not unwilling, perhaps, to show the lady that her sentimental and unsuitable innuendos were as the buzzing of a fly about his ears.

"I'm close upon seventy, and no longer a fair judge of a woman's attractions," he returned carelessly. "A look at her face conveys nothing to me. But, were she Helen of Troy instead of Helen Mowbray, the invitation, the dance, the compliments, and the call—with the present of some jeweled souvenir—are all that are permissible in the circumstances."

"What circumstances?" and the Baroness looked as innocent as an inquiring child.

"The lady is not of Royal blood. And his Majesty, I thank Heaven, is not a roue."

"He has a heart, though you trained him, Chancellor; and he has eyes. He may never have used them to much purpose before, yet there must be a first time. And the higher and more strongly built the tower, once it begins to topple, the greater is the fall thereof."

"Is it the sense of humor, which you say I lack, that gives you pleasure in discussing the wildest improbabilities, as if they were events to be considered seriously? If it is, I'm not sorry to lack it. In any case, it's as well that neither you nor I is the Emperor's keeper."

"We're at least his very good friends, I as well as you, in my humbler way, Chancellor. And you and I have known each other for twenty-two years. If it amuses me to discuss improbabilities, why not? Since you call them improbabilities, it can do no harm to dwell upon them as ingredients for romance. Not for worlds would I suggest that his Majesty isn't an example for all men to follow, nor that poor, pretty Miss Mowbray could be tempted to indiscretion. But yet I'd be ready to make a wager—the Emperor being human, and the girl a beauty—that an acquaintance so romantically begun won't end with a ball and a call."

"What could there possibly be more—or what you hint at as more—in honor?"

The Chancellor's voice was angry at last, as well as stern, for he could not bear persistence—in other people—unless it were to further some cause of his own. To the delight of the woman who had once tried in vain to melt his iron heart, Count von Breitstein began to look somewhat like a baited bull. Really, said the Baroness to herself, there was an actual resemblance in feature; and joyously she searched for a few more little ribbon-tipped banderillos.

What fun it was to ruffle the temper of the surly old brute who had humiliated her woman's vanity in days long past, but not forgotten! She knew the Chancellor's desire for the Emperor's marriage as soon as a suitable match could be found; and though she was not in the secret of his plans, would have felt little surprise at learning that some eligible Royal girl had already been selected. Now, how amusing it would be actually to make the old man tremble for the success of his hopes, even if it should turn out in the end to be impossible or undesirable to upset them!

"What could there be more—in honor?" she echoed lightly after an instant given to reflection.

"Why, the Emperor and the girl will see a great deal of each other, unless you banish or imprison the Mowbrays. There'll be many dances together, many calls; in fact, a serial romance instead of a short story. Why shouldn't his Majesty know the pleasure of a—platonic friendship with a beautiful and charming young woman?"

"Because Plato's out of fashion, if ever he was in, among human beings with red blood in their veins; and because, as I said, the Emperor is above all else a man of honor. Besides, I doubt that any woman, no matter how pretty or young, could wield a really powerful influence over his life."

"You doubt that? Then you don't know the Emperor; and you've forgotten some of the traditions of his house."

"Are you trying to warn me of disaster, Baroness?"

She laughed. "Oh, dear no. Of nothing disagreeable. But I should be sorry to think, as you seem to do, that our Emperor has no youth in his veins."

"I think nothing of the sort. What I do think is that my teachings have not been in vain, and that he has grown up to put his duty to his country and his own self-respect above everything. He's a strong man—too strong to be trapped in the meshes of any pink and white Vivien. And if he admired a young woman not of Royal blood, he would keep his distance for her sake. You say this English miss is with her mother at the principal hotel of Kronburg. If Leopold constantly visited them there we should have a scandal. On the other hand, to suggest meeting the girl outside, or incognito, would be an insult. Either way he would be but poorly rewarding a woman who saved his life."

Baroness von Lyndal's color rallied to the support of her rouge, and her smile dwindled to inanity, for she had insisted upon the argument, and it was going against her.

In her haste to vex the Chancellor, she had not stopped to study from every side the question she had raised. So far, she had merely succeeded in irritating him, and she owed him much more than a pin prick. Such infinitesimal wounds she had contrived to give the man in abundance, during her twenty-two years at the Rhaetian Court; but now, if she hurt him at all, she would like the stab to be deep and memorable.

To be sure, in beginning the conversation, she had thought of nothing more than a momentary gratification, but the very heat of the argument into which she had thrown herself had warmed her malice, and sharpened the weapon of her wit. She could justify her expressed opinion only by events, and it occurred to her that she might be able to shape events in such a way that she could say with eyes, if not in words, "I told you so."

