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The Princess Virginia
by C. N. Williamson
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It would have been vain to scour the world in quest of a handsomer young man than this one. Even Egon von Breitstein would have seemed a more good-looking puppet beside him, and the Chancellor rejoiced in the physical perfection of a Prince who might prove a dangerous rival for an absent Emperor.

"This is the best of good fortune!" exclaimed Count von Breitstein. "Egon told me you were here, and without waiting to get the note he said you had left for me, I came to you, straight from the railway station."

"Splendid! And now you must dine with me. It was that I asked of you in my note. Dinner early; a serious talk; and an antidote for solemnity in a visit to the Leopoldhalle to see Mademoiselle Felice from the Folies Bergere do her famous Fire and Fountain dance. A box; curtains half drawn; no one need know that the Chancellor helps his young friend amuse himself."

"I thank your Royal Highness for the honor you suggest, and nothing could give me greater pleasure, if I had not a suggestion to venture in place of yours, which I believe may suit you better. I think I know of what you wish to talk with me, and I desire the same, while the business I have most at heart—"

"Ah, your business is my business, then?"

"I hope you may so consider it. In any case it is business which must be carried through now or never, and is of life and death importance to those whom it concerns. How it's to be done, or whether done at all, may depend on you, if you consent to interest yourself; and it could not be in more competent hands. If I'd been given my choice of an assistant, out of the whole world, I should have chosen your Royal Highness."

"This sounds like an adventure."

"It may be an adventure, and at the same time an act of justice."

"Good. Although it was not in search of an adventure that I came to you, any more than it was the hope of game which brought me on a sudden impulse to my little hunting lodge, still, I trust I have always the instinct of a sportsman."

"I am sure of that; and I have the less hesitation in enlisting your good-will, because it happens that your bird and mine can be killed with one shot."

"Chancellor, you excite my curiosity."

The old man smiled genially; but under the bristling brows glowed a flame as of the last embers in a dying fire. "Up-stairs," said he, "is a pretty woman; a beauty. She claims the name of Helen Mowbray, though her right to it is more than disputable. Her love affairs threaten a public scandal."

"Ah, you are not the first one who has spoken of this pretty lady since I crossed the frontier this morning," exclaimed the young man, flushing. He paused and bit his lip, before going on, as if he wished to think, or regain self-control. But at last he laughed, not altogether lightly. "So, the lady most talked about for the moment in all Rhaetia, is under the same roof with me."

"Fortunately, she is close at hand," said the Chancellor. "To you, more than to any other, I can open my heart in speaking of our great peril. This girl has drawn the Emperor into a fit of moon-madness. It is no more serious than that, and were she out of the way, he would wake as from a dream. But this is the moment of the crisis. He must be saved now, or he is lost forever, and all our hopes with him. Blessed would be the man who brought my poor master to his senses. I have tried and failed. But you could do it."

"I?"

"The sword of justice is ready for your hand."

"That sentence has a solemn ring. I don't see what you want me to do. But—what sort of woman is this who has bewitched your grave Leopold?"

"Beautiful, and clever, as women are clever; but not clever enough to fight her battle out against you and me."

The Prince laughed again. "It isn't my metier to fight with women. I prefer to make love to them."

"Ah, you have said it! That is what I beg your Royal Highness to do."

"How am I to get at her, when Leopold stands guard—"

"He will not be on guard for some hours."

"Ha, ha! You mean me to understand that there's no time to waste."

"Not a moment."

"What is the girl like?"

"Tall and slender, pink and white as a flower, dark-lashed and yellow-haired, like an Austrian beauty. Eyes gray or violet, it would be hard to say which, for a man of my years; but even I can assure you that when the lady looks down, then suddenly up again, under those dark lashes, it's something to quicken the pulse of any man under sixty."

"It would quicken mine only to hear your description, if you hadn't just put a maggot in my head that tickles me to laughter instead of raptures," said the Prince. "Tell me this; has this girl a tiny black mole just over the left eyebrow—very fetching;—and when she smiles, does her mouth point upward a bit on the right side, like a fairy sign-post showing the way to a small round scar, almost as good as a dimple?"

The Chancellor reflected for a few seconds, and then replied that, unless his eyesight and his memory had deceived him, both these marks were to be met with on Miss Mowbray's face. He did not add that he had seen her but once, and at the time had not taken interest enough to note details; for it was plain that the Prince had a theory as to the lady's real identity; and to establish it as a fact might be valuable.

"Is it possible that you've already met this dangerous young person?" he asked eagerly.

