E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM
Author of "A Millionaire of Yesterday," "The World's Great Snare," etc.
New York Dodd, Mead & Company 1903
Copyright, 1902 By E. Phillips Oppenheim
Copyright, 1903 By Dodd, Mead & Company
First Edition published March, 1903
"MARIE ... SHOT THE MAN THROUGH THE HEART," Frontispiece
"'I BELIEVE,' HE SAID, 'THAT YOU OUGHT TO KISS—MY HAND,'" 160
"NICHOLAS OF REIST STOOD ON THE THRESHOLD," 220
"'THE WAR IS OVER,' HE CRIED," 342
"Down with the traitors! Down with the Russian spies! Down with Metzger!"
Above the roaring of the north wind rose the clamour of voices, the cries of hate and disgust, the deep groaning sobs of fierce and militant anger. The man and the woman exchanged quick glances.
"They are coming nearer," he said.
She drew aside the heavy curtain, and stood there, looking out into the night.
"It is so," she answered. "They are pouring into the square."
He rose and stood beneath the great carved mantelpiece. Over his head, hewn out of the solid oak, black with age and coloured with that deep richness which is to-day as a lost art, were blazoned the arms of one of Europe's noblest families. He, Nicholas of Reist, its sole male representative, stood deep in thought, his dark young face furrowed with anxiety. The moment was critical. It was one of a lifetime.
She dropped the curtain and came over to his side. The flush of excitement was in her cheeks. Her eyes were like shining stars. Of their close relationship there could be no manner of doubt. The same oval face and finely-cut features, the same pride of race, the same firm, graceful bearing. Only there were lines upon his face—the lines of thought and care; whilst hers remained as smooth as damask, typically and wonderfully beautiful.
Again the murmur of hoarse voices—nearer now and more clamorous.
"Down with the traitor Metzger and his accursed government! Reist! Reist! A Reist!"
Her white fingers fell upon his shoulder.
"They are calling for you, Nicholas," she said, softly. "Listen! It is the voice of our people, and they need you. Will you go out and speak to them? Shall I open the window—yes?"
"Not yet," he answered, swiftly. "Not yet."
Her hands were already upon the curtains. She turned around, an impatient frown upon her face.
"You do not hesitate, my brother," she cried. "No, it is not possible. It is our country, Nicholas, our homeland which calls for you to save it."
"Ay, to save it—but how? Metzger has made the way difficult."
Her eyes flashed fire upon him. She was superbly disdainful.
"Are you the first Duke of Reist who has governed Theos?" she cried. "Is there not the blood of former Kings in your veins? Holy Mother, but it is intolerable that you should hesitate! Nicholas, if you let these people call in vain you will be the first of our race who has ever shrunk from his duty. I will not call you any longer my brother. Listen!"
"Reist! Nicholas of Reist! Down with the common dogs. Down with the traitors. Down with Metzger!"
He smiled faintly. Those subtle lines about his mouth were not there in vain.
"I wonder where Metzger is hiding," he murmured. "How good it would be to see him now. How he would quiver and shake. There is death in those voices."
She flashed a look of impatient scorn upon him.
"You are trifling with your destiny, Nicholas," she cried. "What matters the life or death of such as Metzger? Our people need you. Out and tell the men of Theos that once again a Reist will save his country."
"Brave words, little sister. Brave words."
Her eyes were ablaze with anger.
"Have I been mistaken in you all these years, Nicholas?" she cried. "Listen again. Those are the children of your city who call to you for aid. Have you no longer the heart of a man or the blood of a patriot?"
A storm of wind and rain shook the high windows. From below came the sound of a multitude thronging nearer and nearer till the square seemed filled to overflowing with a surging mob. The man raised his head as one who listens, and the smile no longer lightened his face. The woman who watched him anxiously drew a long sigh of relief. She knew then beyond a doubt that it needed no words from her to fire his resolution.
"Marie," he said, quietly, "those are the voices which I have prayed all my life that I might hear. Only I fear that they have come too soon. Have you considered what it is that they would have from me?"
"They would make you lord of the country," she cried. "Who better or more fitted? Have no fear, Nicholas. You come of a race of rulers. The God of our fathers will guide your destiny."
The room, huge, unlit and darkened with tapestry hangings, seemed full of mysterious shadows. Only those two faces—the girl's passionate, the man's keenly thoughtful—seemed like luminous things. From below came still the murmur of voices rising every now and then to a hoarse roar. The man became suddenly explicit. His face relaxed. He came back from a far-away land of thought.
"Listen," he said. "These people have come to put me in Metzger's place. There would be no difficulty about that. Already I have received a message from the House of Laws. Bah! I have no stomach to sit in council with tradesmen and citizens, to have my will questioned, to rule only by a casting vote. These modern forms of government are vile. They would make me President of their Republic—I, a Reist of Theos, whose forefathers ruled the land with sword and fire. They would put me in the place of Metzger, the merchant—Metzger, who would have sold his country to the Russians. I say no!"
"What, then?" she cried. "What, then? Speak, Nicholas. There are thoughts behind. Who but I should know them?"
"When I rule Theos," he answered, slowly, "it shall be even as the Dukes of Reist have ruled it before me, with a sceptre in their hands, and a sword upon their knees. That time is not yet, Marie, but it may come. I think that you and I will see it."
"Why not now?" she cried. "The people would accept you on any terms. The Republic has fallen. You shall be their King."
He shook his head.
"The time is not yet," he repeated. "Marie, believe me, I know my people. In their blood lingers still some taint of the democratic fever. You must learn, little sister, as I have learned it, the legend on our walls and shield, the motto of our race, 'Slowly, but ever forward.'"
"But the people," she cried. "What will you say to them? It is you whom they want. Their throats are hoarse with shouting."
He threw open the great windows, and a roar of welcome from below rose high above the storm.
"You shall hear what I will say to them, Marie," he answered. "Come out by my side."
Almost as the man stepped out on to the massive stone balcony of his house, the wind dropped, and a red flaring sun dipped behind the towering mountains which guarded the city westwards and eastwards. A roar of greeting welcomed his appearance, and while he waited for silence his eyes rested fondly upon the long line of iron-bound hills, stern and silent guardians of the city of his birth. For a moment he forgot his ambitions and the long unswerving pursuit of his great desire. The love of his country was born in the man—the better part of him was steeped in patriotic fervour. And most of all, he loved this ancient city amongst the hills, the capital of the State, where many generations of his family had lived and died. Dear to him were its squares and narrow streets, the ancient stone houses, the many picturesque records of its great age ever, as it seemed to him, frowning with a stern and magnificent serenity amongst the tawdry evidences of later days and the irresistible march of modernity. The wine-shops of a hundred years ago flourished still side by side with the more pretentious cafes, half French, half Russian, which had sprung up like mushrooms about the city. The country-made homespuns, the glassware and metal work, heritage of generations of craftsmen, survived still the hideous competition of cheap Lancashire productions and Brummagem ware. The picturesque old fought a brave battle with the tinsel and tawdriness of the new. If Nicholas of Reist could have had his way he would have built an impenetrable wall against this slow poison, the unwelcome heritage of western progress. He would have thrust the ages back a century and built bulwarks about his beloved country. He looked downwards, and his heart grew warm within him. Many of the people who shouted his name were from the country districts and wore the picturesque garb of their forefathers long extinct in the city. The sight of their eager, upturned faces was dear to him. Some day they should be his people indeed. It should be his country to rule as he thought best. He felt himself at that moment a patriot pure and simple.
So he spoke to them in that clear, sweet voice which every Reist possessed, and he spoke fluently and convincingly.
"My fellow-countrymen," he said, "these are not days for those who love their country to waste breath in idle speech. Your Republic of which you were so proud has fallen. Metzger has proved himself a traitor. Well, I am not surprised at either of these things. I warned you, but you would not listen. Your ancient Kings must indeed have turned in their graves when you elected to be ruled by such men. You have tried them, and you have been betrayed. What would you have with me?"
"A new government," they cried. "A Reist for President!"
He raised his hand. The roar of voices died away at once.
"You would put me," he said, "in Metzger's place. You would make me President of the Republic of Theos. Is that what you would have?"
"Ay! Ay!" from a thousand tongues. Then there was a breathless silence. They waited in deep anxiety for the answer of this man whom they had come to look upon as their one possible saviour.
For awhile he stood there speechless, deep in thought. After all, was he not throwing away a certainty for what might prove an empty dream? There had been Presidents who had become Dictators, and between that and Monarchy the chasm was narrow and easily bridged. It was not for long, however, that he wavered. His plans were too carefully thought out to be changed by an impulse, however powerful. His time was not yet.
"My people," he said quietly, "I thank you, and I am sorry that what you ask may not be. It is not because I do not love my country, it is not because I would not shed my last drop of blood in her defence. But President of your Republic I never will be. No earthly power should draw my footsteps across the threshold of your brand-new Parliament."
There arose a deep murmur of disappointment—almost of despair. They shouted questions, appeals, prayers, and Nicholas of Reist leaned far over his time-worn stone balcony and spoke to them again.
"You are questioning my patriotism," he cried. "You do not understand. Very well, you shall know all that is in my mind. I am going to say what will sound like treason to you. Perhaps you will shout me down—it may be that you will leave me now in disgust. Nevertheless, listen. I hate your Republic. It is a rotten, corrupt thing. I hate what you have called your Parliament. There is scarcely a man in it whom I would trust. What has your new-fangled scheme of government done for you? It has made you the sport and plaything of the Powers, our independence is hourly threatened, ay, even before this year has passed away the cannon of the invader may be thundering against your walls. When that time comes I promise that you shall not call to me in vain. You shall find me amongst you sword in hand, and I pray God that I may do my duty as a patriot and a faithful son of the State. But this thing which you ask of me now I will not do. I will not take my seat at the same table with those who have helped Metzger to traffic in the freedom of this country. I will not speak with or have any dealing with them. How is it that you have dared to ask me this thing, men of Theos? Already the war beacons are built—soon they may be reddening our skies. This is what your Republic has done for you, and as God is my witness, so long as that Republic exists I will not lift my little finger to help you."
