"Clearly, M. Petros then knew something about the source of your income," said Marie.
"Agreed, sweet creature, but since I do not have the slightest idea where he is, I can't see how that will help me. I don't even know his full name."
"Cheer up, 'Gene, you will yet see that picture hang."
"More likely to hang myself," he said with a return of awful gloom.
"But the great M. Lourney praised the conception, the breadth, of this, your last picture," the girl said, as her hand pushed lightly through the shock of curls on the man's head.
"Yes, it is good," he said responsively, both to the hope she inspired and the caress she bestowed. That girl understood men. "Krovitch the Bulwark," he continued. "They were a great people, Marie. Their history, unfamiliar to most, has always interested me strangely." His eyes were illumined with enthusiasm as he raised an index arm toward the canvas. "See those vigorous fellows, each a hero. A single nation flinging back from Europe the invasion of the infidel. A heroic subject for a painting, eh, girlie?" He smiled up in her face, his troubles for the nonce forgotten. Get a man talking about his abilities to achieve and you can dispel the darkest gloom from his brow. It was high time to bring him back to earth again, but she knew how. He had had just sufficient gratulation to take the edge off pretended or real misery.
"It is, 'Gene, but it will not pay the rent. Listen." The timid flush mounted to her cheek as she made the suggestion, "Go to the pawnbroker's. Take these trinkets of mine. Beg him to loan you sufficient for your rent. Now, don't refuse. You may redeem them when you can. Besides, you gave them to me." She looked down with affectionate regret at the bracelets, the bangles, the rings, which use and the donor had made dear to her.
Being weak, he hesitated. His need was great. Then kissing the girl lightly, he took them and strode from the room.
"Come right back, 'Gene," she called, happy as only a woman can be in a sacrifice.
During his absence, from her own scanty store of edibles across the hall, she prepared a meal for him. Absorbed in this occupation she gave little heed to the steady tramp of feet ascending the staircase. A peremptory knock recalled her from her world of happy thoughts.
"Entrez," she added, thinking it was one of 'Gene's jokes.
The door opened. Into the room trooped a throng of men, resplendent in black and gold, silver and gray. Her eyes opened in astonishment; so did theirs. Her lips, parted to speak, could only gasp; so could theirs. The surprise was apparently mutual. With true Parisian humor she laughed heartily at the paralysis, and speech was thawed. Colonel Sutphen stood forward and bowed courteously.
"Your pardon, mademoiselle. We were informed that a young man, Eugene Delmotte, resided here. Pardon our mistake, accept our most humble apology and permit us to depart." He moved toward the door as a signal for a general exodus.
"But 'Gene—but M. Delmotte does live here," she cried, in apprehension of the departure of these lordly and apparently affluent strangers who might aid poor 'Gene. The elderly gentleman stopped on hearing this. He regarded her with more chilling politeness.
"And you," he asked, "are Mme. Delmotte?"
"Oh, no, monsieur," she replied simply.
"His—his companion?" The Colonel flushed at his own audacity. The girl smiled forgivingly, though a little wanly.
"Oh, no, monsieur. I am only his friend and occasional model. He is in trouble, messieurs. I came to cheer him up. I live across the hall."
Colonel Sutphen, scanning the far end of the room, failed to find the object of his inquiry. The girl came forward with an explanation as the elderly noble turned a questioning face toward hers.
"He has gone out, monsieur," she said. "He will soon return. He is in debt." She hung her head in distress. Colonel Sutphen turned to Josef in surprise. The latter whispered something in his ear, which apparently satisfied him. The girl closely watched this little by-play.
"Oh, then you know about him, messieurs?" she said. "You will help him? You are his friends?" She was happy for her neighbor.
"Only a few of a great many thousands," replied Sutphen ponderously. "Tell me, mademoiselle, have you any—er—er claims upon M. Delmotte? Are you betrothed? Any claims of er—er sentiment?"
The girl's eyelids dropped as she answered,
"Not that he is aware of, monsieur." Then her eyes blazed at the sudden realization of the indignity put upon her. "Who are you, though, and by what right do you question me? He is an artist and I—I am a friend. That is all, monsieur."
She had little spirit, after all, for a contest; but a door in her heart had been opened, a door that a girl generally keeps closed to mankind, and she naturally resented the intrusion. Look, too, where she would she could not escape the eyes of encircling masculinity.
Carter, appreciating her embarrassment and feeling an American gentleman's compassion for her predicament, undertook a divertisement.
"Fine picture, that," he said, loud enough to be heard by the others. "Those chaps are wearing the Krovitch Lion, too. Coincidence, isn't it?" Involuntary curiosity called all eyes toward the painting. The effect was magical. Astonishment showed in every Krovitch face. They, one and all, uncovered their heads as they recognized in the subject the unconscious expression of their sovereign's patriotism.
"Is that the work of M. Delmotte?" inquired the Colonel with voice softened by what he had just seen.
The girl nodded; she was proud of her friend's ability to move these strangers to reverence.
"Gentlemen—an omen," said the grizzled veteran, pointing to the picture. "History repeats itself."
"Mademoiselle," Carter said gently under cover of the general buzz of excited comment aroused by the picture, "mademoiselle, M. Delmotte is destined to a high place among the great men of the world. While to some is given the power to portray famous events, to a very few indeed it is given to create such epochs. Such men are necessarily set apart from their fellows. Despite the promptings of their hearts, they must forego many friendships which would otherwise be dear to them. M. Delmotte is both fortunate and unfortunate in this." As with careful solicitude for her feelings he strove to prepare her for the separation from the artist, the girl's color came and went fitfully as gradually the truth began to dawn upon her.
"I think I understand, monsieur," she said, grateful for his consideration. Then she continued slowly, deliberately, letting the acid truth of each word eat out the joy in her heart, "You mean that M. Delmotte must no longer know Marie, the model."
The Colonel, who had approached, had overheard this last thing spoken.
"It is possible," the latter hinted, "that he might desire to spare you the pain of leave taking, as he goes with us from Paris—from your world."
"Oh, monsieur," she turned appealingly to Carter, her eyes wide in their efforts to restrain their tears, "is this true?"
Carter nodded his head gravely. Sutphen pressed a fat, black wallet upon her, which she declined gently.
"As a gift," he insisted.
"Oh, monsieur," she cried reproachfully, and with averted face fled from the room.
Sheepishly guilty in feeling as only men can be, the party in the studio awaited expected developments. In a few minutes they heard the approach of a man's footsteps upon the stairs. All eyes turned curiously toward the doorway. Nearer came the sounds, nearer, while with increasing volume their hearts beat responsively. The steps stopped. The waiting hearts seemed to stand still in sympathy. Then the door opened.
"It is he," whispered Josef. All heads uncovered and each man bowed low. Delmotte stood petrified with astonishment.