"Well, I begin to believe it may be so. I'll explain why later; thereby hangs a confession. At all events, a certain lady exactly answering the description you've given, is very likely in this neighborhood; I've heard that she was shortly due in Kronburg, and it was in my mind when deciding suddenly to spend a few days in the woods for the sake of seeing you, that I might see her also before I went home again. As a matter of fact, the lady and I have had a misunderstanding, at a rather unfortunate moment, as I'd just imprudently taken her into my confidence concerning—er—some family affairs. If it is she who is masquerading in Rhaetia as Miss Mowbray, and turning your Emperor's head, it may be that she's trying to revenge herself on me. She's pretty enough to beguile St. Anthony, let alone a St. Leopold; and she's clever enough to have thought out such a scheme. Our small quarrel happened about four weeks ago, and I've lost sight of the lady since; she disappeared, expecting probably to be followed; but she wasn't. The only question is, if she's playing Miss Mowbray, where did she get the mother? I've heard there is a Mowbray-mother?"

"There's a faded Dresden china shepherdess that answers to the name," said the Chancellor, dryly. "But these mantelpiece ornaments are easily manufactured."

The Prince was amused. "No, she wouldn't stick at a mother, if she wanted one," he chuckled. "And while she was about it, she has apparently annexed a whole family tree. The black mole, and the scar-dimple, you're sure of them, Chancellor? Because, if you are—"

"Oh, I am practically certain!"

"Then, the more pieces in the puzzle which I fit together, the more likely does it seem that your Leopold's Miss Helen Mowbray and my Miss Jenny Brett are one and the same."

"Miss Jenny Brett?"

"Did you never hear the name?"

"If I have, I've forgotten it."

"Chancellor, you wouldn't if you were a few years younger. Jenny Brett is the prettiest if not the most talented singer ever sent out from Australia, the fashionable home of singers. She is billed to sing at the Court Theater of Kronburg in a fortnight, her first engagement in Rhaetia."

"You are right. It may well be that she's been having a game with us—a game that we can prevent now, thank Heaven, from ending in earnest."

"Oh, yes, we can prevent that."

"Your Royal Highness met the lady in your own country?"

"N-o. It was in Paris at first, but I'm afraid I induced her to accept an engagement at home. We were great friends for a while, and really she's a charming creature. I can't blame myself. Who would have guessed that she'd turn out so ambitious? By Jove, I can sympathize with Leopold. The girl tried to twist me round her finger, and I verily believe fancied at one time that I would offer her marriage."

"It must be the same girl. And the Emperor has offered her marriage."

"What? Impossible! But—with the left hand, of course, though even that would be unheard of for a man in his—"

"I swear to your Royal Highness that if he isn't stopped, he will force her on the Rhaetian people as Empress."

"Gad! Little Jenny Brett! I didn't half appreciate her brilliant qualities."

"Yet I would wager that she appreciated yours."

The Prince shrugged his shoulders. "I believe she really cared something for me—a month ago."

"Then she still cares. You are not a man whom a woman can forget, though pique or ambition may lead her to try. I tell you, frankly, I believe that Providence sent your Royal Highness here at this moment, and my best hopes are now pinned on you. You—and no one as well as you—can save the Emperor for a nobler fate. Even when I supposed you a stranger to this lady who calls herself Helen Mowbray, I thought that, if you would consent to meet her and exercise your fascinations, there might be hope of averting the danger from my master. Now, I hope everything. I beg, I entreat, that your Royal Highness will send up your name and ask the lady to see you without delay. She will certainly receive you; and when the Emperor learns that she has done so, it may go far to disillusion him, for—pardon me—your Royal Highness has a great reputation as a lady-killer. Still more valuable would it be, however—indeed, he would be cured of his infatuation forever, if—if—"

"If what?" inquired the young man, tired of the Chancellor's long windedness and beating about the bush.

"If you could persuade her to go out to your hunting lodge. Then Leopold and Rhaetia would be saved—by you. What could be better, what could be more suitable?"

"What indeed?" echoed the Prince. "For every one concerned,—except for Jenny Brett."

"Considering the havoc she has worked among us all, need she be considered—before the interests of a great country, and—perhaps I may hint—an innocent and lovely Royal lady, whom this girl is doing her best to humiliate?"

"I'm hanged if she need be so considered! Anyhow, I'll do what you ask. I'll send up my card, and then—we'll see what happens."

The Prince took from his pocket a small gold case, sparkling with jewels—a trifle which advertised itself as the gift of a woman. Out of this came a card, with a crown over the name in the fashion of his country and some others. An equerry, waiting in an adjoining room, was summoned; the card given to him; passed on to a hotel servant; and then, for five minutes, ten minutes, the old man and the young one waited, talking of a subject very near to both their hearts.

At last, when they had no more to say, word came that Lady Mowbray and Miss Mowbray would see his Royal Highness.

"The value of a well regulated mother!" laughed the young man, who had not troubled to inquire for Lady Mowbray. "Well, whatever comes of this interview, Chancellor, I shall presently have something to tell you."