Something of a panic seized the people, for indeed the words of the speaker had come home to them, winged with a foretelling truth. Metzger, their President, had been caught red-handed in a flagrant attempt to barter away the freedom of their country. Who else might not be implicated? They looked at one another fearfully. One feeling alone was common to all. Before them was the only man whom they could trust—one of their ancient nobility, a patriot, above suspicion. He had more to say. They would take him on his own terms. So once more the air was rent with their cries, and Nicholas of Reist raised again his hand.
"Listen," he said. "You want my advice. You have come to me because the State is in danger, and because those who should have defended it have played you false. So be it! I speak to you as man to man, citizen of Theos to citizen of Theos. No Republic can save you. It is a King you want."
A deep, hoarse murmur swept upwards from the packed square. The Republic had been their plaything, the caprice of an impulsive people, and they were loth to own themselves in the wrong. Nicholas of Reist read their faces like a book. Now or never must he win his way from this people, or fall forever from their regard. His pale countenance was lit with a passionate earnestness. He leaned towards them, and his voice throbbed with tremulous eloquence.
"Listen," he cried. "You have had a Parliament and a President—Metzger. What glories has he won for you?—how has he enriched you, how much more prosperous is our country? I will tell you what he has done. He has tried to sell you and Theos for a million pounds. Oh, I am not afraid to tell you the truth, though one of you should shoot me whilst I stand here. Theos was to become a tributary state to Russia. Your country, which has defied conquest for a thousand years, was to be bartered away that one man might live in luxury on his miserable blood-money. Men of Theos, turn over the back pages of your country's history. Think of those heroes who gave their lives that you might be free men. Think of King Rudolph, who vanquished all the hosts of Austria, or King Ughtred, who drove the Turks back across the Balkans in midwinter, and with five thousand ill-armed men routed the whole army of the Sultan. Remember Rudolph the Second, who defended this very city for twelve months against fifty thousand Turks, until for very shame England held up her hand and all Europe rang with the gallantry of our King and his little band of half-starved soldiers. Leave Republics to nations who have no past, and whose souls are steeped in commerce. What have we to do with them? We have a magnificent history, an ancient and glorious country. We have soldiers, few perhaps, but matchless throughout the world. And men of Theos, listen. Metzger has gone far in his treachery. I know nothing of your State affairs, but this I do know. The covetousness of those with whom he dealt is whetted. They are not likely to bear their disappointment quietly. Before many months have passed the storm may burst—the war beacons may be flaring round our borders. So I say to you, have no more dealings with Republics. Scatter your Parliament to the four winds of Heaven, summon back your ancient House of Laws, choose for yourselves a soldier King, one of the ancient and royal race, who shall rule you as his forefathers did in times of peace, and ride before you with drawn sword when the war clouds gather."
The babel of many voices broke loose. Reist felt his sister's fingers close upon his arm.
"It is you who must be their King, Nicholas."
He shook his head. Then they saw that he would speak again, and the murmur of voices died away. Reist leaned over towards them, and his face was very pale. This was his renunciation.
"My people," he said, "listen. Many of you have heard of the war which the English have been carrying on in Egypt. You have heard perhaps of a Captain Erlito, who, with a dozen men, held a Nile fort for two days against a thousand dervishes, and for this and other acts of valour has won the Iron Cross. But this at least you do not know. Captain Erlito is the assumed name of Ughtred of Tyrnaus, Prince of Theos."
The murmur of voices became a roar of acclamation. Then Nicholas of Reist raised his voice at once.
"Listen, men of Theos," he cried. "Is it your will that I seek out for you Prince Ughtred and offer him the throne of Theos? Think well before you answer. He is a soldier, a brave and honest man, and he is of the royal race of Tyrnaus, who for many generations have been Kings of Theos. He will not sell you to Russia or beckon the hosts of the Sultan across the mountains. Will you have him for your King?"
The square, nay, the city, rang with their passionate answer. Never was anything more unanimous. Nicholas stepped back into the room. His sister faced him with blazing eyes and cheeks dyed red with anger.
"Fool!" she cried, "fool! They would have made you King. They were yours to do what you would with. You have been false to your destiny. I will never forgive you, Nicholas."
He smiled curiously, and pointed upwards to that deep-engraven legend.
"My time," he said, "is not yet."
The lift went rumbling up to the topmost storey of the great block of flats, and stopped at last with something of a groan. The gates were opened, and Reist stepped out. He looked about him at the bare walls, the stone floor, and shrugged his shoulders. Erlito was none too well lodged then—soldiering had brought him some brief fame, but little else. Then he suddenly smiled. The incongruity of the thing was ridiculous. His sense of humour, by no means a characteristic trait of the man, was touched. The smile lingered upon his lips. He had come to offer a kingdom to a pauper!
The lift-boy slammed his gates and prepared to descend.
"Captain Erlito's rooms are at the end of the passage, sir," he volunteered. "Last door on the left."
The information was properly rewarded, and the boy's tolerant contempt for the foreigner, who at his journey's end seemed afflicted with a curious hesitation, became an extinct thing. He pulled the rope and descended in hot haste, a large silver coin locked in his fingers and a glorious tingling sensation of unbounded wealth in his bosom.
Reist knocked at the door which had been pointed out to him, and waited. There came no answer. He tried again, and became conscious of a confused volume of sounds within, altogether drowning his summons for admission. He listened, perplexed. Light and rapid footsteps, the swishing of a silken skirt, a clear, musical laugh and cry of triumph, a succession of sounds which were wholly meaningless to him. Surely it was some sort of pandemonium. A momentary silence was followed by a chorus of voices. Reist raised his stick and knocked more loudly. A man's voice travelled out to him like mild thunder.
Reist opened the door and crossed the threshold. Before him was an explanation of the sounds which he had heard. Only he was, if possible, a little more bewildered than ever.
He was in a high, bare apartment, carpetless, and almost without furniture. Across the middle of the floor was stretched an upright net, and on either side of it were chalk-marked squares. Facing him was a girl with her left foot poised slightly forward, her arm raised, in the act of striking a feathered cork with a small racquet. By her side was a man whom Reist recognized at once. Directly he saw his visitor he stopped the game.
"One moment, Miss Van Decht," he cried. "I am wanted."
He crossed the room, swinging his racquet in his hand, and addressed Reist with a pleasant smile.
"We have been making so much noise," he said, "that I am afraid we did not hear your first knock. I am Captain Erlito. You wished to see me?"
Reist looked him steadily and full in the face. If physique went for anything this man was surely born to be a King. He was well over six feet, splendidly made, and of military appearance. His features were clean-cut in the unmistakable Tyrnaus mould—only his mouth, which, stern though it was, was full of humour, seemed unfamiliar. His eyes were a wonderful deep blue, and his skin bronzed and burned with the Egyptian sun. A momentary bitterness possessed Reist. The people of Theos would care little for the brains which this man might lack. The first glance of him would be sufficient. They would shout him King till they were hoarse.
"You do not remember me, then?" Reist asked, softly.
Erlito stood swinging his racquet lightly in his fingers, and looked into his visitor's face with pleasant and deferential courtesy.
"Do you know," he said, "I am very sorry, but I am afraid that I do not. I have a very bad memory for faces. There is something about yours which seems to me familiar, but it comes from a long way back."
Reist smiled faintly.
"Yes," he said, "it comes indeed from a long way back. It comes from our boyhood. I hope at least that you have not forgotten my name. I am Nicholas of Reist."
A radiant smile broke across Erlito's face. He dropped his racquet and held out both his hands.
"It is little Nick!" he cried. "By all that is wonderful it is little Nick! Remember you? Why, we played soldiers together when we were children. A thousand, thousand welcomes."
He wrung his visitor's hands. His eyes were very bright. He was undoubtedly affected.
"I am glad that you have not forgotten those days," Reist murmured. "As children we were together day by day. Yet it is very long ago, and for you at least," he continued, "there have been so many great happenings."
"It is splendid of you to have found me out," Erlito cried. "I imagined that no one knew even of my existence. And Marie?"
"My sister is quite well," Reist answered. "I had forgotten for the moment that she too was once your playmate. It is so long ago."
"She is with you in London? You are living here, perhaps?" Erlito asked. "It is the most hospitable city in the world."
Reist shook his head.
"There is only one home for us," he answered. "I do not love strange cities."
Erlito's face clouded suddenly over. He glanced uneasily behind him. His face became graver, his expression resolved itself into sterner lines. A sudden bitterness found its way into his tone. The mention of Theos had stung him.
"The Republic tolerates aristocrats, then," he remarked. "You are fortunate."
Reist drew himself up.
"The Republic," he answered, proudly, "would never dare to interfere with us. While the people of Theos remain, we of Reist are safe."
There was a momentary pause. Reist was conscious that his impetuous speech was scarcely a happy one. For it was this man indeed who was the outcast—whose name even had become strange to the people over whom his forefathers had ruled. Erlito showed no resentment, but his eyes were very sorrowful.
"Your family," he said, slowly, "have always been patriots. You deserve well of your country people."
Reist glanced once more around the room.