"Messieurs," he said at last, recovering his speech, "messieurs, I am honored." Then as his eyes lighted on Josef, they sparkled with unexpected recognition. "You are Petros," he said, puzzled by the brilliant throng surrounding him.
"Josef Petros Zolsky, Your Majesty. I am your childhood's retainer and hereditary servitor. Yes, I am he you call Petros," and the white head bowed low as a gratified light kindled in the crafty eyes.
"Majesty! What the devil—am I crazy? I am not drunk," he added regretfully.
"Sire," stammered Colonel Sutphen, "sire, you are the King of Krovitch."
"The devil I am," came the prompt response. Nevertheless the artist threw an affectionate glance at the painting as one might in saying, "You were my people." The piquancy of the situation caused him to smile. "Gentlemen," he said, "if this is some hoax, believe me it is in very poor taste. Taste? Yes, for I haven't eaten in two days. What's your game? I've just come from a pawnbroker's, where I had gone with the paltry jewels of a model, to try and secure enough to pay my rent. You offer me a crown. Corduroys and blouse," he pointed to his garb, "you tempt me with visions of ermine. A throne to replace my stool, and pages of history are given for my future canvases. I am starving, gentlemen," he said half turning away suffused in his own self-pity, "do not trifle with me." He appealed to Josef. "Is this true—what they say, Josef-Petros, or whatever your name is?"
"It is true, Your Majesty."
"A King! A King!" exclaimed the astonished artist. "But still a King without a kingdom—a table without meat. A mockery of greatness after all. Why do you come to tell me this?" he cried turning fiercely on them. "Was I too contented as I was? It is not good to taunt a hungry man. To tell me that I am a crownless King without six feet of land to call my realm, is but to mock me."
"The remedy is at hand, Your Majesty," Sutphen asserted confidently. "Eighty thousand men await your coming, all trained soldiers. We will raise the battle cry of Krovitch and at Schallberg crown you and your Queen."
"My Queen," almost shouted the astonished Delmotte, "have I a Queen, too? Are you all crazy, or am I? Pray heaven the Queen is none other than Marie, else I'll have no supper to-night. Who is my queen?" He asked as he saw the expression of disapproval which appeared on more than one face present.
"The noblest woman under heaven, sire," said Sutphen reverently. "One who well could have claimed the crown herself. She wished a man to lead her people in the bitter strife and waived her claims for you. It is therefore but meet that she who has wrought all this for you should share your throne."
"Why was I chosen?"
"You are descended from Stovik—she from Augustus, the last King of Krovitch, Stovik's rival." So step by step they disclosed their plans, their hopes and ambitions to the dazzled Parisian. Finally, his mind was surfeited with the tale of this country which was claiming him; he turned and, with sweeping gesture, indicated those present.
"And you?" he asked. "And these? I know your rightful name as little as I am sure of my own."
"Your Majesty's rightful name is Stovik Fourth." Then Sutphen presented each in turn. Carter came last. The eyes of these two, so near an age, instinctively sought out the other and recognized him as a possible rival. Probably the first there to do so, Carter admitted that this so-called heir to a throne was nothing but an ordinary habitue of cafe and boulevard; a jest-loving animal, with possibly talents, but no great genius.
The artist, with an assertion of his novel dominance, arose. "I am ready, gentlemen," he said. "My baggage is on my back. I understand that the rendezvous is on the Boulevard S. Michel. Proceed."
Without one backward glance or thought he passed from the attic home, his foot in fancy already mounting his throne. Marie was forgotten in the dream of a royal crown and visions of a distant kingdom.
AT THE HOTEL DES S. CROIX
Some distance back from its fellows on the Boulevard S. Michel, not far from its intersection with S. Germain, stands the one-time palace of the Ducs des S. Croix.
Time, the leveler, seemed to have no more effect upon the princely pile than to increase its hauteur with each passing year. Its every stone breathed the dominant spirit of its founders, until at last it stood for all that was patrician, exclusive and unapproachable.
Its eight-foot iron fence, wrought in many an intricate design, formed a corroding barrier to the over-curious, while its spiked top challenged the foolish scaler. A clanging gate opened rebelliously to the paved way which led unto the wide balustraded steps. The windows, each with its projecting balcony, seemed thrusting back all cordial advances. Along that side toward the Quai D'Orsay, a cloistered porch joined the terrace from the steps to rear its carven roof beneath the windows of the upper floors. Each rigid pillar was lifted like a lance of prohibition. The walls of either neighbor, unbroken, windowless and blank, were flanking ramparts of its secrecy.
The casual pedestrian, after dusk, was tempted to tiptoe lightly across the palace front, so pervasive was its air of mystery. No more fitting place could be found for plots of deposed monarchies and uncrowned kings. The last S. Croix, impoverished in the mutations of generations, reluctantly, half savagely, had swallowed his pride a few years previously and had consented to rent his ancestral halls. The ideal locality and its immunity from the over-curious had appealed to one who, gladly paying the first price asked, had held the place against the day of need. The lease was in the name of Josef Zorsky, none other than the Hereditary Servitor.
Behind the mask of night, the new-found king, with his gentlemen, was driven to the Hotel des S. Croix, where three ordinary Parisian fiacres discharged the royal party who had come directly from the attic studio. His Majesty was the last to alight. Taking Colonel Sutphen's proffered arm, he proceeded toward the entrance, followed by his suite. The place was dark and grim, no light came through the heavily curtained windows and only by a gleam through the transom above the door could the closest observer have discovered that it was inhabited.
A single wayfarer—the neighborhood boasted but few pedestrians after dark—was approaching. As he drew nearer the group about the King he slackened his pace. Probably actuated by some slight natural curiosity aroused by the unaccustomed sight of many men alighting from cabs before a mansion traditionally, and apparently, empty, he could be excused for gazing inquiringly at each of the party in turn. Accident may have made Josef the last to be noticed, but to Carter's watchful eyes it seemed that some lightning recognition passed between the two. Certainly he saw Josef extend two fingers and as rapidly withdraw them. The passer-by acknowledged the signal, if such it was, by the slightest of smiles and passed on toward the Quai D'Orsay. Carter mentally determined to speak to Sobieska at the first opportunity and regretted that his duties to His Majesty for the present prohibited the consultation.
A species of stage-fright, seizing upon the King, sent a quiver through his limbs, causing his knees to quake, his hands to tremble.
"Who will be here?" he asked in a tone he strove desperately to hold natural and easy. He had already received this information, but speech seemed a refuge from his trepidation. If Sutphen had noticed how his king's voice quavered he was too loyal a subject to comment. With the patience of iteration he answered his sovereign.
"The Duchess of Schallberg, the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey, together with the remaining gentlemen of the household, are all anxiously waiting to welcome Your Majesty."
In response to a signal from Sutphen, the doors were flung wide to admit His Majesty, Stovik Fourth, King of Krovitch. An hundred electric lights, doubled and trebled a score of times by pendant crystals and glistening sconces, greeted the eyes of the man who a few short hours before had been a struggling artist.