Her fading smile brightened. "Dear Chancellor, you do well to have faith in your Imperial pupil," said she. "You've helped to make him what he is, and you're ready to keep him what he should be. I suppose, even, that if, being but a young man and having the hot blood of his race, he should stray into a primrose path, you would take advantage of old friendship to—er—put up sign-posts and barriers?"

"Were there the slightest chance of such necessity arising," grumbled the Chancellor, shrugging his shoulders.

"It's like your integrity and courage. What a comfort, then, that the necessity is so unlikely to arise."

The old man looked at her with level gaze, the ruthless look that brushes away a woman's paint and powder, and coldly counts the wrinkles underneath. "I must have misunderstood you then, a moment ago," he said. "I thought your argument was all the other way round, madam?"

"I told you I was amusing myself. What can one do at a ball, when one has reached the age when it would be foolish to dance? Why, I believe that Lady Mowbray and her daughter are not remaining long in Kronburg."

At last she was able to judge that she had given the Chancellor a few uneasy moments, for his eyes brightened visibly with relief. "Ah," he returned, "then they are going out of Rhaetia?"

"Not exactly that," said the Baroness, slowly, pleasantly, and distinctly. "I hear that they've been asked to the country to visit one of his Majesty's oldest friends."

* * * * *

Leopold was not supposed to care for dancing, though he danced—as it was his pride to do all things—well. Certainly there was often a perfunctoriness about his manner in a ball-room, a suggestion of the soldier on duty in his unsmiling face, and his readiness to lead a partner to her seat when a dance was over.

But to-night a new Leopold moved to the music. A girl's white arm on his—that slender arm which had been quick and firm as a man's in his defense; the perfume of a girl's hair, and the gold glints upon it; the shadow of a girl's dark lashes, and the light in a pair of gray eyes when they were lifted; the beating of a girl's heart near him; the springtime grace of a girl's sweet youth in its contrast with the voluptuous summer of Rhaetian types of beauty; the warm rose that spread upwards from a girl's childlike dimples to the womanly arch of her brows; all these charms and more which rendered one girl a hundred times adorable, took hold of him, and made him not an Emperor, but a man, unarmored.

When the music ceased, he fancied for an instant that some accident had befallen the musicians. Then, when he realized that the end of the dance had come in its due time, he remembered with pleasure a rule of his court, established in the days of those who had been before him. After each dance an interval of ten minutes was allowed before the beginning of another. Ten minutes are not much to a man who has things to say which could hardly be said in ten hours; still, they are something; and to waste even one would be like spilling a drop of precious elixir from a tiny bottle containing but nine other drops.

They had scarcely spoken yet, except for commonplaces which any one might have overheard, since the day on the mountain; and in this first moment of the ten, each was wondering whether or no that day should be ignored between them. Leopold did not feel that it should be spoken of, for it was possible that the girl did not recognize the chamois hunter in the Emperor; and Virginia did not feel that she could speak of it. But then, few things turn out as people feel they should.

Next to the throne room was the ball-room; and beyond was another known as the "Waldsaal," which Leopold had fitted up for the gratification of a fancy. It was named the "Waldsaal" because it represented a wood. Walls and ceiling were masked with thick-growing creepers trained over invisible wires, through which peeped stars of electric light, like the chequerings of sunshine between netted branches. Trees grew up, with their roots in boxes hidden beneath the moss-covered floor. There were grottoes of ivy-draped rock in the corners, and here and there out from leafy shadows glittered the glass eyes of birds and animals—eagles, stags, chamois, wolves and bears—which the Emperor had shot.

This strange room, so vast as to seem empty when dozens of people wandered beneath its trees and among its rock grottoes, was thrown open to guests whenever a ball was given at the palace; but the conservatories and palm houses were more popular; and when Leopold brought Miss Mowbray to the Waldsaal after their dance, it was in the hope that they might not be disturbed.

She was lovelier than ever in her white dress, under the trees, looking up at him with a wonderful look in her eyes, and the young man's calmness was mastered by the beating of his blood.

"This is a kind of madness," he said to himself. "It will pass. It must pass." And aloud,—meaning all the while to say something different and commonplace,—the real words in his mind broke through the crust of conventionality. "Why did you do it?"

Virginia's eyes widened. "I don't understand." Then, in an instant, she found that she did understand. She knew, too, that the question had asked itself in spite of him, but that once it had been uttered he would stand to his guns.

"I mean the thing I shall have to thank you for always."

If Virginia had had time to think, she might have prepared some pretty answer; but, there being no time, her response came as his question had, from the heart. "I couldn't help doing it."

"You couldn't help risking your life to—" He dared not finish.

"It was to save—" Nor was there any end for her sentence.

Then perhaps it was not strange that he forgot certain restrictions which a Royal man, in conversing with a commoner, is not supposed to forget. In fact, he forgot that he was Royal, or that she was not, and his voice grew unsteady, his tone eager, as if he had been some poor subaltern with the girl of his first love.