"The suspense will be hard to bear," said Count von Breitstein, "but I have perfect faith in you. We understand each other completely now; but—I'm growing old, and the past few days have tried me sorely. Remember, I pray you, all that's at stake, and do not hesitate for an instant. Have no false scruple with such a person as this. The Emperor will soon arrive in Kronburg. He'll lose no time in trying to find the girl, and, once they've had another meeting, all our plans, all our precautions, may be in vain. He searches for her, to offer his crown."

The Prince listened, and did not smile as he went out.

He had bidden the Chancellor await his return in the salon of the Royal suite, which was always kept at his disposal, when he appeared in the neighborhood, as he often did since purchasing the hunting lodge a few miles out of Kronburg, in the forest.

Other foreign royalties, or lesser princes from the provinces, occasionally occupied the apartments, also; and this handsome Royal Highness of to-day was not the only one whom the Chancellor of Rhaetia had visited there. He knew by heart the rich purple hangings in the salon, with the double wolf-head of Rhaetia stamped in gold at regular intervals on the velvet; and he sickened of their splendor now, as the moments dragged, and he remained alone.

When half an hour had passed, he could no longer sit still on the purple velvet sofa, but began walking up and down, his hands behind him, scowling at the full length, oil-painted portraits of Rhaetia's dead rulers; glaring a question into his own eyes in the long, gold framed mirrors,—a question he would have given his life to hear answered in the way he wished.

Three quarters of an hour had gone at last, and still the Chancellor paced the purple drawing-room, and still the Prince did not come back to tell the news.

Had the young man failed? Had that Siren up-stairs beguiled him, as she had beguiled one stronger and greater than he? Was it possible that she had lured the whole secret of their scheme from the Prince, and then induced him to leave the hotel while her arch enemy fumed in the salon, awaiting his return?

But no, there were quick footsteps outside the door; the handle was turned. At least, his Royal Highness was not a traitor.

As the Chancellor had confessed, he was growing old. He felt suddenly very weak; his lips fell apart, trembling; yet he would not utter the words that hung upon them.

Fortunately the Prince read the appeal in the glittering eyes, and did not wait to be questioned.

"Well, I've seen the lady and had a talk with her," he said, in a voice which was, the old man felt, somehow different in tone from what it had been an hour ago.

"And is she the person you have known?"

"Yes, she's a person I have known. It's—it's all right about that plan of yours, Chancellor. She's going with me to the lodge."

"Heaven be praised! It seems almost too good to be true. When does she go?"

"At once. That is, as soon as she can get ready. She will dine with me, and my equerry will stop behind and eat the dinner I had ordered here."

"Magnificent. Then she will go with you alone? Nothing could be better. The presence of the alleged mother as chaperon would be a drawback."

"Oh, no chaperon is needed for us two. The—er—mother remains at the hotel with a la—a companion they have, who is ill. It was—er—somewhat difficult to arrange this matter, but I don't think the plot I have in mind now will fail, provided you carry through your part as smartly as I have mine."

"You may depend upon me. Your Royal Highness is marvelous. Am I to understand that the lady goes with you quite of her own free will?"

"Quite. I flatter myself that she's rather pleased with the invitation. In a few minutes, I and the fair damsel will be spinning away for a drive in my red motor; you know, the one which I always leave at the lodge, to be ready for use whenever I choose to pay a flying visit. I shall keep her out until it's dark, to give you plenty of time, but before starting I'll telephone to my chef that, after all, I sha'n't be away, and he must prepare dinner for two."

"I also will send a telephone message," said the Chancellor.

"To Leopold?"

"Yes, your Royal Highness. This time there will be no uncertainty in my words to him. They will strike home, and, even if he should not be intending to come to Kronburg to-night, they will bring him."

"You are sure you know where to catch the Emperor?"

"He'll telephone me from Felgarde, when he has found those he sought are not there, as he will; and I must be at my house to receive and answer his message. It will soon be time now."

"Very well, all that seems to arrange itself satisfactorily," said the Prince. "Our motor drive can be stretched out for an hour and a half. The lady will then need to dress. Dinner can be kept back till half past eight, if it would suit your book to break in upon us, at the table. My dining-room isn't very grand, but it has plenty of light and color, and wouldn't make a bad background for the last act of this little drama. What do you say, Chancellor? I've always thought that your success as a stage manager of the Theater of Nations was partially due to your eye for dramatic effects."

"Such effects are not to be despised, considering the audience we cater for in that theater."

"Well, I promise you that for our little amateur play to-night, in my private theater, the footlights shall be lit, the stage set, and two of the principal puppets dressed and painted for the show, before nine. I suppose you can introduce the leading man by that time or a little later?"

The bristling brows drew together involuntarily. Count von Breitstein was working without scruple against the Emperor, for the Emperor's good; yet he winced at his accomplice's light jest, and it was by an effort that he kept a note of disapproval out of his voice.