Half blinded by the brilliance, he hesitated, his foot already upon a way strange to him. He realized numbly how symbolic of his future that present moment might be. New conditions arose suddenly to confront him, only to find him halting, incompetent. He took a step forward. In his embarrassment his foot caught beneath a rug's edge. Calvert Carter's hand, alone, kept the king from sprawling frog-wise on the polished floor. A sudden pallor at the untimely accident came to the face of Sutphen.
"What is it?" Carter whisperingly inquired of the veteran.
"A bad omen, coming as it does as he enters the house," replied the soldier in the same low tone, tinged with the superstition of his race. "I pray God," he continued, "that he turn out no weak-kneed stumbler."
The incident naturally enough had not served to increase the King's self-confidence. After a glance into the impassive faces of the waiting servants, he gathered sufficient grace to proceed and look about him, with eyes more accustomed to the light. With an assumption of ease foreign to his turbulent heart, he took his way along the splendid hall. He was soon lost in a professional appreciation of the evidence of royal circumstance, the glories the succeeding years had generously spared, and which now were enriched and ripened by Times' deft touch.
From their coigns the priceless portraits of the S. Croix gazed complacently down upon him. Royalty had aforetimes been of daily habit to them. Their scornful brows with sombre eyes, their thin curling lips, appeared to be of some alien race. They seemed to hold themselves aloof as though he was a child of their one-time serfs, having no claim upon their bond of caste. Even to himself he felt an impostor, a peasant in a royal mask. That he was really a king had not yet come home to him. He felt no embryo greatness struggling to possess him. Upon his face abode the look of one who dreams of pleasant, impossible things. Half smiling, he was yet reluctant of the awakening he was sure would come and scatter forever the wondrous glories of his slumbers. Unwilling that these creations of pigment, brush and canvas should, by exposing him, dissipate his fancies, he dropped his gaze to find himself approaching the entrance of a brilliantly lighted salon.
What lay beyond?
A new world, a new life, an existence such as he had never dreamed of might be waiting on the thither side. He paused again involuntarily. Beside the richer scene, with all its priceless relics of another age, its warmth, its lights, its rows of bowing flunkeys and his new-found friends, its dream of a crown and distant throne, arose a passing vision of a life he had laid aside. There the plenty of yesterday melted in the paucity of to-day. There cringing cold had crept forlornly in and hunger had been no unexpected guest. There hope and ambition on their brows had ever borne the bruising thorns of defeat and failure. There wealth was a surprising stranger and poverty a daily friend. Friends! Friends! Yes, friends leal and true, a crust for one had meant a meal for all. Such had been real friends. Their jests had banished every aching care and solaced each careless curse of fate. Would this new life give as much? Could the new life give him more? Would even the "glory that was Greece and the splendor that was Rome" repay him for the sleepless nights, the watchful anxious days of him who fought, who ruled, who trembled upon an uncertain throne?
Having chosen he feared to turn back, lest men should call him a craven and coward. Sensual visions of a greater luxury than this around him came to console him as the picture of the attic life slipped from him.
He stepped beyond the boundaries of regret into the radiant portals of the salon.
A woman stood before him.
Unconsciously his fingers itched for the abandoned brush while his thumb crooked longingly for the discarded palette. Here was a subject fit for his Muse, a Jeanne d'Arc whose soul was beaming from her luminous eyes. Not that maid of visions and fought fields, but as she hung flame-tortured in the open square of Rouen. No peasant soul this, rather a royal maiden burning on the altars of her country. Awkward and speechless he stood before her. Instinct apprised him that this was no other than Trusia, waiting to receive her King.
Her head was held high in regal pride, but her eyes were the wide dark eyes of a fawn, fear-haunted, at the gaze. Her throat and shoulders gleamed white as starlight while her tapering arms would have urged an envious sigh from a Phidias or a David. Her gown of silk was snow white; the light clung to its watered woof waving and trembling in its folds as though upon a frosted glass. Diagonally from right to left across her breast descended a great red ribbon upon whose way the jeweled Lion of Krovitch rose and fell above her throbbing heart. This with her diamond coronet were her only jewels. The high spirited, whole-souled girl was face to face at last with the man she had vowed to marry to give her land a king.
Unswervingly her fearless eyes probed to the soul of Stovik and dragged it forth to weigh it in the balance with her own. Fate had denied her heart the right of choosing, so she had prayed that at least her King should be great and strong of soul. Fate in mockery had placed before her an ordinary man to rule her people and her future life.
As though to gain courage from the contact, her hand sought and rested upon the jeweled Lion of her race. Slowly she forced her lips into a little smile, which one observer knew was sadder than tears.
Carter, standing behind the King, was madly tempted to dash aside the royal lout to take her in his arms where she might find the longed-for solace of her pent-up tears.
Colonel Sutphen with a courtly bow took her hand and turned to the monarch.
"Your Majesty," he said gravely, "this is Trusia, Duchess of Schallberg, than whom the earth holds no sweeter, nobler woman. To God and Trusia you will owe your throne. She has urged us, cheered us, led us, till this day has grown out of our wordy plans. See that she has her full measure of reward from you. Though our swords be for your service, our hearts we hold for her in any hour of her need."
Sutphen's keen eyes had never left the sovereign's face while speaking. If the words were blunt his manner had been courtly and deferential. With a courtesy which was superbly free from her inmost trepidation, Trusia swept up the King's reluctant hand, pressing it to lips as chill as winter's bane.
"Sire," she said in a voice scarcely audible, "sire, I did no more than many a loyal son of Krovitch. I—we all—will give our lives for our country and her rightful king."
"Duchess! Lady Trusia," stammered the flushing, self-conscious king embarrassed by the kiss upon his hand, "I fear I am unworthy of such devotion. Unused to courtly custom I feel that I should rather render homage unto you. They tell me, these friends who say that they are my subjects, that I am your debtor. My obligations may already be beyond discharge. Add no more by obeisance." The poorly turned speech awoke a slight defiance in Trusia's heart. It was oversoon, she thought, for her King to patronize her.
"Your Majesty mistakes," was the quick retort, "my homage is to Krovitch. We are equals—you and I."
"I could ask no greater distinction than equality with you." Stovik's answer was a pattern of humility, which Trusia in her loyalty was quick to see. Her face softened.
"If Your Majesty will deign to come, I have something over there I think will interest you," and she indicated the far end of the room where stood a velvet draped table guarded by two gentlemen in hussar uniform. With her hand upon his arm Stovik sedately approached the place. Here he saw nothing but the bulk of objects covered by a silken cloth. This Trusia removed.
The act disclosed a crown, a sceptre and a jeweled sword. Before them on the cushion also lay the grand badge of the Order of the Lion with a fine chain of gold.