"There's something I must show you," he said. Opening a button of the military coat blazing with jewels and orders, he drew out a loop of thin gold chain. At the end dangled a small, bright thing that flashed under a star of electric light.

"My ring!" breathed Virginia.

Thus died the Emperor's intention to ignore the day that had been theirs together.

"Your ring! You gave it to Leo. He kept it. He will always keep it. Have I surprised you?"

Virginia felt it would be best to say "yes," but instead she answered "no"; for pretty, white fibs cannot be told under such a look in a man's eyes, by a girl who loves him.

"I have not? When did you guess the truth? Yesterday, or—"

"At Alleheiligen."

Silence fell for a minute, while Leopold digested the answer, and its full meaning. He remembered the bread and ham; the cow he could not milk; the ruecksacks he had carried. He remembered everything—and laughed.

"You knew, at Alleheiligen? Not on the mountain, when—"

"Yes. I guessed even then, I confess. Oh, I don't mean that I went there expecting to find you. I didn't. I think I shouldn't have gone, had I known. Every one believed you were at Melinabad. But when I tumbled down and you saved me, I looked up, and—of course I'd seen your picture, and one reads in the papers that you're fond of chamois hunting. I couldn't help guessing—oh, I'm sorry you asked me this!"

"Why?"

"Because—one might have to be afraid of an Emperor if he were angry."

"Do I look angry?"

Their eyes met again, laughing at first, then each finding unexpected depths in those of the other which drove away laughter. Something in Leopold's breast seemed alive and struggling to be free from restraint, like a fierce, wild bird. He shut his lips tightly, breathing hard. Both forgot that a question had been asked; but it was Virginia who spoke first, since it is easier for a woman than a man to hide feeling.

"I wonder why you kept the ring after my—impertinence."

"I had a good reason for keeping it."

"Won't you tell me?"

"You're quick at forming conclusions, Miss Mowbray. Can't you guess?"

"To remind you to beware of strange young women on mountains."

"No."

"Because your own picture is inside?"

"It was a better reason than that."

"Am I not to ask it?"

"On that day, you asked what you chose. All the more should you do so now, since there's nothing I could refuse you."

"Not the half of your Kingdom—like the Royal men in fairy stories?"

As soon as the words were out Virginia would have given much to have them back. She had not thought of a meaning they might convey; but she tried not to blush, lest he should think of it now. Nevertheless he did think of it, and the light words, striking a chord they had not aimed to touch, went echoing on and on, till they reached that part of himself which the Emperor knew least about—his heart.

"Half his Kingdom?" Yes, he would give it to this girl, if he could. Heavens, what it would be to share it with her!

"Ask anything you will," he said, as a man speaks in a dream.

"Then tell me—why you kept the ring."

"Because the only woman I ever cared—to make my friend, took it from her finger and gave it to me."

"Now the Emperor is pleased to pay compliments."

"You know I am sincere."

"But you'd seen me only for an hour. Instead of deserving your friendship, I'm afraid I—"

"For one hour? That's true. And how long ago is that one hour? A week or so, I suppose, as Time counts. But then came yesterday, and the thing you did for me. Now, I've known you always."

"If you had, perhaps you wouldn't want me for your friend."

"I do want you."

The words would come. It was true—already. He did want her. But not as a friend. His world,—a world without women, without passion fiery enough to devour principles or traditions, was upside down.

It was well that the ten minutes' grace between dances was over, and the music for the next about to begin. A young officer, Count von Breitstein's half-brother—who was to be Miss Mowbray's partner—appeared in the distance, looking for her; but stopped, seeing that she was still with the Emperor.

"Good-by," said Virginia, while her words could still be only for the ears of Leopold.

"Not good-by. We're friends."

"Yes. But we sha'n't meet often."

"Why? Are you leaving Kronburg?"

"Perhaps—soon. I don't know."

"I must see you again. I will see you once more, whatever comes."

"Once more, perhaps. I hope so, but—"

"After that—"

"Who knows?"

* * * * *

"Once more—once more!" The words echoed in Virginia's ears. She heard them through everything, as one hears the undertone of a mountain torrent, though a brass band may bray to drown its deep music.

Once more he would see her, whatever might come. She could guess why it might be only once, though he would fain have that once again and again repeated. For this game of hers, begun with such a light heart, was more difficult to play than she had dreamed.

If she could but be sure he cared; if he would tell her so, in words, and not with eyes alone, the rest might be easy, although at best she could not see the end. Yet how, in honor, could he tell Miss Helen Mowbray that he cared? And if the telling were not to be in honor, how could she bear to live her life?

"Once more!" What would happen in that "once more?" Perhaps nothing save a repetition of grateful thanks, and courteous words akin to a farewell.