"My visit to you," he said, "is not one of courtesy—nay, let me say affection, only. I have a weighty matter to discuss with you. Will you allow me to outstay your guests?"
"With all the pleasure in the world," Erlito answered, heartily. "I should indeed insist upon it."
"You will perhaps continue your—game," Reist suggested, with another glance towards the net. "My time is yours."
"You are very good, Nicholas," he said. "We are, as you see, playing Badminton, and as a matter of fact we are very much in earnest about this game. Miss Van Decht and I are playing the deciding match with my friends there, Hassen and Brand. Let me find you a chair, and present you to these good people. Afterwards—it will not be long—I shall be wholly at your service; and, Nicholas, if you please, I am Erlito only here. You understand?"
Reist assented gravely, and Erlito turned round. The two players were talking to the girl across the net. An elderly man with grey imperial and smoking a long cigar was leaning back in a deck-chair.
"Miss Van Decht," Erlito said, turning to her, "will you permit me to present to you my very old friend, the Duke Nicholas of Reist—Miss Van Decht, Mr. Van Decht, Mr. Hassen, Mr. Brand."
Reist bowed low before the girl, who looked straight into his eyes with a frank and pleasant curiosity. She was largely made, but the long flowing lines of her figure were perfectly and symmetrically graceful. Her features were delicate, but her mouth was delightful—large, shapely and sensitive. Her light brown hair, which showed a disposition to wave, had escaped bounds a little during the violent exercise and had fallen into picturesque disorder. She smiled charmingly at Reist, but said nothing beyond the conventional words of greeting. Then she looked up at Erlito with twinkling eyes.
"Mr. Brand is getting insupportable," she declared. "He is like all you obstinate Englishmen. He does not know when he is beaten."
"We will endeavour," Erlito said, taking up his racquet, "to impress it upon him. There are cigarettes by your side, Reist."
The girl went to her place at the end of the court.
"This must be the deciding game," she declared, "for the light is going, and dad is smoking his last cigar. Ready! Serve!"
The game recommenced. Reist sat upon an overturned box by the side of Mr. Van Decht smoking a cigarette and watching gravely the flying figures. It was the girl who absorbed most of his attention. To him she was an utterly new type. She was as beautiful in her way as his own sister, but her frank energy and the easy terms of intimacy which obviously existed between her male companions and herself was wholly inexplicable to him. He watched her with fascinated gaze. All the beautiful women whom he had ever known had numbered amongst their characteristics a certain restraint, almost an aloofness, which he had come to look upon as their inevitable attribute. Their smiles were rare and precious marks of favour, an undisturbed serenity of deportment was almost an inherent part of their education. Here was a woman of the new world, no less to be respected, he was sure, than her sisters of Theos, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, yet viewing life from a wholly different standpoint. From the first there was something curiously fascinating to Reist in the perfect naturalness and self-assurance of the girl whose every thought and energy seemed centred just then upon that flying cork. Her lips were slightly parted, her eyes were bright, her face was full of colour and vivacity. She sprang backwards and forwards, jumped and stooped with the delightful freedom of perfect health and strength. She even joined in the chaff which flashed backwards and forwards across the net, good-humoured always, and gay, but always personal and indicating a more than common intimacy between the little party. Reist would have been quite content to have sat and watched her until the game was over, but for a sudden, and to him amazing, incident. At a critical moment Erlito missed a difficult stroke—the younger and slighter of his two opponents threw his racquet into the air with a curious little cry of triumph.
Reist started almost to his feet, and the blood surged hotly in his veins. Where had he heard that cry before? He looked the man over with a swift and eager scrutiny. Olive-cheeked, with black eyes and moustache, slightly-hooked nose and light, graceful bearing, he might have belonged to any of the southern nations. He was certainly no Englishman. "Ho-e-la! Ho-e-la!" How the fever of hate was kindled in Reist's heart as the echoes of that cry rang through the room. His memory, too, was swift and vivid. No longer he sat in that bare attic watching the flying figures of the Badminton players and listening to their cheerful badinage. Walls enclosed him no more. He saw out over the sea and land, he saw things the memory of which still thrilled his pulses, tugged at his heart-strings. Over the snow-capped hills he rode, wrapped in military furs, his sabre clanking by his side and a storm of stinging sleet driven into his face. Below were lights flashing in a white wilderness—amongst the hills flared the red fire of the guns, the music of their thunders was even then upon his ears. Down the steep defile he rode at the head of his troop, the sound of their approach muffled by the deep snow—afterwards the roar of meeting, the breathless excitement of the charge, the deep battle-cry of the men of Theos and from those others—ah, he had it now.
"Ho-e-la! Ho-e-la! Allah! Allah!"
A cry of triumph. The game was over. Sara Van Decht threw herself into a chair between her father and him and fanned herself vigorously with a pocket-handkerchief. The others were laughing and talking amongst themselves. Erlito came over at once to her side.
"Miss Van Decht," he cried, gaily, "we are invincible. You played magnificently. Reist, we are going to have some tea, and then I shall be at your service. Why, our tussle seems to have interested you."
Reist withdrew his eyes reluctantly from watching Hassen. He smiled faintly.
"Yes," he said. "New things are always interesting! New things—and old friends!"
Afternoon tea was brought in by an elderly man-servant in plain livery, and was probably the most unconventional meal which Reist had ever shared. They sat about promiscuously upon chairs and overturned boxes, and there was a good deal of lively conversation. Brand was a newspaper man, who had served as war correspondent with Erlito in the Egyptian campaign, Mr. Van Decht and his daughter were rich Americans, loitering about Europe. Hassen remained silent, and of him Reist learned nothing further. The little which he knew sufficed.
Brand came over and sat by Reist's side. He was a tall, fair man, with keen eyes and weather-beaten skin—by no means unlike Erlito, save that his shoulders were not so broad, and he lacked the military carriage.
"I am interested in your country, Duke," he said. "You are making history there. It seems to me that it may become European history."
"Theos has fallen upon evil times," Reist answered. "All that we pray of Europe is that we may be left alone. If that be granted us we shall right ourselves."
Sara Van Decht looked across at him with frank interest.
"Do you come from Theos, Duke?" she asked.
"I have lived there all my life," he said, "and I know it better than any other place.
"It is a very beautiful country," he continued, "and very dear to its people. To strangers, though, and specially you who have been brought up in America, I must confess that we should probably seem outside the pale of civilization."
"Tell me why," she asked. "What are you so backward in?"
"Luxuries," he answered. "We have no electric light."
"It is detestable," she exclaimed.
"No street cars."
"They are abominable!"
Reist smiled quietly.
"We have scarcely any railways," he said, "and the telephone is rare enough to be a curiosity."
She laughed back at him, and gave her empty cup to Brand.
"Primitivism," she declared, "is quite the most delightful thing in the world. Then your politics, too, must be most exciting. You have revolutions, and that sort of thing, do you not?"
"I do not understand you, Miss Van Decht," he said, quietly. "Will you not tell me what you mean?"
"The papers are all so vague," she answered, "but one gathers that Theos is in a state of political unrest. I believe in South America they would call that a revolution."
Reist's eyes flashed fire. A faint smile flickered upon Hassen's lips.
"There is not any comparison," he said, haughtily, "any possible comparison, between the affairs of one of the most ancient and historical countries in Europe and the mushroom States of South America. Theos, it is true, has made mistakes, and she will suffer for them—she is suffering now."
"The Republic, for example," Hassen remarked, quietly.
"Theos," Reist answered, "is a country in which the Republican instinct is as yet unborn. Her sons are homely and brave, tillers of the soil, or soldiers. We have few cities to corrupt, and very little attempt at the education which makes shopkeepers and anarchists of honest men. Perhaps that is why we have kept our independence. Ay, kept it, although hemmed in with false friends and open enemies."
Reist spoke with fervour, a fire in his dark eyes, a note of passion vibrating in his slow tones. The girl especially watched him with keen interest. To her all this was new and incredible. She was used to men to whom self-restraint was amongst the cardinal virtues, to the patriotism of torchlight processions and fire-crackers. This was all so different, it was as though some one had turned back for her the pages of history.... Reist surely was not of this generation? Erlito had averted his face, Hassen was busy lighting a cigarette, Mr. Van Decht was as bewildered as his daughter. Yet Reist's words, in a way, had moved all of them. It was Hassen who answered.
"If the Republican instinct," he remarked, quietly, "is as yet unborn in Theos, whence the banishment of the Tyrnaus family, and the establishment of a Republican government?"
Reist turned full upon him, and his eyes were like the eyes of an angry lion.
"Maurice of Tyrnaus," he said, "was one of the degenerates of a noble race. I say no more against one whom, if alive, I should still acknowledge as my King."
Hassen shrugged his shoulders.
"You are a long way from Theos, Count," he remarked, pointedly. "You took, I presume, the oath of allegiance to the Republic when it was formed?"
"That is a false saying," Reist answered, scornfully. "I neither took the oath nor recognized the government."
"Yet they allowed you to remain in the capital city?" Hassen asked.
"There was no one," Reist answered, "who would have dared to bid me depart. Of the ancient nobility of Theos we alone remain, alas, close dwellers in our native country. Else Metzger had been hung in the market-place with short shrift—he a merchant, a trafficker in coin, who dared to sit in the ancient Council House of Theos and weave his cursed treason. And listen, sir," he continued, turning abruptly upon Hassen. "You would know whence sprang that evil weed of a Republic! I will tell you. It was the work of foreign spies working with foreign gold amongst the outcasts and scum of Theos. It was not the choice of the people. It was the word of sedition, of cunning bribery, the vile underhand efforts of foreign politicians seeking to weaken by treachery a country they dared not, small though it is, provoke to battle."