"As the hereditary head of the Order, sire," Trusia remarked as she raised the glittering insignia, "you are entitled to assume the mark at once." Without further words she drew the chain over his head letting the Lion depend upon the breast of his artist's blouse.
Lifting up the crown he turned to her mischievously. "Why not this?" He made a gesture to put it on his head.
"It will be a burden, sire. That's why they are all made so pleasing to look upon; gemmed and jeweled, just as sugar coats a bitter pill. A crown means weariness and strife. Are you so anxious to take up its cares? They will come soon enough." She spoke in a sweetly serious voice that was not without its effect upon him. "Besides," she said, "the Bishop of Schallberg has waited many years to perform that office. Would you rob him of it?"
Although Stovik replaced the glittering loop upon the velvet pall, he smiled to think how little the Church had entered into his former scheme of life. Trusia seemed to divine his thoughts, for, as his ascending eyes met hers, she continued speaking of the aged prelate.
"He is a dear old man, sire, kindly and gentle. The beggars and little children call him their patron saint. Well past the allotted span of years, he has prayed to be spared until the day when he can anoint the head of the King of Krovitch. Then, he says, he will die joyously."
The King murmured his hopes for a longer life for the Bishop, and Trusia turned to present her chaperon, the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey, with the remaining gentlemen of the Court.
After the formalities had been attended to, and he had received the sincere good wishes of his nobles, the King turned to the beautiful girl at his side.
"Do you leave with us to-morrow?" he asked. "Of our future plans I have had necessarily only a sketch. So little time has elapsed since Colonel Sutphen visited Eugene Delmotte that King Stovik can readily be forgiven for some slight ignorance."
"If it meets with Your Majesty's approval, we will start to-morrow for Vienna," Trusia said. "There we will await Colonel Sutphen's summons from your capital, Schallberg. Major Carter, Josef, myself and the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey will accompany Your Majesty. The other gentlemen will attend the Colonel. They precede us to ascertain if all is in readiness."
"Will the gentlemen travel in uniform?" The King's glance about the room had not been free from an apprehension that such a course might awaken inquisitive questions from officials.
"Oh, certainly not, Your Majesty," the girl reassured him. "Your Majesty will procure a passport made out to Eugene Delmotte, artist. You will be traveling to Krovitch for studies for the painting I hear you are making. The uniforms will be a part of your paraphernalia."
"Will there be no risk?"
"Is Your Majesty unwilling to take the least? Your subjects must indeed seem reckless to you." Trusia's tone indicated the depth of her reproof.
"I suppose that did sound rather selfish," he hastened to confess, "but the truth is that I do not yet realize that I am actually a king. That I, a few hours ago a penniless artist, should be plunging into a national movement as its leader, its king, seems nothing short of a dream. But tell me, Duchess, from whom we should fear detection?"
"This is a national movement of ours, sire. Some chance may have aroused Russian suspicion, but believe me, I'd stake my life on your people's loyalty. St. Petersburg may be apprehensive, but they know nothing of the real truth nor the imminence of our uprising. Here is Colonel Sutphen, doubtless wishing to talk more fully of our plans to you," she concluded as the grizzled veteran stood courteously awaiting their leisure to speak with the King.
Feeling free to do so now, she turned to her American aide. "Major Carter," she said, "I think His Majesty can spare me now. Won't you tell me of your adventures to-night?" Taking the arm he offered they strolled together into the hall. Being there out of the royal presence they were at liberty to seat themselves. An alcove held a tempting divan. Here they found a place.
"Your Grace," he said in a tone he strove valiantly to hold within the pitch of social usage, "let me rather tell you how beautiful I fancied you to-night."
As the handsome fellow bent his head toward her, she was possessed of a strange yearning. The plans, the plots, the wearying details of years had almost deprived her of the solace of sex; in the role of patriot she had well-nigh forgotten that she was a woman. A hunger for her due, so long deferred, spoke in her voice.
"Yes," she said honestly, "please do. Anything to make me forget for the few minutes I can call my own. Tell me a fairy-story," she commanded with almost childish eagerness. "Or have you Americans foresworn fairies for Edisons?"
"I know one who has not," he answered, falling soothingly into her mood. "He has seen the Queen, Titania."
"Well, tell me about her. Oh, I do hope that she was beautiful," and she dimpled bewitchingly.
"She was—fairy queens are always beautiful, and sometimes kind. Once upon a time—all fairy-stories have happened once upon a time—there was a man."
"Yes," she interrupted, bending expectantly toward him.
"He was poor," he continued quietly.
"Oh," she exclaimed in disappointment.
Carter shook his head understandingly. "He was an artist. He hoped one day to be called a genius. The fairy queen knew this was not to be so she made him a king and gave him—part of her kingdom." He paused to find her looking down, a shade of sadness on her face. Noticing his pause she looked up.
"Well?" she asked.
"There was another man," he continued. "This other man was not poor. He was not an artist, but to-night he saw the fairy queen in all her regal splendor. It made him think that all the flowers in all the worlds condensed into one small but perfect bloom were not so sweet as she. So the other man more than ever wished to rule in her fairyland—with her."
"No, no," she cried, detecting the prohibited note, "you must not speak so." Her hands crumpled the morsel of cobweb and lace she had for handkerchief. Carried away with her proximity, however, he would not now be denied.
"This is but a fairy-story, Duchess. Oh, Fairy Queen, could you not find a kingdom for the other man in fairyland—a kingdom with you as Queen?"
His naked soul was laying pleading hands upon her quivering heart. She turned away, unable to withstand the suppliance of his eyes.
"You do not know what you ask," she whispered hoarsely. Then vehemently spurring her resolve into a gallop, she added, "When the King is crowned in Schallberg, I become his wife."
"Suppose he isn't," he urged doggedly.
"Oh, no," she cried brokenly, "don't make me a traitor to my country's hopes. Don't make me wish for failure."
Unwittingly her words confessed her love for Carter. Grimly forcing her weakness back into her secret heart, she turned a calm front to him once again.
"Enough of fairy-stories, Major Carter," she said. "We live in a workaday world where the 'little people' have no place. All of us have our duties to perform. If some be less pleasant than others it is no excuse for not fulfilling them to the uttermost. We have a hard day before us. With His Majesty's permission, therefore, I will retire for the night." She arose as she said this, so Carter had no other alternative than to follow her into the royal presence.
From a balcony at the far end of the room, crept a faint note of music. The players were carefully concealed behind banked palms and gigantic ferns. To the surprised ears of those unaware of their presence it came first as a single note, then a chord, a stave, a vibrant meaning. It was like a distant bugle call across a midnight plain. It swelled into a challenge.
Then, echoing the hoof beats of horses, it swept into a glorious charge. All the invisible instruments crashed valorously into their fullest sounds. The arteries of the listeners throbbed a response to its inspiration. Trusia, her eyes gleaming like twin stars, laid her hand softly on the royal arm.