To be sure Lady Mowbray and her daughter might run away, and the negotiations between the Emperor's advisers and the Grand Duchess of Baumenburg-Drippe for the Princess Virginia's hand might be allowed to go on, as if no outside influence had ruffled the peaceful current of events. Then, in the end, a surprise would come for Leopold; wilful Virginia would have played her little comedy, and all might be said to end well. But Virginia's heart refused to be satisfied with so tame a last chapter, a finish to her romance so conventional as to be distastefully obvious, almost if not quite a failure.

She had begun to drink a sweet and stimulating draught—she who had been brought up on milk and water—and she was reluctant to put down the cup, still half full of sparkling nectar.

"Once more!" If only that once could be magnified into many times. If she could have her chance—her "fling," like the lucky girls who were not Royal!

So she was thinking in the carriage by her mother's side, and the Grand Duchess had to speak twice, before her daughter knew their silence had been broken.

"I forgot to tell you something, Virginia."

"Ye-es, Mother?"

"Your great success has made me absent-minded, child. You looked like a shining white lily among all those handsome, overblown Rhaetian women."

"Thank you, dear. Was that what you forgot to say?"

"Oh no! It was this. The Baroness von Lyndal has been most kind. She urges us to give up our rooms at the hotel, on the first of next week, and join her house party at Schloss Lyndalberg. It's only a few miles out of town. What do you think of the plan?"

"Leave—Kronburg?"

"She's asked a number of friends—to meet the Emperor."

"Oh! He didn't speak of it—when we danced."

"But she has mentioned it to him since, no doubt,—before giving me the invitation. Intimate friend of his as she is, she wouldn't dare ask people to meet him, if he hadn't first sanctioned the suggestion. Still, she can afford to be more or less informal. The Baroness was dancing with the Emperor, I remember now, just before she came to me. They were talking together quite earnestly. I can recall the expression of his face."

"Was it pleased, or—"

"I was wondering what she could have said to make him look so happy. Perhaps—"

"What answer did you give Baroness von Lyndal?"

"I told her—I thought you wouldn't mind—I told her we would go."



CHAPTER IX

IRON HEART AT HOME

Schloss Lyndalberg towers high on a promontory, overlooking a lake, seven or eight miles to the south of the Rhaetian capital. The castle is comparatively modern, with pointed turrets and fretted minarets, and, being built of white, Carrara marble, throws a reflection snowy as a submerged swan, into the clear green water of the Moemmelsee. All the surroundings of the palace, from its broad terraces to its jeweled fountains and well-nigh tropical gardens, suggest luxury, gaiety, pleasure.

But, on the opposite bank of the Moemmelsee is huddled the dark shape of an ancient fortified stronghold, begun no one remembers how many centuries ago by the first Count von Breitstein. Generation following generation, the men of that family completed the work, until nowadays it is difficult to know where the rock ends, and the castle begins. There, like a dragon squatting on the coils of its own tail, the dark mass is poised, its deep-set window-eyes glaring across the bright water at the white splendor of Lyndalberg, like the malevolent stare of the monster waiting to spring upon and devour a fair young maiden.

The moods of Baroness von Lyndal concerning grim old Schloss Breitstein had varied many times during her years of residence by the lake. Sometimes she pleased herself by reflecting that the great man who had slighted her lived in less luxury than she had attained by her excellent marriage. Again, the thought of the ancient lineage of the present Count von Breitstein filled her with envy; and oftener than all, the feeling that the "old grizzly bear" could crouch in his den and watch sneeringly everything which happened at Lyndalberg got upon the lady's nerves. She could have screamed and shaken her fist at the dark mass of rock and stone across the water. But after the birthday ball and during the first days of Leopold's visit at her house, she often threw a whimsical glance at the grim silhouette against the northern sky, and smiled.

"Can you see, old bear?" she would ask, gayly. "Are you spying over there? Do you think yourself all-wise and all-powerful? Do you see what's in my mind now, and do you guess partly why I've taken all this trouble? Are you racking your brain for some way of spoiling my little plans? But you can't do it, you know. It's too late. There's nothing you can do, except sit still and growl, and glare at your own claws—which a woman has clipped. How do you like the outlook, old bear? Do you lie awake at night and study how to save your scheme for the Emperor's marriage? All your grumpy old life you've despised women; but now you're beginning at last to find out that powerful as you are, there are some things a woman with tact and money, nice houses and a good-natured husband can do, which the highest statesman in the land can't undo. How soon shall I make you admit that, Chancellor Bear?"

Thus the Baroness, standing at her drawing-room window, would amuse herself in odd moments, when she was not arranging original and elaborate entertainments for her guests. And she congratulated herself particularly on having had the forethought to invite Egon von Breitstein, the Chancellor's half-brother.