There followed a strange, tense silence. No one thought of interruption. They held their breath and waited. The conversation which had started harmlessly enough had become a duel. The grim shadow of tragedy seemed suddenly to have stalked in amongst them. Hassen sprang to his feet, livid, his coal-black eyes on fire. Reist was facing him, his head thrown back, passionate, contemptuous, bitter. With a swift, threatening gesture he threw out his arm towards his adversary.
"Hassen Bey," he said, "my private enemies I meet under the roof of my friends, and courtesy demands that I hold my peace and pass on. The enemies of my country I denounce at all times, and in all places. You are a Turkish spy, one of those of whom I have been speaking, who sought the hospitality of Theos only to scatter gold amongst the common people to plot and intrigue for your master, the Sultan. Oh, I know that you are also a soldier and a brave man, for I have met you face to face in battle, and may God grant that I do so again. Yet you are a spy and a treacherous rogue, and I am very thankful that I have come here to tell you so, and to order you to leave this roof."
Hassen had recovered himself. He turned to Erlito.
"The Duke of Reist," he said, quietly, "is a friend of yours. Perhaps it is better that I should go. I regret very much to have been the passive cause of such an outbreak. Miss Van Decht, you will accept my apologies."
Erlito was very grave. He did not seem to see the hand which Hassen held out to him.
"Hassen," he said, "we have been friends, but I do not understand these things which the Duke of Reist has said of you. You have spoken of yourself as a Frenchman—of Theos or of Turkey I have heard nothing. Have you any explanation to offer?"
Hassen shrugged his shoulders lightly.
"My dear Erlito," he said, "the Duke of Reist is an honest man, but—he will forgive me—he is an anachronism. He should have lived two centuries ago—or, better still, he would have made an excellent crusader. The necessities of modern diplomacy are unknown to him. He has passed all his days in a semi-civilized country. He is not a fitting judge of the things which happen to-day."
A sudden lightning flashed in Erlito's blue eyes. He drew himself to his full height, and pointed towards the door.
"That semi-civilized country, sir, is mine also, and if you are one of those who have sought to corrupt it, I beg that you will leave this room while you may with a whole skin. At once, sir!"
The imperturbability of the man was clearly disturbed. He looked at Erlito in amazement. The face of Nicholas of Reist shone with joy.
"Your country?" Hassen repeated, incredulously. "What have you to do with Theos?"
Erlito hesitated—not so Reist. He stepped forward, and the leaping firelight threw a strange glow upon his pale, mobile features.
"After all," he cried to Hassen, "it seems that you are but a poor fool of a conspirator. I will do you an honour which you ill deserve. I will present you to his Royal Highness, Prince Ughtred, of Tyrnaus."
The single monosyllable—from Sara Van Decht—was the only speech which broke the amazed silence. She was leaning forward in her chair, gazing eagerly at the three men, her beautiful eyes eloquent with excitement—a crown of fire gleaming in her brown-gold hair. No one noticed her. Hassen, who had regained his composure, but in whose face was written a deep self-disgust, moved towards the door. With his fingers upon the handle he paused and looked back at the little group.
"You are both," he said, in a low tone, "a little hard upon a soldier, and a servant of the Sultan, with whom obedience is forced to become an instinct. Of that—no more. But there is one thing which you may call me as often and as thoroughly as you will, for it is as true as the Koran, that I am an absolute—a blind fool!"
He passed out, and they heard him singing for the lift. Sara Van Decht looked up at Brand, who was sitting next to her. Her half-whispered remark dissolved the situation.
"I suppose that we are all awake," she said. "I feel as though I wanted to pinch myself to be sure of it."
"And what has brought you to London, Nicholas, my friend?" Erlito asked. "Is it pleasure, or you have perhaps a mission to the English Government?"
It was the great moment. Reist, too restless to sit down, stood upon the hearthrug, the angry fire lingering in his eyes, a spot of dull colour burning still in his cheeks. He had not yet got over the shock of finding one of the men he most hated and despised in life a guest in this house of all others.
"Pleasure," he repeated, thoughtfully. "People would call me a fanatic, yet nevertheless, Ughtred, this is the truth. There is no pleasure for me outside my country. The life of the European capitals chokes me. There is a tawdriness about them all, something artificial and unreal. I do not know how to describe it, but it is there—in Petersburg, in Paris, in London and Vienna. It is like a gigantic depression. I seem to become in them a puppet, a shadow walking across a great stage. Always I am longing to be back in Theos—in Theos where the winds blow down from the hills, and the faces of the men and women in the streets are clean with health. Ah, my friend, I know what you would say. The great cities, too, with their factories and huge buildings which shut out the sky, they are part of God's earth. The smoke which stains the heavens comes from the making of useful and beautiful things. Yet I watch my peasants tilling their little farms, tending their hillside vineyards, without luxuries, without knowledge of luxuries, ever light-hearted, contented, strong and healthy as children of the earth should be. The love of that little strip of land of theirs is the keynote of their patriotism. It is a passion, a joy to them. Oh, do you wonder that I think these things are best!"
Erlito's eyes were full of sympathy. His head sank upon his folded arms. His thoughts travelled backwards. It was so many years ago, yet he could remember.
"Listen, Nicholas," he said. "I have travelled much more than you. I have been in many strange countries and seen life under many strange conditions. But all the while there has been a pain in my heart. I have found no home. I, too, love Theos! There will come a day when no sentence of banishment will keep me away."
Reist looked up. The moment had come.
"That day," he said, "may be nearer than you think. Ughtred, I have left Theos on no slight business. I am here with a mission, and my mission is to you!"
Erlito's eyes were full of questioning wonder.
"The accursed Republic," Reist continued, "has fallen like a pack of cards. There is panic in the city and throughout the country. Theos knows now that she has been deceived and misguided, that she has been brought to the very verge of ruin. The Powers no longer continue to assure her of their protection. A sovereign and a Tyrnaus had ever a claim upon them, not so this bastard and bungling Republic. The city is full of Russian spies, the Austrians watch us night and day, the Turks are creeping up even to the Balkans. Rumours of partition have reached us from the great Cabinets. Ughtred of Tyrnaus, there is only one man to-day who can save the country, and that man is you."
Erlito dropped his pipe, and leaned forward in his chair.
"Are you mocking me, Reist?" he asked.
"May God forbid," Reist answered, fervently, "that I should speak idle words upon such a subject. The people of Theos are still brave and true, and their freedom is as dear to them as life itself. They came to me, who for long have lived apart, and I have shown them what I truthfully believe to be their only chance of salvation. You are that chance, Ughtred. The throne of your fathers is yours if you will have it. A brave man can seize it, and a brave man can hold it in the teeth of all Europe, and by your God and for the sake of the blood which is in your veins, Ughtred of Tyrnaus, I summon you to return with me to Theos."
Erlito rose slowly up. His cheeks were flushed with excitement. Reist's appeal had moved him deeply.
"You mean this?" he said. "You mean that you bring me this message from the people of Theos?"
Reist raised his hand solemnly.
"I mean that on their behalf I, Nicholas of Reist, than whom none has a better right to speak for their country, offer you the crown of Theos."
Erlito walked restlessly up and down the little study into which he had brought his visitor.
"We of Tyrnaus," he said, "are under sentence of perpetual exile."
"It was the illegal sentence of an illegal assembly," Reist answered. "The voice of the people has revoked it. They bid you forget all else save that your native land looks to you in her hour of trouble. Listen. It is no rose-strewn way along which you will pass to your inheritance. There will be no popular reception, no grand ceremony. We must travel day and night to Theos, secretly, perhaps even in disguise. You must be crowned King in the Palace the moment we arrive there. Secretly I have already called together the army, for the moment the news is known there will be a storm. There are Russians and Austrian secret agents in Theos, each working for their own ends. They believe that I have gone to Vienna and Petersburg to beg for the intercession of the Powers. Meanwhile the Turkish dogs are creeping up the Balkans. They are gathered around our country, Ughtred, like wreckers waiting for the ship to break up. It is for you to steer that ship into safe waters."
There was a long silence. Erlito was standing with his elbow upon the mantelpiece, looking into the fire. In his heart were many emotions, in his face a strange light. A new world had been opened up before him. He saw great things moving across the vista of the future. No longer then need he brood over an empty life, or bewail the idle sword of a gentleman of fortune. Here was stuff enough to make a dozen careers, a future, successful or unsuccessful, more brilliant than anything else which he could have conceived. But Reist, who failed to read his companion's thoughts, was troubled. This prolonged silence was inexplicable to him.
"You do not hesitate?" he asked at last.
Erlito laughed and drew himself up.
"You must not think so ill of me as that, Nicholas," he answered. "Nay, there was no thought of hesitation in my mind. I accept—gladly, thankfully. Only you must know this. Of soldiering I have learnt a little, and nothing would make me happier than to lead the men of Theos into battle. But of statesmanship I know little, and of kingcraft nothing at all. You must find me faithful advisers. You yourself must stand at my right hand."
Then Nicholas of Reist drew a long breath, and the cloud passed away from his face.
"There are still many faithful citizens," he said, "whom we can rally around us, and I myself—I live only for Theos. Let me tell you this, for it will give you confidence. It is a soldier for whom the people are pining. They want no more merchants in high places. They shall see you, Ughtred of Tyrnaus, in the uniform of their Guards. They shall hear you give the word of command, they will shout you King—ay, they will take you into their hearts, this people."
So the hands of the two met in a long, fervent clasp. Erlito embraced his destiny, and Reist set the seal upon his renunciation.