"Unless I much mistake, his Majesty will order a special train, as soon as he has had my message," said he. "That and everything else falling as I confidently expect, I shall be able to bring him out to your Royal Highness's hunting lodge a little after nine."

"You'll find us at the third course," prophesied the Prince.

"Naturally, the Emperor's appearance will startle your visitor," went on the Chancellor, keenly watching the young man's extraordinarily handsome face. "She would not dare take the risk and drive out with you, great as the temptation would no doubt be, did she dream that he would learn of the escapade, and follow. Indeed, your Royal Highness must have found subtile weapons ready to your hand, that you so soon broke through the armor of her prudence. I expected much from your magnetism and resourceful wit, yet I hardly dared hope for such speedy, such unqualified success as this which now seems assured to us."

"My weapons were sharpened on my past acquaintance with the pretty lady," explained the Prince. "Otherwise the result might have been postponed for as many days as I have delayed moments, though at last, the end might have been the same."

"Not for Rhaetia. Every instant counts. Thanks to you, we shall win; for actress as this girl is, she'll find it a task beyond her powers to justify to a jealous man this evening's tete-a-tete with you."

"If she tests those powers in our presence, we can be audience and admire her histrionic talents," said the Prince, pleasantly, though with some faint, growing sign of constraint or perhaps impatience. "There's no doubt in my mind, whatever may be the lady's conception of her part, about the final tableau. And after all, it's with that alone you concern yourself—eh, Chancellor?"

"It's that alone," echoed the old man.

"Then you would like to go and await the message. There's nothing more for us to arrange. Au revoir, Chancellor, till nine."

"Till nine."

"When the curtain for the last act will ring up."

The Prince held out his hand. Count von Breitstein grasped it, and then hurried to his electric carriage which had been waiting outside the hotel. A few minutes later, he was talking over the wire to the Emperor in the railway station at Felgarde.



CHAPTER XVII

THE OLDNESS OF THE CHANCELLOR

Leopold thought it more than possible that, by the time of his return to Kronburg, the Chancellor would be as anxious to wriggle out of his proposal to visit the Prince's hunting lodge, as he had been to have it accepted a few hours before.

"He sha'n't escape his humiliation, though," the Emperor told himself. "He shall go, and he shall beg forgiveness for his suspicions, in sackcloth and ashes. Nothing else can satisfy me now."

Thinking thus, Leopold looked sharply from the window as his special slowed into the central station at Kronburg, along the track which had been kept clear for its arrival. No other train was due at the moment, therefore few persons were on the platform, and a figure in a long gray coat, with its face shadowed by a slouch hat, was conspicuous.

The Emperor had expected to see that figure; but vaguely he wished there were not so much briskness and self-confidence in the set of the massive head and shoulders. The young man believed absolutely in his love; but he would have been gratified to detect a something of depression in the enemy's air, which he might translate as a foreknowledge of failure.

"I hope your Majesty will forgive the liberty I have taken, in coming to the station without a distinct invitation to do so," were the Chancellor's first words as he met the Emperor. "Knowing that you would almost certainly arrive by special train, I came down from my house some time ago, that I might be on hand without fail when you arrived, to place my electric carriage at your service. I thought it probable that you would not have sent to the Palace, and therefore it might save you some slight inconvenience if I were on the spot. If you will honor my poor conveyance—"

"Don't let us delay our business for explanations or compliments, if you please, Chancellor," the Emperor cut him short, brusquely. "I counted on your being here, with your carriage. Now for the hunting lodge in the woods!"

As he spoke, his eyes were on the old man's face, which he hoped to see fall, or change; but there was no visible sign of discomfiture, and von Breitstein made no attempt to excuse himself from making the proposed visit. Evidently nothing had happened during the hours since the message by telephone, to change the Chancellor's mind.

"Yes, your Majesty," came the prompt response. "Now for the hunting lodge in the woods. I am ready to go with you there—as I always have been, and always shall be ready to serve you when I am needed."

It was on Leopold's tongue to say, that it would be well if his Chancellor's readiness could be confined to those occasions when it was needed; but he shut his lips upon the words, and walked by the old man's side in frozen silence.

The carriage was waiting just outside the station, and the moment the two men were seated, the chauffeur started, noiselessly and swiftly.

Both windows were closed, to keep out the chill of the night air, but soon Leopold impatiently lowered one, forgetting the Chancellor's old-fashioned hatred of draughts, and stared into the night. Already they were approaching the outskirts of the great town, and flying past the dark warehouses and factories of the neighborhood, they sped toward the open country.

The weather, still warm the evening before—that evening of moonlight, not to be forgotten—had turned cold with morning; and to-night there was a pungent scent of dying leaves in the air. It smote Leopold in the face, with the wind of motion, and it seemed to him the essential perfume of sadness. Never again would he inhale that fragrance of the falling year without recalling this hour.