There was a barrier of thirty-six years' difference in age between the two, and they had never been friends in the true sense of the word, for the old man was temperamentally unable to sympathize with the tastes, or understand the temptations of the younger brother, and the younger man was mentally unable to appreciate the qualities of the elder.

Nevertheless it was rumored at court that Iron Heart had more than once used the gay and good-looking Captain of Cavalry for a catspaw in pulling some very big and hot chestnuts out of the fire. At all events "Handsome Egon," so known among his followers, "the Chancellor's Jackal" (thus nicknamed by his enemies) would have found difficulty in keeping up appearances without the allowance granted by his powerful half-brother. The ill-assorted pair were often in communication, and the Baroness liked to think that news fresh from Lyndalberg must sooner or later be wafted like a wind-blown scent of roses across the water to Schloss Breitstein.

She was still less displeased than surprised, therefore, when—the Emperor having been three days at Lyndalberg, with two more days of his visit to run—an urgent message arrived for Captain von Breitstein from his brother.

Poor old Lorenz was wrestling with his enemy gout, it appeared, and wished for Egon's immediate presence.

Such a summons could not be neglected. Egon's whole future depended upon his half-brother's caprice, he hinted to the Baroness in asking leave to desert her pleasant party for a few hours. So of course she sent the Chancellor her regrets, with the Baron's; and Egon went off charged with a friendly message from the Emperor as well.

When the Captain of Cavalry had set out from Lyndalberg to Schloss Breitstein by the shortest way—across the lake in a smart little motor-boat—promising to be back in time for dinner and a concert, the Baroness spent all her energy in getting up an impromptu riding-party, which would give Leopold the chance of another tete-a-tete with Miss Mowbray.

Already many such chances had been arranged, so cleverly as not to excite gossip; and if the flirtation (destined by the hostess to disgust Leopold with his Chancellor's matrimonial projects) did not advance by leaps and bounds, it was certainly not the fault of Baroness von Lyndal.

"Egon has been told to use his eyes and ears for all they're worth at Lyndalberg, and now he's called upon to hand in his first report," she said to herself, when the younger von Breitstein was off on his mission across the lake.

But for once, at least, the "Chancellor's Jackal" was wronged by unjust suspicion. He arrived at Schloss Breitstein ignorant of his brother's motive in sending for him, though he shrewdly suspected it to be something quite different from the one alleged.

The Chancellor was in his study, a deep windowed, tower room, with walls book-lined nearly to the cross-beamed ceiling. He sat reading a budget of letters when Egon was announced, and if he were really ill, he did not betray his suffering. The square face, with its beetling brows, eyes of somber fire, and forehead impressive as a cathedral dome, showed no new lines graven by pain.

"Sit down, Egon," he said, abruptly, tearing in half an envelope stamped with the head of Hungaria's King. "I'll be ready for you in a moment."

The young man took the least uncomfortable chair in the room, which from his point of view was to say little in its favor; because the newest piece of furniture there, has been made a hundred years before the world understood that lounging was not a crime. Over the high, stone mantel hung a shield, so brightly polished as to fulfil the office of a mirror, and from where Egon sat, perforce upright and rigid, he could see himself vignetted in reflection.

He admired his fresh color, which was like a girl's, pointed the waxed ends of his mustache with nervous, cigarette-stained fingers, and thinking of many agreeable things, from baccarat to roulette, from roulette to races, and races to pretty women, he wondered which he had to thank for this summons to the Chancellor. Unfortunately, brother Lorenz knew everything; one's pleasant peccadilloes buzzed to his ears like flies; there was little hope of deceiving him.

Egon sighed, and his eyes turned mechanically from his own visage on shining steel, to the letter held in an old hand so veined that it reminded the young man of a rock netted with the sprawling roots of ancient trees. He had just time to recognize the writing as that of Adalbert, Crown Prince of Hungaria, whom he knew slightly, when keen eyes curtained with furled and wrinkled lids, glanced up from the letter.

"It's coming," thought Egon. "What can the old chap have found out?"

But to his surprise the Chancellor's first words had no connection with him or his misdeeds.

"So our Emperor is amusing himself at Lyndalberg?"

Egon's face brightened. He could be cunning in emergencies, but he was not clever, and always he felt himself at a disadvantage with the old statesman. Unless he had a special favor to ask, he generally preferred discussing the affairs of others with the Chancellor, rather than allowing attention to be attracted to his own. "Oh yes," he answered, brightly. "His Majesty is amusing himself uncommonly well. I never saw him in as brilliant spirits. But you, dear Lorenz. Tell me about yourself. Is your gout—"

"The devil take my gout!"