"Oh, sire," she cried, "it is our nation's battle song."
Carter sighed. He saw that her loyalty would hold her to an alliance against her heart.
Possessed by the ardor of the song, the nobles, drawing their swords, cried in ecstatic chorus, "For Krovitch! For Krovitch!" In their pandemonium of joy, Carter's distress was unnoted.
He could not longer endure the sight of the prophetic association; it seemed as if they were receiving nuptial felicitations as they stood there side by side, so with a heavy heart he crept up to his own apartment, where, at least, without stint, he could indulge his thoughts. After the brilliance of the salon, the single light in his room seemed puling and weak, so he crossed over and extinguished it. In doing so, he found himself near the window, which, opening to the floor, door wise, looked along the roof of the stone porch. A cooling sweep of moonlight fell on Carter's face and urged him to peace of soul. He never noticed the soft indulgence of Diana, for, as he glanced streetward, he recalled the incident of Josef and the stranger. Drawing an easy-chair into the zone of moonlight he lit a cigar and strove desperately to find a clue.
"Two fingers—that means two something, at first glance. Has it any further significance?" he pondered. "Of course it was prearranged, when and how—and does Sobieska know? If he doesn't, Josef has correspondents unknown to Krovitch—that alone looks dangerous. I'll look up Sobieska. It's now twenty minutes of two," he said as he consulted his watch. A swift inspiration caused him suddenly to raise his head. "I've got it. The house is all still now. Two—two—two o'clock, that's the solution. They're to meet at two o'clock. Where? I can't wait for Sobieska, there's no time."
He bent over and slipped off his military boots and put on a pair of moccasins he always wore about his room. Cautiously he opened the long window and stepped gingerly upon the roof. "Josef won't dare go out the front way; so to leave the grounds he'll have to pass beneath me, and I can follow if he does." Placing one hand on the bow window beside him, he leaned over to peer into the moonlit yard beneath.
After he had waited what seemed a double eternity he was rewarded by seeing a shape disengage itself from the shadows about the servant's quarters in the rear, and come and stand directly beneath his place of observation. Somewhere a clock struck two. There was a grating sound as of the moving of rusty hinges from the direction of the front of the house, and the first comer had a companion with whom he instantly began a whispered conversation, of which, strain his ears as he might, Carter could catch only four words,—"Your report—and lists." The man whom he supposed to be Josef drew a bulky sheaf of papers from his breast pocket and passed them to the mysterious stranger. It was time to interfere, Carter thought. Swinging by his arms until his legs encircled the stone pillar he slid to the porch and, leaping to the ground, confronted the conspirators. Instinctively his first act was to clutch the papers, and as he did so he was struck from behind and fell unconscious to the ground. As his senses passed from him, he was dimly conscious of a surprise that neither man was Josef. A sleepy determination possessed him to hold grimly to the papers. Then all was blank.
* * * * *
He wished they wouldn't annoy him, he remonstrated drowsily. When he was asleep he didn't have that awful pain in his head. As he opened his eyes he smiled vacuously into Trusia's face. That brought him to his senses with a jerk. A candle sputtered fitfully in a gilt stand beside him on the ground. Trusia's arm was about his shoulder. The King and, yes, Sobieska were there. And that other figure, that was Josef. He glanced at his own right hand. It was still tightly clenched, but held no papers.
"How did you know I was here?" he inquired, his voice a trifle husky and weak. He looked at the girl against whose breast he leaned; her reply alone could satisfy him.
"Josef, in going around to see if all things were locked tight, heard you groaning, and, not knowing who it was, gave the alarm."
Carter struggled to his feet and, though a trifle dizzy yet from the blow of his unseen foe, was able to stagger into the house. There Trusia, with a woman's tender solicitude for those for whom she cares, without the intervention of servants poured from a near-by decanter, and forced Carter to drain, a goblet of wine. Under the stimulant his strength returned.
"If Count Sobieska will lend me his arm I think I can retire now. How I came in the yard—I see you are all curious though too polite to inquire—I'll tell you in the morning when I feel more fit. At present I have either a strange head or a beehive on my shoulders, I don't know which."
When he reached his room and the Count entering also had closed the door, Carter threw off much of the assumed languor, and told the Counselor the whole of the tale. The Krovitzer shook his head dubiously. "Josef found you at quarter past three this morning—yet you say Josef was not one of the two men. Did you see the faces of both?"
"Only a glance. Both were bearded. The one who came from the back part of the house was dark, black eyebrows, heavy black beard, pallid face, or so it looked in the moonlight. The visitor was undoubtedly Russian."
"It may have been soot," said Sobieska musingly. "I remember now that, while the rest of his face looked remarkably like a freshly scrubbed one, there was a long dark smear along one of Josef's eyebrows as we brought you into the house; but that is not enough to convict him of the treason, however strong a suspicion it arouses. Well, things are looking a trifle as if Vladimar not only knows where we are, but why we are here. We'll have to strike quickly—as soon, in fact, as we set foot in Krovitch again."
I SAW—I KNOW
The next day they left Paris. Almost the first person Trusia espied at the railroad station was General Vladimar, a stately young aide, and the Casper Haupt of yesterday. Carter felt a thrill of recognition for the latter; he was the passer-by of the night before who had received Josef's signal, and, yes, it was the man who had met the Hereditary Servitor in the moonlit shadow of the porch.
The General bustled forward with easy appearance of boisterous friendliness. The group split; the King was adroitly surrounded by Sobieska, Muhlen-Sarkey and Carter, while Trusia and Sutphen advanced to meet and check the too curious Russian.
He smiled blandly as he tacitly acknowledged to himself that he had been gracefully repulsed in one direction. Glancing at the baggage of the party, he bent over Trusia's hand with almost real deference.
"So soon?" he inquired with a gesture toward the trunks. "It is almost as if I was hurrying you off," he laughed. Sutphen was reading what was back of the man's eyes. The Russian seemed so sure of his game that like a cat with a mouse, he played at friendliness. "I am going again to Schallberg, soon," he continued in his same manner of large good nature, "and hope the beastly hole will furnish more excitement this time. Could you arrange it, eh, Colonel?" and he turned smilingly to the troubled Krovitzer.
"We'll try," replied the veteran, "forewarned is always forearmed."
Vladimar assumed a look of gravity. "Let's not speak of arms, good friends, for your—for all our sakes. There's my train! Adieu; bon voyage." Without waiting to see the impression of his words, he left them. They were all conscious of an unrest caused by the Russian's advent. He had mentioned his return to Schallberg; could he know of what was going forward? Trusia summoned the Hereditary Servitor.
That those waiting in Krovitch should be informed of their coming, Josef was directed by her to send an already prepared cipher dispatch. The white-haired servitor did so with commendable alacrity. Assured that the operator had actually transmitted it, he filled in a blank for himself, with the following simple message: "Reach Bregenz Thursday. Be on hand. Josef." Dating it, he handed it to the official. The latter carefully read and reread it, then turned quizzically to Josef.