He was half mad with impatience to reach the end of the journey, and confound the Chancellor once for all; yet, as the swift electric carriage spun smoothly along the white road, and landmark after landmark vanished behind tree-branches laced with stars, something within him, would at last have stayed the flying moments, had that been possible. He burned to ask questions of von Breitstein, yet would have died rather than utter them.

It was a relief to the Emperor, when, after a long silence, his companion spoke,—though a relief which carried with it a prick of resentment. Even the Chancellor had no right to speak first, without permission from his sovereign.

"Forgive me, your Majesty," the old man said. "Your anger is hard to bear; yet I bear it uncomplainingly because of my confidence that the reward is not far off. I look for it no further in the future than to-night."

"I, too, believe that you won't miss your reward!" returned the Emperor sharply.

"I shall have it, I am sure, not only in your Majesty's forgiveness, but in your thanks."

"I'll forgive you when you've asked my pardon for your suspicions, and when you've found Miss Mowbray for me."

"I have already found her, and am taking you to her now."

"Then, you actually believe in your own story? You believe that this sweet and beautiful young girl is a fast actress, a schemer, a friend of your notoriously gallant friend, and willing to risk her reputation by paying a late visit, unchaperoned, to him at his hunting lodge in the woods! You are after all a very poor judge of character, if you dream that we shall see her there."

"I shall see her, your Majesty. And you will see her, unless the madness you call love has blinded the eyes of your body as well as the eyes of your mind. That she is now at the lodge I know, for the Prince assured me with his own lips that she had promised to motor out alone with him, and dine."

"You mean, he told you that his friend the actress had promised. I'll stake my life, even he didn't dare to say Miss Mowbray."

"He said Miss Brett, the actress, it's true. But when he called upon her at her hotel (where he and I met to discuss a matter which is no secret to your Majesty), he asked for Miss Mowbray. And the message that came down, I heard. It was that Miss Mowbray would be delighted to see his Royal Highness. This left no doubt in my mind that, after giving out that she would leave to-day, the lady had remained in Kronburg for the express purpose of meeting her dear friend the Prince, the handsomest and best dressed young man in Europe—after your Majesty, of course. And it was quite natural for her to hope that, as she was supposed to be gone, and you were following her, this evening's escapade would never be discovered."

"Please spare me your deductions, Chancellor," said the Emperor, curtly, "and pray understand now, if you have not understood before, that I am with you in this expedition not to prove you right, but wrong; and nothing you can say will convince me that the Prince's actress and Miss Mowbray are one. If we find a woman at the hunting lodge, it will not be the lady we seek—unless she has been kidnapped; and as you will presently be obliged to eat every word you've spoken, the fewer such bitter pills you provide for yourself to swallow, the better."

Thus snubbed by the young man whom he had held in his arms, an imperious as well as an Imperial infant, the old statesman sought sanctuary in silence. But he had said that which had been in his mind to say, and he was satisfied. Meekness was not his metier, yet he could play the part of the faithful servant, humbly loyal through injustice and misunderstanding; and he played it now, because he knew it to be the one effective role. He sat beside the Emperor with bowed head, and stooping shoulders which suggested the weakness of old age, his hands clasped before him; and from time to time he sighed patiently.

As they glided under the dark arch of the Buchenwald, Leopold spoke again.

"You have led me to suppose that our call at the hunting lodge will be a surprise visit to the Prince. That is the case, isn't it?"

Count von Breitstein would have preferred that the question had not been asked. He had intended to convey the impression which the Emperor had received, but he had not clothed it in actual statement. Luckily the Prince was as clever as he was good looking, and he could be trusted as an actor, otherwise the old man would have been still more reluctant to commit himself.

"Were our visit expected, we should not be likely to find the lady," said he. "The Prince and I are on such friendly terms, your Majesty, that he didn't mind confessing he was to have a pretty actress as his guest. He also answered a few questions I asked concerning her, freely and frankly, for to do so he had to tell me only what the world knows. How could he dream that the flirtations or the visits of a Miss Jenny Brett could be of the slightest importance to the Emperor of Rhaetia? Had he guessed, however, that the entertainment he meant to offer her might be interrupted, naturally he would have taken some means to protect her from annoyance."

"This night's work will give him cause to pick a private quarrel with me, if he likes," said the Emperor, convinced of the Chancellor's good faith.

"I don't think he will choose, your Majesty. You are in a mood to be glad if he did, I fear. But no; I need not fear. You will always remember Rhaetia, and put her interests before your own wishes."

"You weren't as confident of that a few hours ago."

"Even then I knew that, when the real test should be applied, your Majesty's cool head would triumph over the hot impulse of youth. But see, we're passing through the village of Inseleden, fast asleep already; every window dark. In six or seven minutes at this speed, we shall be at the lodge."

The Emperor laughed shortly. "Add another seven minutes to your first seven, and we shall be out of the lodge again, with Chancellor von Breitstein a sadder and a wiser man than he went in."