* * * * *
A King! As Ughtred fastened his white tie before the tiny mirror upon his dressing-case those lines at the corner of his mouth gave way. He suddenly burst out laughing. A King! The incongruity of the thing tickled his sense of humour—he laughed long and heartily. He looked around him. His bedchamber was tiny, and he had only been able to afford furniture of the cheapest description. He looked at the plain rush carpet, the swords and foils which were almost his sole decoration upon the walls, the humble appointments of his dressing-table. Everything was scrupulously neat and clean, stern and soldier-like in simplicity. What a change was before him. From here to the royal palace of Theos, where a chamberlain would wait upon him with bended knee, and the small etiquette of a Court would hamper his every movement. The last few years passed in swift review before him. He had lived always like a gentleman, but always with a certain amount of rigid self-denial necessitated by his small income. He had few acquaintances and fewer friends. The luxury of a West-End club had been denied to him—fencing and long walks were almost his sole relaxation. All that he had had to hope for was the breaking out of some small war in any corner of the world, when his sword and military experience might give him a chance to follow his profession. He was, if anything, deficient in imagination, but he had humour enough and to spare. He laughed softly as he donned his carefully-folded and well-worn dress-coat, and reflected that this was perhaps the last dinner which he would eat in such garments with companions of his own choosing. It was surely a strange turn in the wheel of fortune.
"I think your friend the Duke of Reist is a very interesting man," Sara Van Decht remarked, "but as a dinner companion he's just a little depressing. I wonder what father and he will find to talk about."
Ughtred laughed. They had just come out from the restaurant, to find the great hall almost full. Reist and Mr. Van Decht were sitting a little apart from them.
"Reist is a very good fellow," Ughtred declared, "but just now he is not very much in the humour for gaiety. He is passionately attached to his country, and Theos, alas, is passing through a very anxious time in her history. No, you must not judge him by his demeanour to-night. I had much difficulty in persuading him to accept your father's invitation."
She nodded sympathetically.
"Has he come over to obtain aid from England?" she asked. "From the papers this morning it seems as though one of the Powers would have to interfere and straighten things out."
Ughtred looked down with grave, steadfast eyes into the girl's upturned face. It was time for him to tell her. How ridiculous it would sound. She would probably laugh at him.
"Reist came to England," he said, "to find me."
She looked at him in mild wonder.
"You! But you are no longer interested in Theos, are you?"
"I have been an exile for many years," he said, "and Theos has come to mean little else to me save a beautiful memory. Yet I have never forgotten that she is my native country. I am never likely to forget it."
"Do you hope ever to return?" she asked.
"I hope to be in Theos within a week," he answered. "I am returning with Reist."
She looked up at him startled, but deeply interested.
"You mean it?" she cried. "Oh, tell me!"
"You have read of the downfall of the Republic," he continued. "Reist assures me that the people will never tolerate another. They speak already of a King, and, Miss Van Decht—you must not laugh, please—I am the only surviving member of the royal family of Theos."
"You are to be King!" she exclaimed.
"The people have sent for me," he answered, simply. "Of course there are difficulties, and after all it may not come to pass. Still, the crown is mine by right, and I am going to strike a blow for it. We leave for Theos to-morrow."
"A King! To-morrow!" she repeated, vaguely.
She was bereft of words. Ughtred laughed nervously.
"Miss Van Decht," he said, "it isn't altogether a prospect of fairyland. There are many things to be given up. There are many things which a man may possess but a King can only covet. I have become somewhat of a Bohemian in my wanderings, and my freedom is very dear to me. Yet I think that I am doing right in making this attempt. I love Theos, and it will be a joy to fight her battles. I love the old city and the mountains and the wild country. I may not be a patriot like Nicholas of Reist, but the old war music seems to leap and burn in my blood when I think of the Turks creeping nearer and nearer to the frontier, and our ancient city full of foreign spies, gathered together like carrion birds before the massacre. It is intolerable!"
She was thoughtful and sympathetic.
"Yes," she said, softly; "it is right that you should feel like that. Ours is a new country, and there is nothing about her beautiful or historic. Yet, if she were in danger—oh, yes, I understand. You are right to go. May you be successful!"
A crash of martial music from the band filled the air with ringing melody, and for a moment they sat silent. Ughtred took up his as yet unlit cigarette, and Sara sipped her coffee. Around them were little groups of men and brilliantly-dressed women. The pleasant hum of conversation and light laughter came to them with something of an inspiring ring. Down the broad promenade two men were walking. Sara touched her companion on the arm with her fan.
"Look!" she whispered.
Ughtred recognized Hassen with a frown, and his companion with a sudden thrill of interest. They were coming slowly down from the restaurant, talking earnestly together, and by the side of the tall, distinguished-looking man, who was listening to him with so inscrutable a countenance, Hassen appeared almost insignificant. Nicholas of Reist, who had moved from his chair to fetch an evening paper, met them face to face. He would have passed on with a contemptuous glance at Hassen, but that the older man turned and accosted him with grave yet pleasant courtesy.
"The Duke of Reist is far from home! This is indeed a surprising meeting."
Reist started as he recognized the speaker. He cast a single lightning-like glance at Hassen, who lingered by.
"It is as welcome as surprising," Reist answered, quietly. "I had promised myself the pleasure of paying my respects at the Embassy to-morrow."
"You will not, I trust, let anything interfere with so amiable an intention," was the suave reply. "You and I should have much to say to each other, Reist. You have a vacant chair here, I see. Will you allow me to take my coffee with you?"
"I shall be much honoured," Reist answered, quietly. "As you say, there is much which we might discuss. Will you permit me to introduce you to my friends?"
The faintest indication of surprise was followed by a murmur of delighted assent. Hassen, perplexed and white with anger, moved away. The two men threaded the little maze of chairs and palm trees and women's skirts, and reached the corner where Sara and Ughtred sat. Reist gravely performed the introduction.
"Miss Van Decht, will you allow me to present to you the Prince Alexis of Ollendirk, Miss Van Decht—Mr. Van Decht. Ughtred, I am sure you two should know one another. Prince Alexis of Ollendirk, Ughtred of Tyrnaus."
The Prince, who had bowed low and gracefully to Sara, held out his hand frankly to Ughtred.
"To number Tyrnaus amongst one's acquaintances," he said, "has been an honour for centuries. I knew your father, Prince Ughtred. His Majesty was always very good to me. The Gold Star of Theos is amongst the most treasured of my possessions."
More coffee was ordered by Mr. Van Decht, and cigarettes. A measured and somewhat curious conversation followed. The Russian Ambassador talked to Sara chiefly. Ughtred seemed to interest him only as a pleasantly-met acquaintance. They exchanged views on Paris and Vienna, and Prince Alexis pleaded eloquently for the charms of his own city. With consummate skill he led the conversation to Theos.
"The most picturesque country in Europe," he declared, "to-day I fear the most unfortunate. You see, Mr. Van Decht," he continued, turning towards him, "it is not always that a great country can exist and be developed upon democratic principles. Theos, under the royal House of Tyrnaus, had at least a recognized place amongst the European States. To-day she has lost it. Of her future—no man can speak with certainty."
The Russian leaned back and lit a cigarette. Yet Reist felt that he was being watched by those half-closed, sleepy eyes. He leaned a little forward and lowered his voice.
"I am a man of Theos, bred and born," he said, slowly, "and the future of my country is as my own future. I am not in this bastard government, as you doubtless know, Prince Alexis, but I have the confidence of the people. They have come to me for counsel, they have asked me how best they can secure their continued independence. It is a great emergency this, and since we have met here I am venturing to ask for your advice. You have a precise knowledge of the situation, you know the country, the people, our environment. How best do you think that I could answer them?"
The Russian smoked thoughtfully for a moment. In the little clouds of blue smoke which hung about his head he seemed to be seeking for inspiration. Was this simplicity, he wondered, or had Reist indeed a hidden purpose in seeking to make him declare himself?
"It is not an easy question which you ask, my friend," he answered at last. "Yet, after all, I doubt whether more than one course is open to those who would direct the destinies of your country. Theos is a weak State hemmed in by powerful ones. She is to-day the certain prey of whomever might stretch out his hand—even her ancient enemy the Turk. So, after all, it is not difficult to offer you good advice. I would say to you this: Let her seek out the strongest, the most generous of those environing Powers, and say to her frankly, 'Give me your protection,' and I believe that for the sake of peace her prayer would be promptly answered."
Reist was silent. Ughtred, who had been listening intently, interposed.
"The advice," he said, "sounds well, but it seems to me to have one weak point. It is her independence which Theos seeks above all things to retain. The protection of any one Power must surely jeopardize this."
"By no means," Prince Alexis answered, blandly. "Let us take my own country for example. Russia is great enough and generous enough to befriend a weakened state without any question of a quid pro quo. A love of peace is the one great passion which sways my master in all his dealings. For the sake of it he would do more even than this."
"The Czar does not stand alone," Reist remarked, thoughtfully. "He has many advisers."
"To whom he listens," Prince Alexis answered, "when it pleases him. It is said in this country, yes, and in others, that the Czar is a puppet. We who know only smile. For, my dear Reist, it is true that there has not reigned in Europe for many years a greater autocrat than he who sits on the throne of Russia to-day. But to return to the subject of Theos. Your danger seems to me to lie here. Supposing that the present state of disquiet continues, or any form of government be set up which does not seem to promise permanent stability. Then it is very likely that those stronger countries by whom Theos is surrounded may, in the general interests of peace, deem it their duty to interfere."
"Theos," Reist said, proudly, "is not yet a moribund State. She has an army, and at the first hint of invasion all political differences would cease."
Prince Alexis smiled, and raised his tiny glass of liqueur.