Egon started. "A good thing if he did, provided he left you behind," he retorted, meaning exactly the opposite, as he often did when trying to measure wits with the Chancellor. "But you sent for me—"

"Don't tell me you supposed I sent for you because I wanted consolation or condolence?"

"No-o," laughed Egon, uneasily. "I fancied there was some other more pressing reason. But I'm bound in common courtesy to take your sincerity for granted until you undeceive me."

"Hang common courtesy between you and me," returned the Bear. "I've nothing to conceal. I sent for you to tell me what mischief that witch-cat Mechtilde von Lyndal is plotting. You're on the spot. Trust you for seeing everything that goes on—the one thing I would trust you to do."

"Thanks," said Egon.

"Don't thank me yet, however grateful you may be. But I don't mind hinting that it won't be the worse for you, if for once you've used those fine eyes of yours to some useful purpose."

Egon was genuinely astonished at this turn of the conversation, as he had been carefully arming himself against a personal attack from any one of several directions. He sat pointing the sharp ends of his mustache, one after the other, and trying to remember some striking incident with which to adorn a more or less accurate narrative.

"What would you call useful?" he inquired at last.

The Chancellor answered, but indirectly. "Has the Emperor been playing the fool at Lyndalberg, these last few days?"

"Do you want to make me guilty of lese Majeste?" Egon raised his eyebrows; but he was recovering presence of mind. "If by playing the fool, though, you mean falling in love, why then, brother, I should say he had done little else during the three days; and perhaps even the first of those was not the beginning."

The Chancellor growled out a word which he would hardly have uttered in the Imperial presence, particularly in the connection he suggested. "Let me hear exactly what has been going on from day's end to day's end," he commanded.

Egon grew thoughtful once more. Clearly, here was the explanation of the summons. He was to be let off easily, it appeared; but, suspense relieved, he was not ready to be satisfied with negative blessings.

"Are you sure it isn't a bit like telling tales out of school?" he objected.

"School-boys—with empty pockets—have been known to do that," said the Chancellor. "But perhaps your pockets aren't empty—eh?"

"They're in a chronic state of emptiness," groaned Egon.

"On the fifteenth day of October your quarterly allowance will be paid," remarked his brother. "I would increase the instalment by the amount of five thousand gulden, if that would make it worth your while to talk—and forget nothing but your scruples."

"Oh, you know I'm always delighted to please you!" exclaimed Egon. "It's only natural, living the monotonous life you do when you're not busy with the affairs of state, that you should like to hear what goes on in the world outside. Of course, I'll gladly do my best as a raconteur."

"My dear young man, don't lie," said the Chancellor. "The habit is growing on you. You lie even to yourself. By and by you'll believe yourself, and then all hope for your soul will be over. What I want to know is; how far the Emperor has gone in his infatuation for this English girl. I'm not afraid to speak plainly to you, so you may safely—and profitably—do the same with me. In the first place I'll put you at your ease by making a humiliating confession. The other night the woman von Lyndal tried to 'draw me,' as she would express it, on this subject, and I'm bitterly mortified to say she partly succeeded. She suggested an entanglement between Leopold and the girl. I replied that Leopold wasn't the man to pull down a hornet's nest of gossip around the ears of a young woman who had saved his life. No matter what his inclinations might be, I insisted that he would pay her no repeated visits. This thrust the fair Mechtilde parried—as if repeating a mere rumor—by saying that she believed the girl was to stay at the country house of some old friend of the Emperor. At the time, I attached little importance to her chatter, believing that she merely wished to give me a spiteful slap or two, as is her habit when she has the chance. For once, though, she has succeeded in stealing a march upon me; and she kept the secret of her plan until too late for me to have any hope of preventing Leopold from fulfilling his engagement at her house. After that was safely arranged, I don't doubt she was overjoyed that I should guess her plot."

"Do you think that, even if you'd known sooner, you could have stopped the Emperor from visiting at Lyndalberg?" asked Egon. "I know that you are iron; but he is steel."

"I would have stopped him," returned the Chancellor. "I should have made no bones about the reason; for I've found that the best way with Leopold is to blurt out the whole truth, and fight him—my experience against his will. If advice and warning hadn't sufficed to restrain him from insulting the girl who is to be his wife, and injuring the reputation of the girl who never can be, I would have devised some expedient to thwart him, for his own good. I'm not a man to give up when I feel that I am right."

"Neither is he," Egon added. "But since you seem so determined to nip this dainty blossom of love in the bud, we'll hope it's not yet too late for a sharp frost to blight it."

"I sent for you," said the Chancellor, brushing away metaphor with an impatient gesture, "to show me the precise spot on which to lay my finger."

"I'll do my best to deserve your confidence," responded Egon, gracefully. "Let me see, where shall I begin? Well, as you know, it's simpler for the Emperor to see a good deal of the woman he admires, at a friend's house than almost anywhere else, in his own country. This particular woman risked her life to save his; and it's so natural for him to be gracious in return, that people would be surprised if he were not. There's so much in their favor, at the commencement.