Meekness was once more the part for the old man to play, and raising his hands, palm upwards, in a gesture of generous indulgence for his young sovereign, he denied himself the pleasure of retort.

The hunting lodge in the wood, now the property of the Chancellor's accommodating young friend, had until recently belonged to a Rhaetian semi-Royal Prince, who had been compelled by lack of sympathy among his creditors to sell something, and had promptly sold the thing he cared for least. The present owner was a keen sportsman, and though he came seldom to the place, had spent a good deal of money in repairing the quaint, rustic house.

Years had passed since the Emperor had done more than pass the lodge gates; and now the outlines of the low rambling structure looked strange to him, silhouetted against a spangled sky. He was glad of this, for he had spent some joyous days here as a boy, and he wished to separate the old impressions and the new.

Two tall chimneys stood up like the pricked ears of some alert, crouching animal. The path to the lodge gleamed white and straight in the darkness as a parting in the rough black hair of a giant. The trees whispered gossip to each other in the wind, and it seemed to Leopold that they were evil things telling lies and slandering his love. He hated them, and their rustling, which once he had loved. He hated the yellow eyes of the animal with the pricked ears, glittering eyes which were lighted windows; he hated the young Prince who owned the place; and he would have hated the Chancellor more than all, had not the old man limped as he walked up the path, showing how heavy was the burden of his years, as he had never shown it to his Emperor before.

The path led to a hooded entrance, and ascending the two stone steps, the Chancellor lifted the mailed glove which did duty as a knocker. Twice he brought it down on the oak panel underneath, and the sound of metal smiting against wood went echoing through the house, with an effect of emptiness and desolation.

Nobody came to answer the summons, and Leopold smiled in the darkness. He thought it likely that even the Prince was not at home. A practical joke had been played on the Chancellor!

Again the mailed fist struck the panel; an echo alone replied. Count von Breitstein began to be alarmed for the success of his plan. He thanked the night which hid from the keen eyes of the Emperor—cynical now, no doubt—the telltale vein beating hard in his forehead.

"Don't you think, Chancellor, that after all, you'd better try and take me to some more probable, as well as more suitable, place to look for Miss Mowbray?" he suggested, with a drawl intended to be as aggravating as it actually was. "There doesn't appear to be any one about. Even the care-takers are out courting, perhaps."

"But listen, your Majesty," said von Breitstein, when he knocked again.

Leopold did listen, and heard the ring of a heel on a floor of stone or marble.



CHAPTER XVIII

NOT AT HOME

It was a jaeger clad in green who opened the door of the hunting lodge, and gazed, apparently without recognition, at the two men standing in the dark embrasure of the porch.

"We wish to see his Royal Highness, your master," said the Chancellor, taking the initiative, as he knew the Emperor would wish him to do.

"His Royal Highness is not at home, sir," replied the jaeger.

Leopold's eyes lightened as he threw a glance of sarcastic meaning at his companion. But Iron Heart was undaunted. He knew very well now, that this was only a prelude to the drama which would follow; and though he had suffered a sharp pang of anxiety at first, he saw that his Royal friend was playing with commendable realism. Naturally, when beautiful young actresses ventured into the forest unchaperoned, to dine with fascinating princes, the least that such favored gentlemen could do was to be "not at home" to an intrusive public.

"You are mistaken," insisted the Chancellor, "his Royal Highness is at home, and will receive us. It will be better for you to admit us without further delay."

Under the domination of those eyes which could quell a turbulent Reichstag, the jaeger weakened, as his master had doubtless expected him to do after the first resistance.

"It may be I have made a mistake, sir," he stammered, "though I do not think so. If you will have the kindness to walk in and wait for a few minutes until I can inquire whether his Royal Highness has come home, or will come home—"

"That is not necessary," said the Chancellor. "His Royal Highness dines here this evening. We will go with you to the door of the dining-room, which you will open for us, and announce that two gentlemen wish to see him."



With this, all uncertainty in the mind of the jaeger was swept away. He knew his duty and determined to stand by it; and the Chancellor saw that, if the master had given instructions meaning them to be over-ridden, at least the servant was sincere. He put himself in the doorway, and looked an obstacle difficult to dislodge.

"That is impossible, sir!" he exclaimed. "I have had my orders, which are that his Royal Highness is not at home to-night, and until I know whether or not these orders are to stand, nobody, not if it were the Emperor, should force his way."

"Fool, those orders are not for us; and it is the Emperor who will go in." With a step aside, the Chancellor let the light from the hanging lamp in the hall shine full upon Leopold's face, hitherto masked in shadow.

His boast forgotten, the jaeger uttered a cry of dismay, and with a sudden failing of the knees, he moved, and left the doorway free.