"Floreat Theos!" he said, lightly. "Long may she continue to retain her independence—and to know her friends."
They all raised their glasses. From Reist came a whisper, little more than a breath—
"Long live the King!"
Prince Alexis made the toast the signal for his departure, murmuring something about a diplomatic reception which his duty forbade him to ignore. In the lobby Hassen brushed up against him.
"A word with your Highness outside," he murmured.
The Ambassador signified assent by a scarcely-noticeable gesture. He lit a cigarette and leisurely buttoned his fur coat. A swift glance towards the little party in the corner showed him that Reist was missing.
"You had better slip into my carriage quietly," he said to Hassen. "Our good friend the Duke of Reist is on the lookout somewhere, and it would be better that he did not see us together."
Hassen nodded, and preceded the Ambassador, who lingered to speak to some acquaintance. In a few moments he followed, pausing with his foot upon the carriage steps as though to re-light his cigarette. He looked quickly up and down the pavement. At the corner of Pall Mall and the Haymarket a man was standing with his face half turned in their direction. He shrugged his shoulders and entered the carriage.
"The Duke of Reist is interested," he remarked to Hassen. "Come, my friend, what have you to say?"
"First of all, then," Hassen began, "your bribe to Metzger was large, but you will never get your money's worth. You have worked hard for the political disruption of Theos. It may chance that you have failed utterly."
The Ambassador nodded pleasantly.
"Possibly," he admitted. "I do not quite follow you, though. Metzger has been chased from the country. There is no government, no law, no order. The Powers cannot permit this to continue. A protectorship will be proposed within a week."
"It will be four days too late," Hassen answered. "In less time than that Theos will occupy a stronger position politically than ever before."
"You surprise me," the Ambassador admitted, politely.
"Do you think that the Duke of Reist is the sort of man to be dining at London restaurants whilst his country bleeds to death!" Hassen exclaimed. "Bah! His presence here with Ughtred of Tyrnaus to-night is no chance affair. There is a deep scheme on, and broadly I have fathomed it."
"Theos has had enough of Republics. She is going to try a King. It is Reist himself who put the idea into their heads. He has come as the envoy of the people to Ughtred of Tyrnaus."
"That," the Ambassador remarked, "will not do at all."
"You think so, knowing nothing of Ughtred of Tyrnaus. I know him well, and if you wish Theos to become a Russian province he is the very man in Europe to baulk you. He is brave, shrewd, patriotic, and a fine soldier. If he ever reaches Theos the people will worship him. He will make order out of chaos. He will hold the reins and he will be proof against the wiles of your agents. Short of absolute force you will not be able to dislodge him."
"He must not reach Theos," the Ambassador said, thoughtfully. "The man's very physique will win him the throne ... and I believe that you are right. The House of Tyrnaus has never been friendly towards Russia. What will your master say, Hassen?"
The man smiled grimly.
"Do we want a soldier King in Theos?" he asked, "when our soldiers are creeping northwards to the Balkans day by day? You are ready to seize by intrigue and by stealth—we are preparing to strike a blow of another sort."
The Ambassador smiled. The Turkish soldiers were brave enough, but in Constantinople at that moment was a Russian envoy on secret business, who had very definite instructions as to the occupation of Theos. It is possible, however, that Prince Alexis had forgotten the fact, for he did not mention it.
"At least," he said, "one thing is clear. Ughtred of Tyrnaus must be delayed."
Hassen shrugged his shoulders. The gesture was expressive.
"It will be worth—say five thousand pounds to you," the Ambassador remarked, carelessly, "to make sure of it."
Hassen nodded and stepped out of the carriage. They had drawn up before one of the embassies, and his arrival with Prince Alexis was not a thing to be advertised.
"I shall do my best," he said, slipping away in the crowd.
* * * * *
"Why, yes, I shall miss you. Isn't that natural?"
"I hope so," he answered. "I shall never forget these days." She laughed gaily. The music was playing something very soft and low. Reist had not yet reappeared.
"Isn't that a little rash, my friend? You love experiences, and you are going to enter upon a very wonderful life. You are much to be envied."
"Sara," he said, "you must come to Theos."
She laughed outright in frank and unrestrained merriment.
"You must talk to father," she said. "I dare say he will come. He loves new countries. Only I'm sure he won't behave properly at Court. He's a terrible democrat, and he likes to shake hands with everybody."
"He shall shake hands with me as often as he likes," Ughtred said. "You must remember, Sara, that royalty in Theos is not exactly like royalty in this country. Why, my whole domain is not so large as some English counties. I mean to go about my kingdom exactly like a private individual. Come to Theos, and we will play racquets in the throne room."
She shook her head.
"The smaller the kingdom, as a rule," she said, "the more circumstance and etiquette surround the Court. I do not think that you will be allowed to play racquets in the throne room, or to shake hands very often with a Chicago stock-jobber, even though he is my father. We shall come and gaze upon you from afar."
"So long as you will come," he replied, confidently, "we will see about the rest. Do you know, Sara, it would almost spoil everything if I felt that this change in my life were to disturb—our friendship."
She drew a long palm leaf through her fingers and let it fall regretfully. It was cool and pleasant to the touch. A violin, hidden somewhere amongst the waving green, sent strange notes of melody out through the court, and a little man, bravely dressed in scarlet and yellow, bobbed up and down over his instrument. The girl was thinking—wondering! It was so sudden a change, this. Ughtred Erlito had been a delightful friend—but Ughtred of Tyrnaus! It was so strange a transition. She kept her eyes fixed upon the marble floor, and her heart beat for a moment or two to the sad music of the wailing violin. Then she sprang to her feet—the folly had passed. With one sudden movement one of the little ornaments hanging from her bracelet became detached and rolled away. Ughtred recovered it, and would have fastened it upon the gold wire, but she stopped him.
"It is my four-leaved clover," she said. "See, I shall give it to you. May it bring you good fortune. Floreat Theos!"
He held it in his palm—a dainty ornament set with diamonds and quaintly shaped.
"Do you mean it?" he asked.
"Why, of course," she answered. "If it is not exactly a coronation present, it will at least help to remind you—of the days before you were a King."
"I need no trinkets to remind me of some things," he answered, quietly, "but Theos will give me nothing which I shall prize more than this. I shall keep it, too, as a pledge of your promise. You will come to Theos?"
"Yes, I will come," she answered.
Nicholas of Reist was by their side, dark, almost saturnine in his black evening clothes and tie. His presence had a chilling effect upon them both. Sara rose to her feet.
"Will you see if you can find father?" she said to Ughtred. "He was talking to some Americans who went into the restaurant."
He moved away. She turned quickly to Reist.
"I wanted to ask you," she said. "You live in Theos, and you can give me an idea. What is there that I can send Prince Ughtred for a coronation present?"
"That is a very difficult question to answer," Reist said. "Will you not be a little more explicit? A steam yacht would be a present, so would a cigarette-case."
She nodded quickly.
"Yes! I should have explained. Money is of no consequence at all. I had thought of a team of horses and a coach."
He was suddenly serious. He eyed the girl with a new curiosity. She then was one of the daughters of this new world before whose golden key every Court in Europe had yielded. She was of striking appearance, perhaps beautiful, instinctively well bred. She might be destined to play a part in the affairs of Theos.
"'Money is of no consequence at all,'" he repeated, thoughtfully. "We are poor folk in Theos, Miss Van Decht, and we do not often hear such words."
"Sometimes I think," she said, "that our wealth is our misfortune. Now you understand, don't you? Prince Ughtred was very kind to us at Cairo and on the voyage back, and we have seen quite a little of him in London. I should like to give him something really useful. Please suggest something."
"I will take you at your word then, Miss Van Decht," he answered. "Send him a Maxim-Nordenfeld gun. If you want to be magnificent, send him a battery."
She looked at him in amazement.
"Do you mean it?" she exclaimed.
"I do," he answered. "Prince Ughtred is a very keen soldier, and he is never tired of praising these guns. For the first year or two at the least we shall have troublous times, and a battery of maxims might save all our lives and the throne. Theos has, alas, no money to spend in artillery, though her soldiers are as brave as any in the world."
"Father and I will see about it to-morrow," she declared. "Hush! here they come."
Ughtred was approaching with her father, and watching him it occurred to her for the first time how well his new part in life would become him. He was tall and broad, and he moved with the free, easy dignity of a soldier accustomed to command.
"I have found your father," he said, "and your carriage is waiting. I thought that if Reist would excuse me for half-an-hour——"
Reist interrupted him at once.
"You must not go away," he declared, earnestly. "Not for five minutes. Believe me it is necessary."
"My dear fellow——" Ughtred protested.
"Is it possible," Reist exclaimed, with some impatience, "that you do not recognize the great misfortune of this evening? I was wrong to allow you to come—to be seen in London with you. Prince Alexis is more than an ordinary ambassador. He is a born diplomatist, a true Russian—he is one of the clique who to-day rule the country. With Hassen's aid he has, without a doubt, surmised the purport of my visit to you. By this time he is hard at work. Let me tell you that if he can prevent it you will never set foot in Theos. There must be no more delay. Come!"
Sarah held out her hand. Her eyes met his frankly.
"The Duke of Reist must be obeyed," she said. "I am sure that he is right. Good-bye, Prince Ughtred! You are very fortunate, for you have a great and noble work before you. May you succeed in it. I shall hope and pray for your success."
A little abruptly she turned away and took her father's arm. The two men watched them disappear—the little grey-headed man with his ill-cut clothes, and hard, shrewd face, and the tall, graceful girl, whose toilette was irreproachable, and whose carriage and bearing moved even Reist to admiration. They passed down the carpeted way and through the swing-doors. Then Reist touched his companion on the arm.