"Miss Mowbray and her mother arrived at Lyndalberg before the Emperor, had made friends there, and were ready for the campaign. The girl is undoubtedly beautiful—the prettiest creature I think I ever saw—and she has a winning way which takes with women as well as men. Not one of her fellow-guests seems to put a wrong construction on her flirtation with the Emperor, or his with her. The other men would think him blind if he didn't admire her as much as they do; and none of the women there are of the sort to be jealous. So, are you sure, Lorenz, that you're not taking too serious a view of the affair?"

"It can't be taken too seriously, considering the circumstances. I've told you my plans for the Emperor's future. Princesses are women, and gossip is hydra-headed. When the lady hears—she who has been allowed to understand that the Emperor of Rhaetia only waits for a suitable opportunity of formally asking for her hand—for she will surely hear, that he has seized this very moment for his first liason, I tell you neither she nor her people are likely to accept the statement meekly. She's half German; on her father's side a cousin not too distant of William II. She's half English; on her mother's side related to the King through the line of the Stuarts. And in her there's a dash of American blood which comes from a famous grandmother, who was descended from George Washington, a man as proud, and with the right to be as proud, as any King. All three countries would have reason to resent such an ungallant slight from Rhaetia."

"The little affair must be hushed up," said Egon.

"It must be stopped, and at once," said the Chancellor.

"Ach!" sighed the young man, with as much meaning in the long drawn breath, as the elder might care to read. And if it did not discourage, it at least irritated him. "Go on!" he exclaimed sharply. "Go on with your sorry tale."

"After all, when one comes to the telling, there isn't a very great deal one can put into cut-and-dried words," explained Egon. "At table, the Emperor has his hostess on one side and his fair preserver on the other. The two talk as much together during meals as etiquette allows, and perhaps a little more. Then, as the Emperor has been often at Lyndalberg, he can act as cicerone for a stranger. He has shown Miss Mowbray all the beauties of the place. He gathers her roses in the rose garden; he has guided her through the grottoes. He has piloted her through the labyrinth; he has told her which are the best dogs in the kennels; and has given her the history of all the horses in the Baron's stables. I know this from the table talk. He has explored the lake with Miss Mowbray and her mother in a motor-boat; perhaps you saw the party? And whether or no he brought his automobile to Lyndalberg on purpose, in any case he's had the Mowbrays out in it several times already. One would hardly think he could have found a chance to do so much in such a short time; but our Emperor is a man of action. Yesterday we had a picnic at the Seebachfall, to see Thorwaldsen's Undine. Leopold and Miss Mowbray being splendid climbers, reached the statue on the height over the fall long before the rest of us. At starting, however, I was close behind with the Baroness, and overheard some joke between the two, about a mountain and a cow. The Emperor spoke of milking as a fine art, and said he'd lately been taking lessons. They laughed a great deal at this, and it was plain that they were on terms of comradeship. When a young man and a girl have a secret understanding—even the most innocent one—it puts them apart from others.

"Last night there were fireworks on the lake. The Emperor and Miss Mowbray watched them together, for everything was conducted most informally. Afterwards we had an impromptu cotillion, with three or four pretty new figures invented by the Baroness. The Emperor gave Miss Mowbray several favors, and one was a buckle of enameled forget-me-nots. This morning there was tennis. The Emperor and Miss Mowbray played together. They were both so skilful, it was a pleasure to watch them. At luncheon they each ate a double almond out of one shell, had a game over it, and Leopold caught Miss Mowbray napping. That brings us to the moment of my coming to you. For the afternoon, I fancy the Baroness was getting up a riding party; and this evening unless they're too tired, she'll perhaps get up an amateur concert at which Miss Mowbray will sing. The girl has a delicious voice."

"The creature must be a fool, or an adventuress," pronounced the Chancellor. "If she has kept her senses she ought to know that nothing can come of this folly—except sorrow or scandal."

Egon shrugged his stiffly padded, military shoulders. "I have always found that a woman in love doesn't stop to count the cost."

"So! You fancy her 'in love' with the Emperor."

"With the man, rather than the Emperor, if I'm a judge of character."

"Which you're not!" Iron Heart brusquely disposed of that suggestion. "The merest school-girl could pull wool over your eyes, if she cared to take the trouble."

"This one doesn't care a rap. She hardly knows that I exist."

"Humph!" The Chancellor's eyes appraised his young brother's features. "That's a pity. You might have tried cutting the Emperor out. Her affair with him can have no happy ending; while you, in spite of all your faults, with your good looks, our position, and my money, wouldn't be a bad match for an ambitious girl."

"Your money?"