"A thousand pardons, m'sieu," he said, "but you have given no address."
"How stupid," laughed the old fellow. "It is for Fraulein Julia Haupt, Notions Merchant, 16 Hoffstrasse, Bregenz."
Long before their first objective was reached, the journey had proven exceedingly irksome to one member of the party; while, for the greater part of the time, a conscious restraint held both Trusia and Calvert in a silence broken only when the monotony grew unbearable. Stovik, lost in wonderment at his future regal state, and a trifle awed at the high-bred girl beside him, added but little to the conversation. The Countess Muhlen-Sarkey awoke only when there was a fitful attempt to break the embarrassment which held all the others. The quondam Parisian openly welcomed each stopping-place as an excuse to escape from such uncongenial companionship. In the throngs on the platforms he found both transient excitement and opportunities of stretching his cramped and restless limbs. Josef conscientiously attended him on these brief excursions, never relaxing for an instant his grave watchfulness over his royal charge.
There was a protracted stop at Bregenz. Being at the entrance of the Austrian Tyrol, there followed a rigid frontier examination of baggage. The three men excused themselves to Trusia and descended to the station in order to expedite matters as much as possible by their prompt appearance and presence. Apparently by accident, in the pushing crowd, Josef and his royal charge were separated from Carter, who was temporarily lost to view. Having no apprehension on that score, they gave no heed to his absence, but shouldered their way to the groups about the piled-up trunks where they knew he would rejoin them. After having their belongings properly vised, the pair stood watching the panorama of the crowd.
Carter, at last catching sight of his fellow travelers, noted with some apprehension that they were being pretty closely watched by an alert-looking, middle-aged man. Receiving a covert nod from Josef, the latter had disappeared at once into the human medley. With all expedition, therefore, the American rejoined them. He read a question in Josef's eyes which changed into a defiance as the latter read in the newcomer's that the incident had not escaped him.
Just then Stovik caught him by the arm. "Look, Major," he cried, indicating a vivacious Austrienne at no great distance from where they stood, "isn't that a dainty morsel?" Carter turned to see that the woman was freely indulging in an ocular conversation with His Majesty.
"Monsieur," Carter commenced in dignified remonstrance, only to be cut short by a peevish King.
"See here, Carter, official business does not begin until we reach Schallberg. I'll practically be a prisoner for life if all goes well. I am not going to give up without just one more fling at the pomps and vanities of this wicked world."
To emphasize his assertion, he smiled gaily at the pretty woman, whose lips parted in audacious invitation.
"But the Duchess," Carter persisted, frowning.
"That's just it," Stovik replied unblushingly. "I am not accustomed to such women as Her Grace. When near her I have to keep a tight rein on my tongue for fear of being guilty of a faux pas. A pinch of a round cheek, a warm kiss given and returned, an arm about a lithe waist, is what I like. Her Grace is an iceberg."
Carter flushed angrily at the comparison. He restrained with some difficulty the stinging words of rebuke which sprang to his lips in Trusia's defense.
"Oh, I know what you would say," continued the royal scamp. "I admit her patriotism, sacrifices, devotion, and all that sort of thing. Frankly, though, we are too dissimilar ever to get along together. The differences are temperamental. Environment and education have made an insuperable barrier to our mutual happiness."
A hope he could not restrain lighted Carter's face at these careless words. "Do you mean," he inquired gravely, simulating a solemnity he felt but little, "do you mean that you will not marry Her Grace of Schallberg?"
The King, coming close, looked searchingly into Carter's eyes and laughed in faint raillery; he partially understood. His reply was evasive. "It is not every one," he said, "who can gain a throne by marrying a pretty girl." Shrugging his shoulders, he abruptly left his companions and approached the woman, with whom he did not seem to have any difficulty in establishing a cordial relation.
Carter reluctantly retraced his steps to the car. He was joined by Josef. The American nodded his head savagely toward where the monarch could be seen in high glee at his conquest. Taking this, apparently, as an indication that his persuasive offices were desired in that direction, Josef approached his royal master with deferential remonstrance. He touched the elbow of the oblivious King, who instantly turned. Irritated by what he could see of the express disapproval of his conduct in the smug face of the servitor, he inquired harshly what the fellow wanted.
"Beg pardon, m'sieu," stammered the old man, "but the train starts immediately." If Josef's poor efforts had been intended to persuade the return of the King they had been made with but little understanding of the character of the man addressed. The contrary effect was produced.
"So do I," responded His Majesty curtly, annoyed at what he considered an impertinent surveillance. "I shall rejoin the party at Vienna. You may call me when we arrive. Not before." He turned his back upon the discomfited Josef.
Carter, on reentering the car, braced himself to render an acceptable yet plausible excuse for Stovik's absence. The Countess Muhlen-Sarkey was placidly sleeping in the corner. Trusia was sitting with palm-propped chin, gazing straight out of the window. This kept the full view of her face away from such of the party as might chance to enter the car. Carter saw enough, however, to convince him that she had been weeping. One forgotten tear hung tremulously on her lashes as though too reluctant to part with her grief. A fierce resentment seized him. He turned to leave the car, determined to drag back the graceless King by the neck if necessary.
"Don't go," she pleaded as though comprehending his intentions. Unable to refuse her request he sat down beside her.
"Duchess," he began in the alternative of explanation; "His Majesty——"
"Has chosen to ride in another car," she interrupted, loyally unwilling that even he should criticise the King of Krovitch. "It is his right. I, a subject, would not attempt to pass in judgment upon the acts of my sovereign." There was a sad weakening of voice as she completed her defense, which convinced Carter that she had seen the whole disgusting performance.
"Forgive me," he said very gently.
"I saw," she admitted in distress. A woman, urged by pride, she had at first refused his sympathy. Finding pride insufficient for her solace, she now, womanlike, sought what she had refused. The entrance of Josef, at this juncture, however, and the resumption of the journey, deprived Carter of what had been the most propitious moment he had yet had to bind her heart indissolubly to his own.
How much the King had disclosed, how much the woman had discovered, Carter was unable to find out, as Stovik maintained a sulky silence in the face of all inquiries.
IT WAS JUDSON'S FAULT
Calvert Carter had a very democratic conversation with His Majesty of Krovitch. They were standing on the platform of the station at Vienna waiting with ill-concealed impatience for the train which was to carry them into Krovitch. Needless to say, their talk turned upon the King's recent misbehavior. It contained a sketchy outline of what the American considered would happen did the monarch again put such an affront upon Her Grace.
"You threaten, Major Carter?" asked Stovik with the insolence inseparable from a recent exaltation from humble life.
"No, Your Majesty," replied Carter, no whit annoyed by the other's ill-temper; "I never threaten. I promise." That was all that was said. Neither Eugene Delmotte in his proper person nor the future ruler of Krovitch was able, however, to withstand the cool, hard glitter in the American's eyes.