"It is half-past eleven," he said. "We are going to catch the twelve o'clock train from Charing Cross."
The whistle sounded at last, the train began to glide slowly away from the almost deserted platform. But at the last moment a man came running through the booking-office, and made for one of the compartments. He tugged at the handle, wrenched it open, and was preparing for a flying leap when an inspector seized him. There was an altercation, a violent struggle—the man was left upon the platform. Reist drew a long breath of relief as he settled down in his corner.
"The way these things are managed in England," he said, "it is excellent."
Ughtred shrugged his shoulders. Reist had been dumb for the last half-hour, and he was puzzled.
"Will you tell me now," he asked, "the meaning of it all?"
"The meaning of it all is—Hassen!" Reist answered. "How long have you known him?"
"We fought together in Abyssinia," Ughtred answered, "and I found him always a capital soldier and a pleasant companion."
"Did you ever ask him where he learnt his soldiering?"
"Did he tell you?"
"I do not think that he did. He told me frankly enough that he had no past—that it was not to be referred to. There were others like that in the campaign, men who had secrets to bury, men who sought forgetfulness, even that forgetfulness which a bullet brings. We were a strange company enough. But the fighting was good."
"And since then you have met him again in England?"
"I met him at a little fencing-academy six months ago, and since then we have fenced together continually. But for your recognition of him I should have written him down as harmless."
A spot of colour burned in Reist's cheek. He ground his heel into the mat.
"Harmless! He! A Turk! A Russian spy! A double-dealing rogue. Sword in hand I have chased him through the Kurdistan valley all one night, and if I had caught him then Russia would have lost a tool and the Sultan a traitorous soldier. He holds still, although an absentee, a high command in the Turkish army, and all the while he is in the pay of Russia. Prince Alexis knows of my mission to you by now, and if we reach Theos we are lucky, for I do not think that a Tyrnaus upon the throne of Theos would suit Russia at all."
"I may seem stupid," Ughtred said, seriously, "but it is necessary that I should understand these things. Why should Russia object so much to my reinstatement upon the throne of my fathers? Surely of all the nations of Europe one would expect from her the least sympathy with a democratic form of government."
"Russia is above all sympathies or antipathies," Reist answered, bitterly. "She is the most self-centred, the most absolutely selfish nation on earth. The present state of turmoil in Theos is owing largely to the efforts of Muscovite secret agents. Russia desires a weak Theos. She wants to stand behind the government and pull the strings. It is she whom we have most to fear now."
Ughtred lit a cigar and leaned back in his corner. He was still in his evening clothes, and he looked doubtfully at the window-panes streaming with rain.
"Neither Russia nor her agents can interfere with us on neutral soil," he remarked. "I wish, Reist, that you had let me send for my bag. I shall be a very dilapidated object by the time we reach the frontier."
"My wardrobe," Reist answered, "is at your service immediately we are upon the boat. I am smaller than you, but I have some things which may be useful. Now I will tell you something which will help to explain my haste. When first I saw Hassen and Prince Alexis together I understood that we must change our plans, and I sent for your bag. Your rooms were then being watched front and back. My servant bribed a postman to go to your door and ask for you. He discovered that a gentleman was already in your rooms waiting for you. They are very much in earnest, these people, my Prince. It will need all our wit to reach Theos."
"We will reach it, though," Ughtred said, softly. "We are on our guard, and there can be no means of forcibly detaining us. In a quarter of an hour we shall be at Dover."
Reist nodded. He was examining the chambers of a revolver which he had drawn from the pocket of a loose ulster.
"Let us remember," he said, "to avoid all strangers and to speak to no one unless compelled. We know nothing of Theos. We are returning to Budapesth, and, Prince Ughtred, there is a revolver in the pocket of your coat also, not for use but for show. We must not be led into a disturbance with any one. Mind, it is the policy of every one to detain us if once the object of our journey is known. In Germany we shall not be safe, in Austria every moment will be perilous. But once across the frontier nothing will avail. I had news from Theos this morning. The people are on fire for your coming."
The train slackened speed. The lights of Dover flashed out on either side. They drew up at the town station and waited there for some minutes. Reist let down the window and addressed a porter.
"Why do we not go on to the harbour?" he asked. "We are already late."
"There is a special coming in just behind you, sir," the man answered. "We shall send you both along together."
Reist thanked him and turned to Ughtred with a little laugh.
"So we are to have a travelling companion," he remarked, dryly. "Our friends are not to be caught asleep. We must watch for the occupant of this special train. We shall know then against whom we have to be upon our guard."
They moved slowly on again. Behind them was an engine and a single carriage. Reist let down both windows, and a fresh salt wind blew in upon their faces. In a few moments they were at the landing-stage.
Reist leaped lightly out, and Ughtred followed him. Opposite was the gangway leading to the steamer, through which a little crowd of passengers were already elbowing their way. They lingered on its outskirts and watched the single carriage drawn by the second engine. It drew up within a few feet of them, and a tall, fair young man handed out his portmanteau to one of the porters and leisurely descended on to the platform. Ughtred recognized him with a little exclamation of surprise.
"Why, it's Brand!"
He would have moved forward but for Reist's restraining arm.
"Wait! Who is he?"
"A newspaper man," Ughtred answered. "An honest fellow and a friend. I will answer for him."
"He was at your rooms with Hassen," Reist said, quickly. "I would trust no one whom I had seen with that man. Let him pass. We will follow him on board."
But it was too late. Brand possessed the quick, searching gaze of a journalist, and already, with a little start of surprise, he had recognized them.
"Erlito," he exclaimed. "What luck!"
Erlito shook hands with him, laughing. They turned towards the boat together.
"Have you become a millionaire, my friend," he asked, "that you must travel in special trains?"
Brand shook his head.
"Personally," he remarked, "I am in my usual lamentable state of impecuniosity. Nevertheless, for the moment I am representing wealth illimitable. That is to say, I am in harness again."
Reist looked askance at them both. He did not understand. Ughtred was suddenly grave.
"I must ask you where you are going," he said. "There is no rumour of war, is there?"
"Speaking broadly," he answered, "I have no right to tell you. But the circumstances of our meeting are peculiar. To tell you the truth, I am bound for Theos."
Reist's face was dark with anger—Ughtred's blank with amazement. Brand hastened to explain.
"The Duke of Reist," he said, "probably does not understand my position. I am a special correspondent to the Daily Courier. They send me at a moment's notice to any place where interesting events are likely to happen. Our chief has been studying the aspect of things in Theos, and half-an-hour ago I had my route. It was the same, Erlito, when I travelled with you to Abyssinia!"
Ughtred nodded thoughtfully.
"That is true," he remarked. "Reist, I am sure that we can trust Mr. Brand. He is not in league with any of those who would hinder us upon our journey."
"That may be so," Reist answered, "but he knows too much for our safety. There must be an understanding between us. A single paragraph in his newspaper to-morrow as to our journey, and we shall have as much chance of reaching the moon as Theos."
Brand, who was writing upon a telegraph-form, paused at once. They were on the side of the steamer, remote from the bustle of departure, and almost alone.
"There is likely to be trouble, then, on the frontier, or before?" he inquired. "You have opponents?"
"So much so," Reist answered, fiercely, "that if we were in Theos now, and you talked of filling the newspapers with idle gossip of us and our affairs, we should not stop to argue the matter with you."
Brand laughed softly.
"I don't want to do you any harm," he said. "We must compromise matters."
Reist misunderstood him.
"An affair of money," he exclaimed. "I understand. We will give your paper one, two hundred pounds, to make no mention of Theos for a week."
Brand glanced at Ughtred with twinkling eyes.
"The special train which brought me here cost more than that, I am afraid," he said. "Believe me, Duke, it is not a matter of money at all. The proprietors of my paper are millionaires. What they want is information. When I spoke of a compromise I meant something entirely different."
"Perhaps you had better explain exactly what you mean," Reist said, curtly. "I do not understand this Western journalism. It is new to me."
"Good!" he said. "You want to keep this journey secret until you are safe in Theos. Very well, I will send no message to my people until you give me leave. Only you must supply me then with exclusive information. And you must see that I am the first to cable it from your country."
"That is an agreement," Reist answered, solemnly. "If you will keep to that I am satisfied."
They were already in the Channel. A wave broke over the bows of the vessel, drenching them with spray. Brand led the way down-stairs.
"Since we are to be fellow-passengers," he said, "let us drink to our prosperous journey—and Theos."
Reist touched Ughtred's arm upon the stairs.
"He is to be trusted, this friend of yours?" he whispered, anxiously.
"Implicitly," Ughtred answered, with emphasis.
"Then we are very fortunate," Reist said, "for it is such a man as this whom we wanted."
"Monsieur will pardon me!"
Ughtred glanced up, startled. For an hour or more he had been watching with fascinated eyes the great rolling pine forests through which the train was rushing. Brand and Reist were in the restaurant-car—Ughtred was rapidly becoming too excited to eat. They had entered upon the last stage of their journey. Somewhere away beyond that dim line of mountains was Theos. So far they had been neither accosted nor watched. This was the first stranger who had addressed a word to either of them.
"You wished for a seat here?" Ughtred asked.
The priest, who had come through from the dining-car, held between his fingers an unlit cigar. His fat, good-humoured face was a little flushed. He had the appearance of a man who has found his dinner a satisfactory meal.
"It is your coupe, I understand, monsieur," he answered, "but the smoking-car is full. I wondered if monsieur would permit me to occupy his friend's seat until he returns. One misses a smoke so much."
He looked longingly at the cigar. Ughtred rose and cleared off the rugs and papers which were spread over the vacant seats.