"I mean, should I choose to make you my heir, and I would choose, if you married to please me. Who are these Mowbrays?"

"I haven't had the curiosity to inquire into their antecedents," said Egon. "I only know that they're ladies, that they must be of some consequence in their own country, or they couldn't have got the letters of introduction they have; and that the girl is the prettiest on earth."

"Mechtilde talked to me, I remember, a good deal about those letters of introduction," the Chancellor reflected aloud. "But Rhaetia is a long cry from England; and letters might be forged. I've known such things to be done. Fetch me a big red volume you'll find on the third shelf from the floor, at the left of the south window. You can't miss it. It's 'Burke's Peerage.'"

Egon rose with alacrity to obey. He was rather thoughtful, for his brother had put an entirely new and exciting idea into his head.

Presently the red volume was discovered and laid on the desk before the Chancellor, who turned the leaves over until he found the page desired. As his eye fell upon the long line of Mowbrays, his face changed and the bristling brows came together in a grizzled line. Apparently the women were not adventuresses, at least in the ordinary acceptation of the term.

There they were; his square-tipped finger pressed down upon the printed names with a dig that might have signified his disposition toward their representatives.

"The girl's mother is the widow of Reginald, sixth Baron Mowbray," the old man muttered half aloud. "Son, Reginald Edward, fifteen years of age. Daughter, Helen Augusta, twenty-eight. Aha! She's no chicken, this young lady. She ought to be a woman of the world."

"Twenty-eight!" replied Egon. "I'll eat my hat if she's twenty-eight."

"Doesn't she look it, by daylight?"

"Not an hour over nineteen. Might be younger. Jove, I was never so surprised to learn a woman's age! By the by, I heard her telling Baron von Lyndal last night, apropos of our great Rhaetian victory, that she was eleven years old on the day it took place. That would make her about twenty now. When she spoke, I remember she gave a look at her mother, across the room, as though she were frightened. I suppose she was hoping there was no copy of this big red book at Lyndalberg."

"That thought might have been in her mind," assented the Chancellor, "or else she—" He left his sentence unfinished, and sat with unseeing eyes fixed in an owlish stare on the open page of Burke.

"I should like to know if you really meant what you said about my marriage a little while ago." Egon ventured to attract his brother's attention. "Because if you did—"

"If I did—"

"I might try very hard to please you in my choice of a wife."

"Be a little more implicit. You mean, you would try to prove to Miss Mowbray that a Captain of Cavalry in the hand is worth an Emperor in the bush—a bramble-brush at that, eh?"

"Yes. I would do my best. And as you say, I'm not without advantages."

"You are not. I was on the point of suggesting that you made the most of them in Miss Mowbray's eyes—until you brought me this red book."

The large forefinger tapped the page of Mowbrays, while two lines which might have meant amusement, or a sneer, scored themselves on either side the Chancellor's mouth.

"And now—you've changed your mind?" There was disappointment in Egon's voice.

"I don't say that. I say only, 'Wait.' Make yourself as agreeable to the lady as you like. But don't pledge yourself, and don't count upon my promise or my money, until you hear again. By that time—well, we shall see what we shall see. Keep your hand in. But wait—wait."

"How long am I to wait? If the thing's to be done at all, it must be done soon, for meanwhile, the Emperor makes all the running."

The Chancellor looked up again from the red book, his fist still covering the Mowbrays, as if they were to be extinguished. "You are to wait," he said, "until I've had answers to a couple of telegrams I shall send to-night."



CHAPTER X

VIRGINIA'S GREAT MOMENT

The first and second dressing gongs had sounded at Schloss Lyndalberg on the evening of the day after Egon von Breitstein's visit to his brother, and the Grand Duchess was beginning to wonder uneasily what kept her daughter, when ringed fingers tapped on the panel of the door.

"Come in!" she answered, and Virginia appeared, still in the white tennis dress she had worn that afternoon. She stood for an instant without speaking, her face so radiantly beautiful that her mother thought it seemed illumined from a light within.

It had been on the lips of the Grand Duchess to scold the girl for her tardiness, since to be late was an unpardonable offense, with an Imperial Majesty in the house. But in that radiance the words died.

"Virginia, what is it? You look—I scarcely know how you look. But you make me feel that something has happened."

The Princess came slowly across the room, smiling softly, with an air of one who walks in sleep. Hardly conscious of what she did, she sank down in a big chair, and sat resting her elbows on her knees, her chin nestling between her two palms, like a pink-white rose in its calyx.

"You may go, Ernestine," said the Grand Duchess to her maid. "I'll ring when I want you again."

The elaborate process of waving and dressing her still abundant hair had fortunately come to a successful end, and Ernestine had just caused a diamond star to rise above her forehead. She was in a robe de chambre, and the rest of her toilet could wait till curiosity was satisfied.

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