They boarded the waiting train as they came to this understanding. King Stovik's conduct for this new journey was exemplary. Nor were there other pretty coquettes available. He even exerted himself sufficiently to take an interest in the general conversation, at which Trusia's face brightened with appreciation.
Houses, fields, woods, mountains and sky fled by as the train sped on. At last the Vistula was crossed. Trusia's face grew radiant as the landmarks of her country began to appear on every hand. With grumbling wheels the cars drew nearer Schallberg.
"See, away off there to the northeast. There, that tiny speck against the sky," she cried rapturously as one returning home from a long sojourn abroad. "That is my castle. Do you see it, Your Majesty?" she asked, as she turned appealingly to him. "Schallberg, your capital, lies this side of it. The city is in a valley on the far side of this mountain we are now climbing." The whole party were peering out of the windows on the rapidly changing landscape, eagerly awaiting the first view of the place of their hopes.
The train, sobbing out its protests against the steep ascent, soon brought them into a region of puzzling circumstances. Flashing past rural crossroads, they could see large groups of excited peasants talking, gesticulating and laughing, as they one and all were pointing in the direction of the capital. To their greater bewilderment, videttes in jaunty black and gold could be seen, as if courting publicity, patroling the public highways.
"What can it mean?" asked Trusia, whose heart beat wildly with a surmise she dare not voice.
The crest of the mountain was reached. The city lay spread before them. Over the Government buildings floated the Lion of Krovitch. The standard, waving gently in the breeze, seemed beckoning them to approach.
"The city is ours," burst simultaneously from their lips. The train in one headlong descent drew up at the station at Schallberg.
Looking out they could see a multitude of eager, expectant faces turned trainward. All Schallberg and most of the surrounding country had congregated to welcome their sovereign.
In the front rank Carter espied his former friends, while last but not least a jubilant Carrick awaited his alighting. A guard was drawn up about the platform on which stood the little group of officers.
Urged to the front, King Stovik was the first to step into view of the throng. Recognizing him, the officers drew their swords and raised them high above their heads.
"Long live King Stovik!" they cried.
For the life of a sigh there was a silence while the multitude realized that this man was their King. Then a pandemonium of cheers shattered the air. A roar of two centuries of repressed loyalty greeted him. He would indeed have been of meagre soul not to have been touched by such devotion. Handkerchiefs, hats, and flags were waved by his people—his people—at sight of him. What could be the limited fame of an artist compared to the devotion of an entire people for their sovereign? He stood erect, proudly lifting his hat to the full height of his arm in dignified response. There came a mightier cheer.
"Long live Stovik Fourth!"
"God save the King of Krovitch!"
"A Lion for the Bear!"
Filled with the moment's majesty, Stovik stepped down to greet his officers.
Next came Trusia. The crowd caught sight of her happy, inspired face. She was recognized by all; they knew and worshiped her. A wilder cry, a mightier joy, made up of mingled cheers and tears, went up at sight of her. Her bosom heaved, her lips trembled. At the thought of her country's salvation her glorious eyes grew soft and moist. Lovingly, almost maternally, she held out her arms to her beloved countrymen.
Somewhere in the crowd a woman's voice was heard to cry: "Saint Trusia; angel!" Ten thousand voices took up the acclaim. She shook her head reprovingly as she, too, joined the group about His Majesty. After Carter and the others stepped upon the platform, the former looked about him for his whilom chauffeur. Carrick, with some difficulty, pushed his way through the crowd and was soon at his master's side.
"'Ave a pleasant trip, sir?" he asked, his mobile countenance abeam with joy at the meeting. The aide cast a significant glance at the crowd, then at the Krovitch standard, before replying.
"Fairly, Carrick," he said. "I notice that you and our friends have been busy hereabouts in our absence," he added, hinting at an enlightenment.
The Cockney's face grew red with embarrassment as he answered lightly, "Yes, we 'ave sort of kept our hands in, sir. It's a long story," he appended, appreciating that his master must have some natural curiosity regarding the premature change in plans which had resulted in the capture of the city before the coming of the King. The American smiled, he felt sure that the fellow had had a greater part in the proceedings than he would like to confess in public. Something on Carrick's sleeves seemed to confirm this supposition.
"All right," he answered, "I guess it will keep until we have reached our quarters. By the way how did you get the chevrons of a sergeant-major? That's the highest rank a non com. can aspire to."
Carrick grinned. "That's part of the story, sir," he retorted.
Zulka, having made his devoirs to the sovereign, now approached his friend.
"Surprised, Cal?" he queried.
"I surely am, Zulka. How——" Carter began when he was interrupted by the Count who laid a friendly hand upon his shoulder.
"Things are moving," said the Krovitzer with a twinkle in his eye. "I'm busy, ask Carrick." He chuckled as if it were a huge joke.
"I feel as if I had missed something big," the American replied with the generous regret of one who would have thoroughly enjoyed his own share of the labor.
"Thank Carrick for that. Here comes Sutphen. He'll be Marshal for this," he said as the grizzled commanding officer approached. All three saluted.
"Congratulations, Colonel," said Carter as the elder man acknowledged their formal courtesies.
"Sorry I can't congratulate you, Major," the veteran replied with a dry chuckle; "the truth is that you have lost a valuable asset by the victory." Calvert was properly mystified.
"So?" he questioned; "I haven't missed anything yet."
"A good attendant," the other explained, pointing to the Cockney. "Our army will never let him go, now. They'd sooner give him my place. Nothing but continued obstinacy on his part hinders him from wearing shoulder straps."
"Carrick seems in high favor about here," Carter remarked as a more pronounced hint for enlightenment. Sutphen grunted.
"Let him tell you, then," he said. "Excuse me. Her Grace is looking this way." He straightway departed to escape explanations and Zulka followed him.
While these greetings were being exchanged, the populace were not idle. With enthusiastic vigor they had removed the horses from the equipages meant for the royal party, and now, through a spokesman, begged permission to draw the carriages themselves as a token of their devoted allegiance. Stovik gaily agreed when their request was explained to him.
"Come with me, Sergeant," Calvert requested. Elated at the opportunity, the Cockney leaped into the landau beside him. Pulled, pushed and surrounded by a cheering, happy pack, the entire suite was whirled along toward Trusia's castle. When well under way, the New Yorker turned to the man beside him. He seemed to beg Carrick for an explanation of the day's mystery.
"Well," he ejaculated, in the assurance that the Cockney always comprehended his monosyllabic meanings. Carrick reddened sheepishly under the other's gaze.
"You remember Judson? Sergeant Judson, of old E Troop?" he inquired, not knowing how to commence his narrative.
"Yes," Carter replied, "what of him?"
"It's his fault," Carrick answered, pointing at the densely packed mass of Krovitzers about them.
"What are you driving at?"