"My friends, I am sure, will have no objection," he declared. "I think that there is room for all of us."
The priest was volubly thankful. He lit his cigar and puffed at it with obvious pleasure.
"Monsieur is doubtless a great traveller," he remarked, urbanely. "For me a journey such as this is an event—a wonderful event. Not once in many years do I leave my people. Monsieur will be amused, but it is indeed ten years since I found myself in a railway train."
Ughtred was reserved, but the priest was quite willing to bear the brunt of the conversation so long as he had a listener. It appeared that he was on his way to visit his brother, who was a prosperous merchant in Belgrade. And monsieur?—if he were not too inquisitive—should he have the pleasure of his company all the way?
Ughtred hesitated for the fraction of a second. Reist was passing along the corridor with imperturbable face, but with his cap in his hand—an agreed upon sign of danger. So Ughtred, to whom a lie was as poison, braced himself for the effort.
"I go even farther than you," he declared. "My journey is not ended at Constantinople."
The priest's fat face was wrinkled into smiles. It was most fortunate—his own good fortune. For himself he was so unaccustomed to travel that he found it impossible to read. He was excited—besides, it gave him the headache. To converse only was possible. But after all he had no right to inflict himself thus upon monsieur. He had perhaps affairs to attend to—or he desired to sleep? Ughtred, who found it impossible to suspect this fat, simple-mannered man so shabbily dressed, so wrapped in enjoyment of his bad cigar, smiled, and shook his head. They drifted into conversation. Ughtred learned the entire village history of Baineuill, and was made acquainted with the names and standing of each of its inhabitants from Jean the smith to Monsieur le Comte, who was an infidel, and whose house-parties were as orgies of the evil one.
"And monsieur," the priest asked, ingenuously, "monsieur is perhaps a soldier? I have talked so long of my own poor affairs. It must be tedious."
Just then Reist and Brand passed along the corridor, laughing heartily. Brand paused, and with a bow to the priest held out a paper to Ughtred.
"Read that, Brand!" he exclaimed. "These papers are the drollest in the world."
Ughtred looked up puzzled, but took the paper held out insistently towards him. At the bottom of an illustration were a few pencilled words.
"Be careful! Remember! You are W. B. The priest has been asking questions about us!"
Ughtred read, and smiled. The priest leaned forward.
"It is a joke, eh? Monsieur will permit me also? It is good to laugh."
Brand was equal to the occasion. He took the paper quickly away from Ughtred.
"Monsieur," he said, removing his cap, "the joke which I pointed out to my friend has, without doubt, humour, but the journal, as you see, is for the students. Monsieur will excuse me if I refrain from offering it to him."
The priest acquiesced with a graver face, and some show of dignity.
"But I fear, monsieur," he said to Brand, "that I am occupying your seat. You wish to return here, beyond a doubt?"
Brand shook his head.
"By no means, monsieur," he declared. "For the present, at any rate, I am engaged elsewhere."
They passed along the corridor. Glancing up at the priest, Ughtred was aware of a slight change in his expression. His brows were contracted, he was immersed in thought. The change was momentary, however. Soon he was again chattering away—still always of his own affairs. But there came a time when he wound up a little speech with a question.
"Is it not so, Monsieur Brand—was not that how your friend called you?"
"My name is Walter Brand," he answered.
Again there came that faint change in the priest's face.
"Monsieur will not think me curious," he said. "He is perhaps a soldier?"
Ughtred shook his head.
"I have seen some fighting," he said, "but I am not a soldier. I am a journalist, if you know what that means—one who writes for the newspapers. My friend whom you saw speak to me just now is a soldier by profession."
The priest nodded pleasantly.
"And he, like yourself," he asked, "is he, too, English?"
Ughtred looked around, and lowered his voice.
"He has been in the English army, but he is not an Englishman. He has had a very unfortunate history. I wish that I could tell it to you, but the time is too short, and he does not like to be talked about."
The priest's face shone with sympathy.
"Poor fellow!" he murmured.
They both looked up. Brand himself had entered the coupe. There was a slight frown upon his forehead, and his tone was curt.
"I wish you would explain to the conductor about our tickets," he said. "He is very stupid, and I cannot make him understand."
Ughtred rose at once and left the coupe. Brand bowed gravely to the priest.
"I trust monsieur will excuse me," he said, "for interrupting what I am sure must have been a very agreeable conversation."
The slight foreign accent was beautifully done. Brand was as tall as Ughtred, and although not so broad his carriage was good and his natural air one of distinction. The priest smiled benignly upon him.
"I fear," he said, "that I have already wearied your friend. My life must seem so humdrum to him, and to you, who have travelled so far and seen so much. For I, monsieur, as I have told your friend, have lived all my days in one quiet country place, and this journey is a great event for me."
Brand slipped into the vacant seat. In the vestibule Ughtred met Reist. He drew him into the smoking-compartment. He was very pale, and his voice shook with emotion.
"The priest," he said, "is a creature of Domiloff's. You were on your guard?"
"What a famous fellow Brand is. Up to now, at any rate, his scheme has worked. He is personating me bravely, and really we are very much alike."
"He will be too clever for him," Reist said. "It is a matter of time. Do you know that in half-an-hour we shall be at the frontier?"
"So soon?" Ughtred exclaimed.
"Listen! I had a message from our friends at Limburg. The train will be searched at the barrier. There will be a determined attempt to prevent your entering the country. Theos is in a state of hopeless confusion. The motion to repeal your sentence of banishment is still before the House of Laws. The Custom officers, and I am afraid the Government officials, have been heavily bribed by Russia not to pass you across the frontier."
A bright light flashed in Ughtred's eyes.
"So we shall see," he muttered.
"They have a plan ready for us, no doubt," Reist continued, "and that priest is in it. Never mind. We shall outwit them. If only your friend Brand is equal to his part."
"The man is a born actor," Ughtred said. "I left him playing the Prince as I could never have done it. I do not think that Domiloff's man will find him out."
Reist pulled the window softly down and looked out. The train was passing across a high bridge. Below, the river wound its way through a stretch of rocky, broken country.
"We are barely twenty miles from my home—the castle of Reist is to the left of the hills there. In a few minutes the train will stop. Be ready to follow me, and do exactly as I do."
"But we are not timed to stop until we reach Gallona!"
"Never mind," Reist answered. "This will be a stop that does not appear upon the time-table. It is the plan of those who are working for us in Theos, and it is good. At the village station of Moschaum the signals will be against us, and we shall stop. Our task is to leave the train unseen—it may be difficult, but I have bribed all the servants, and they are preparing to see nothing. There will be horses waiting for us—and then—then it will be a gallop for a kingdom."
"The plan seems good enough," Ughtred said, thoughtfully, "and I am in your hands. But what about Brand?"
Reist shrugged his shoulders.
"He is one of those who love adventure, and I do not think that he can come to any harm. Let him play out his game. It was his own idea to personate you, and the risk is his own. Ah!"
There was a sudden slackening of speed. The brakes were on and the whistle sounding. Reist strolled to the platform of the car as though to look out, and Ughtred followed him. A conductor unfastened the gate and slipped away. The train had come to a standstill in a tiny station, a little wooden building with a cupola, and everywhere surrounded with a dense forest of pines. Reist looked swiftly round.
"Now," he said. "Follow me."
They slipped from the train on the side remote from the platform, and in half-a-dozen strides had reached the impenetrable shelter of the trees. Then there was a whistle. The train crawled onward serpent-like with its flaring electric lights and the shower of sparks which flew upwards from the engine. An hour later Ughtred, riding in silence and at breakneck speed with Reist at his elbow crossed the frontier of his kingdom.
"Prince Ughtred of Tyrnaus."
Brand awoke from a hideous nightmare, sat up on a rude horsehair couch, and held his head with both hands. He was conscious of a sense of nausea, burning temples, and a general indisposition to take any interest in his surroundings. He sank back upon his pillow.
"Oh, rot," he murmured. "Go away, please."
There was a short silence, then footsteps, and the newcomer bent over the sofa.
The invitation was alluring. Brand's throat was like a limekiln. He sat up and took the proffered tumbler into his hands. The liquid was cold and sparkling—almost magical in its effects. He drained it to the last drop, and then looked curiously about him.
"Where the mischief am I?" he asked; "and who are you?"
The newcomer stood in the light from the window. He was a short and thick-set man, with iron-grey hair and black moustache slightly upturned. He had a pallid skin and keen grey eyes. His manner was at once grave and conciliatory.
"Your memory, Prince," he remarked, "is scarcely so good as mine. I have had the pleasure of seeing you but once before, yet I think that I should have recognized you anywhere."
"Oh, would you!" Brand remarked, beneath his breath.
"I will recall myself to your memory," the other continued, blandly. "My name is Domiloff!"
"Domiloff, of course," Brand echoed. "You are still——"
"Still the representative of Russia to the State of Theos. It is true."
"And where am I?" Brand asked, looking around the bare, lofty room with some surprise; "and what am I here for?"
"You are in the House of Customs at Gallona. I met the train at the frontier to secure the honour of a little conversation with you before you proceeded to the capital. I found you exceedingly unwell, and took the liberty of bringing you here that you might have the opportunity of resting a little before completing your journey."
Brand rose slowly to his feet. He was still giddy, but rapidly recovering himself. His last distinct recollection was the coffee which he and the priest had ordered in their coupe. There was a peculiar taste—a swimming in his head—afterwards blank unconsciousness.
"You have been most considerate, I am sure," he said, slowly. "I am glad to have your explanation, otherwise my presence here, under the circumstances, might have suggested unpleasant things to me."