"Your Majesty!" he faltered. "I did not see—I could not know. Most humbly I beg your Majesty's gracious pardon. If your Majesty will but hold me blameless with my master—"

"Never mind yourself, and never mind your master," broke in the Chancellor. "Open that door at the end of the hall, and announce the Emperor and Count von Breitstein."

The unfortunate jaeger, approaching a state of collapse, obeyed. The door of the dining-room, which Leopold knew of old, was thrown open, and a quavering voice heralded "His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, and the Herr Chancellor Count von Breitstein."

The scene disclosed was as unreal to Leopold's eyes as a painted picture; the walls of Pompeian red; the gold candelabra; the polished floor, spread with the glimmering fur of Polar bears; and in the center a flower-decked table lit with pink-shaded lights, and sparkling with gold and crystal; springing up from a chair which faced the door, a young man in evening dress; sitting motionless, her back half turned, a slender girl in bridal white.

At sight of her the Emperor stopped on the threshold. All the blood in his body seemed rushing to his head, then surging back upon his heart.

The impossible had happened.



CHAPTER XIX

THE THIRD COURSE

The Prince came forward. "What a delightful surprise," he said. "How good of you both to look me up! But I wish my prophetic soul had warned me to keep back dinner. We have just reached the third course." And his eyes met the Chancellor's.

"All the same," he went on, "I beg that you will honor me by dining. Everything can be ready in a moment; and the bisque eccrevisso—"

"Thank you," cut in the Emperor. "We cannot dine." His voice came hoarsely, as if a fierce hand pinched his throat. "Our call is purely one of business, and—a moment will see it finished. We owe you an explanation for this intrusion." He paused. All his calculations were upset by the Chancellor's triumph; for to plan beforehand, what he should do if he found Helen Mowbray dining here alone with the Prince, would have been to insult her. His campaign had been arranged in the event of the Chancellor's defeat.

Now, the one course he saw open before him was frankness.

To look at the girl, and meet guilt or defiance in her eyes would be agony, therefore he would not look, though he saw her, and her alone, as he stood gazing with a strained fixedness at the Prince.

He knew that she had risen, not in frightened haste, but with a leisured and dainty dignity. Now, her face was turned to him. He felt it, as a blind man may feel the rising of the sun.

He wished that she had died before this moment, that they had both died last night in the garden, while he held her in his arms, and their hearts beat together. She had told him then that she loved him; yet she was here, with this man—here, of her own free will, the same girl he had worshiped as a goddess in the white moonlight, twenty-four hours ago.

The thought was hot in his heart as the searing touch of iron red from the fire. The same girl!

His blood sang in his ears, a song of death, and for an instant all was black around him. He groped in black chaos where there was neither light nor hope, and dully he was conscious of the Chancellor's voice saying, "Your Majesty, if you are satisfied, would you not rather go?"

Then the dark spell broke. Light showered over him, as from a golden fountain, for in spite of himself he had met the girl's eyes. The same eyes, because she was the same girl; sweet eyes, pure and innocent, and wistfully appealing.

"My God!" he cried, "tell me why you are here, and whatever you may say, I will believe you, in spite of all and through all, because you are You, and I know that you can do no wrong."

"Your Majesty!" exclaimed the Chancellor. But the Emperor did not hear. With a broken exclamation that was half a sob, the girl held out both her hands, and Leopold sprang forward to crush them between his ice-cold palms.

"Thank Heaven!" she faltered. "You are true! You've stood the test. I love you."

"At last, then, I can introduce you to my sister Virginia," said the Crown Prince of Hungaria, with a great sigh of relief for the ending of his difficult part.



CHAPTER XX

AFTER THE CURTAIN WENT DOWN

They were alone together. Adalbert and Count von Breitstein had stolen from the room, and had ceased to exist for Leopold and Virginia.

"I'll tell you now, why I'm here, and everything else," she was saying; but the Emperor stopped her.

"Ever since I came to myself, I wanted no explanation," he said. "I wanted only you. That is all I want now. I am the happiest man in the universe. Why should I ask how I came by my happiness? Virginia! Virginia! It's a more beautiful name even than Helen."

"But listen," she pleaded. "There are some things—just a few things—that I long to tell you. Please let me. Last night I wished to go into a convent. Oh, it was because I loved you so much, I wanted you to seem perfect, as my hero of romance, just as you were already perfect as an Emperor. To think that I should have been far away, out of Rhaetia, by this time, if Miss Portman hadn't been ill. Dear Miss Portman! Maybe if we'd gone, nothing would ever have come right. Who can say?

"You know, my brother came to our hotel this afternoon. When his card arrived, we couldn't tell whether he knew our secret or not; but when we had let him come up, we had only to see his face of surprise! He was angry, too, as well as surprised, for he blurted out that there were all sorts of horrid suspicions against us, and mother explained everything to him before I could have stopped her, even if I would; how I had not wanted to accept you unless you could learn to love me for myself, and then—how I had been disappointed. No, don't speak; that's all over now. You've more than atoned, a thousand times more.

"Dal explained things, too, then—very different things; about a plan of the Chancellor's to disgust you with me, and how he—Dal—had played into the Chancellor's hands, because, you see, he thought he was acting wisely for his neglected sister's sake, and because he had really supposed an actress he knows was masquerading as Miss Mowbray. Very imprudently he'd told her that some day there might be—something between you and his sister. She knew quite well, too, that the real Mowbrays were our cousins; so you see, as she and he have quarreled it might have been an easy and clever way for an unscrupulous woman to take revenge. Dal would have gone, and perhaps have said dreadful things to the Chancellor, who was waiting down-stairs for news, but I begged him not. From being the saddest girl in the world, I'd suddenly become the happiest, for the Chancellor had told Dal, and Dal had told me, that you had followed Helen Mowbray to ask her to be the Empress. That changed everything, for then I knew you really loved her; but—just to punish you for what I suffered through you last night, I longed to put you to one more test. I said, 'Let the Chancellor carry out his plot. Let me go with you to your hunting lodge.' At first Dal wouldn't consent, but when I begged him, he did,—for generally I can get my way with people, I warn you.



"That's all, except that I hadn't realized how severe the test would be, until you came in and I saw the look in your eyes. It was a dagger of ice in my heart. I prayed Heaven to make you believe in me, without a word, oh, how I prayed through all that dreadful moment, and how I looked at you, saying with my eyes, 'I love you; I am true.' If you had failed me then, it would have killed me, but—"

"There could be no but," the Emperor broke in. "To doubt is not to love. When a man loves, he knows. Even out of darkness, a light comes and tells him."

"Then you forgive me—for to-night, and for everything, from the beginning?"

"Forgive you?"

"And if I'd been different, more like other girls content with a conventional affection, you wouldn't have loved me more?"

He took her in his arms and held her as if he would never let her go.

"If you had been different, I wouldn't have loved you at all," he said. "But if things had been different, I couldn't have helped loving you, just the same. I should have been fated to fall in love with Princess Virginia of Baumenburg-Drippe at first sight, exactly I as fell in love with Helen Mowbray—"

"Ah, but at best you'd have fallen in love with Virginia because it was your duty; and you fell in love with Helen Mowbray because it was your duty not to. Which makes it so much nicer."

"It was no question of duty, but of destiny," said the Emperor. "The stars ordained that I should love you."

"Then I wish—" and Virginia laughed happily, as she could afford to laugh now—"that the stars had told me, last summer. It would have saved me a great deal of trouble. And yet I don't know," she added thoughtfully, "it's been a wonderful adventure. We shall often talk of it when we're old."

"We shall never be old, for we love each other," said the Emperor.

THE END



By C. N. & A. M. Williamson

LADY BETTY ACROSS THE WATER

The discovery of America by one of the most engaging, appealing and altogether delicious little English maids that ever "crossed the water." Everybody will be delighted to learn precisely how Lady Betty found us and what things in our life particularly struck her wide-open eyes and gave her food for fun and reflection. Evidently she did not find us all savages for there was one man—but we must not anticipate the charming story which is unfolded.

"She is a dear, delightful heroine with a love story to reveal, which is fresh, naive, and altogether charming; and the manner of its revealing is buoyant and gracious." Chicago News.

Six illustrations in colors by Orson Lowell. $1.50



By C. N. & A. M. Williamson

MY FRIEND THE CHAUFFEUR

An automobile romance that rushes all the way through on the third speed. From the start in the Riviera to the finish among the mountains of Montenegro, there is no let up in the entertainment and excitement which this book affords. There are adventures without number on the open road, delightful descriptions of scenery in Italy and Dalmatia, and a triple love story deliciously blending sentiment and comedy.

"It is airy, jolly, refreshing, wholesome, full of adventure, movement, fun and good spirits, sunshine and fresh air." N. Y. Mail.

Illustrated by Lowenheim. $1.50



By C. N. & A. M. Williamson

ROSEMARY

Fascinating beyond words is this exquisitely dainty tale, dealing with the finer affections of a child and her mother, of a young man true to a first love. The scene is laid at Monte Carlo in the beautiful green Christmas-time. With the fantastic idea implanted by her nurse that on Christmas eve the fairies granted to one her dearest wish, little Rosemary, who lost her father at birth, sallies forth, stops a young man in his motor-car and discovers in him the "fairy father" of her dreams. Hugh Egerton turns out to be her mother's first love, and there is a heart-warming reunion and a joyful celebration.

"An exquisite bit of literary handicraft. The motive of the story is so sweet and tender that from the first there are chords touched in the heart." Buffalo Courier.

Superbly Illustrated from drawings by Hatherell and with border decorations. $1.50



TRANSCRIBER'S NOTE:

Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters' errors; otherwise, every effort has been made to remain true to the author's words and intent.

THE END

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