"It's this wye, sir," said his whilom chauffeur, taking grace of words. "You know we struck this plyce yesterday. Feelin' out o' plyce among them furrin-speakin' Krovitzers I hiked down to the Russian guard mount."
"You mean that you understood Russian better than the native language?"
"Not that, sir, but I knew I would feel more at 'ome there than I would with the big bugs. When I got there the band was a plyin' over at the side o' the square, the flags was aflyin', and blyme me if something didn't stick in my throat, thinkin' of old times, sir." His eyes grew soft at the recollections evoked. "When it came time for 'Sergeants front and centre' I got to thinkin' how old Sarge Judson used to stalk up as proud as Colonel Wood himself. I 'ad to rub my bloomin' eyes, for large as life, there was Doc Judson with all them whiskered chaps."
"Surely, Carrick," interrupted the astonished Carter, "you must be mistaken. You don't mean Sergeant Judson of the First Volunteer Cavalry?"
"The syme, sir. When they countermarched back to barracks I saw 'im again. That was fine, sir," said the fellow enthusiastically. "Quite like old times, sir. Right 'and grippin' the piece; left 'and swingin' free. Swingin' along, swingin', swingin', swingin' to the music o' the band. When a fellow who is out of it has been in the service, 'e feels bloomin' soft when 'e sees the fours sweep by 'im. I wanted to cheer and swing me bloomin' cap just to keep from blubberin'. Then, right guide of his four, come Judson. Six paces awye he saw me. He turned white, then red, but like the good soldier 'e was, 'e never let it spoil 'is cadence. 'E tipped me the wink and passed by. I waited. Presently 'e came back. 'Are you with the gang at the castle?' 'e arsked. I said I was. 'Cut it, Bull, and run,' 'e said. They used to call me John Bull, you know. Then 'e added slow as if 'e was not sure 'e 'ad the right to tell—'I'm on to their game. To-morrow mornin' I'm goin' to squeal on 'em to the commandant. That'll give you plenty o' time for you to get awye. For old times' syke, Bull,' 'e said as 'e gripped my 'and."
Then Carrick went on to narrate how Judson had told him that a fellow named Johann, who had broken jail, had just that morning drifted into the guardhouse where the sergeant had the relief. He had promised Judson if given twenty-four hours' start he would disclose a big game of treason. Judson promised, and the fellow,—none other than the pent-browed peasant,—had related all he knew of the Krovitzers' plans. Carrick confessed to some trepidation when he had heard that so much was known outside their own party. But he had stood his guns manfully and refused to fly. He gave as his reason his loyalty to Calvert Carter. When Judson learned that his old captain was walking straight into the impending peril he was greatly surprised, but promised to take care of him or forfeit his life. Carrick by way of reply had innocently inquired who was sergeant of relief that night.
"'E was wise, though," said Carrick with a laugh. "'E looked at me suspiciously. 'I am,' 'e said with a jerk; 'why?'
"'Better 'ave ball cartridges,' I says, 'I'm goin' to give you a surprise. That's a fair warnin' for a fair warnin', Doc,' I said. 'E showed 'e was worried. 'E begged me not to do it, sayin' that they'd 'ave ball cartridges an' reinforcements a-plenty to-morrow, which is to-day, sir. I knew by that that they were shy at that time, sir. I found out that their strength was only 'arf a battalion. We sprung our surprise last night, sir, overpowered the sentries and took the bloomin' town."
"It will surely be traced to Judson, Carrick. You know what that means for him. I hope the poor fellow made his escape before they had the chance of standing him up against the wall. Did you see him again?" Carrick's mobile face took on an unaccustomed gravity.
"Once," he answered with some effort. "Don't worry, sir, the Russians won't bother him. You see," he hurried on with obvious haste, "we sneaked on each sentry until we came to Number One Post. It was near the gates—connected by phone and electric light wires with the barracks."
"How did you manage?"
"Cut the bloomin' wires."
"Didn't the guard rush out?"
"They did, sir. Couldn't find their pieces in the dark. They rushed right into the arms of the two companies Colonel Sutphen had there waiting for them. Only one, a sergeant, 'ad grit enough to fight. 'E picked me out, sir. Rushed me with 'is sword and gave me all I could do," said Carrick giving gallant tribute to a valiant foe. The Cockney became silent.
"Well?" inquired Carter after a prolonged season of expectancy.
"The old trick you taught me in E Troop did for 'im, sir. As 'e fell, 'e said, 'Bull, you are a damned rascal,' and laughed as if the joke was on 'im. 'I'm done for, Bull,' 'e went on, 'but I'd rather die this wye in a fair fight with a friend, than blindfold against the wall for a traitor. Take care o' Cap Carter, 'e said. Then 'e croaked."
"Judson," cried Carter regretfully at the death of a brave man.
"Judson, of old E Troop," replied Carrick solemnly. "We sounded taps over 'im this mornin', sir."
A SOUND AT MIDNIGHT
Two days later a royal banquet followed by a cotillion celebrated the coming of the King. The monarch was in the white uniform of a Field Marshal, above which his handsome face rose in striking contrast. His collar, heavy with gold embroidery, seemed held in place by the Star of the Lion. At his right hand sat Trusia, resplendent and warmly human, while flanking him on the left was the grizzled Sutphen. Carter's place as an aide was far down the side of the table. Only by leaning forward, and glancing past those intervening, could he get a glimpse of the marvelous woman, who, young as she was, had made this event a possibility.
Sallies, laughter, repartee came floating down to him. A momentary pang of envy shot through him that the royal party, which to him meant Trusia, should be in such high feather. Owing to his remoteness it was impossible for him to participate in their mirth, so he resigned himself to the duty of entertaining the daughter of an elderly nobleman who was under his escort.
"And you," he said, "you, too, are delighted with the dashing King. Confess."
"I am afraid," she laughed back, "that all girls, even in America, dream what their ideal king should be."
"Your sex's ideal man?" he inquired quizzically.
"Oh, no, monsieur," she replied with grave, wide eyes. "Our ideal man is only a prince."
"Then your ideal king must be something more than a man," he said in soberer mood as she unfolded to him the working of a maiden mind, which is always awe-inspiring.
"Yes," she responded, "something less than a god."
"And the maidens of Krovitch, what have they dreamed?"
She glanced up to see if his expression matched the apparent gravity of his words. Reassured by the entire absence of banter in his face, she answered him sincerely. She was too guileless to analyze his possible mental attitude save by these superficial indications. "A demigod like our ancient sovereign, Stovik First," she responded reverently.
"So you have deified His Majesty already?"
"God save His Majesty from ill," she answered, "but I think he is very human—and handsome." She blushed uneasily. A merry peal of laughter from the group about the King drew their attention. Leaning her elbow on the cloth, the girl turned her head to learn the cause of the hilarity. Carter, thankful for the opportunity, employed the pause in studying Trusia. The Duchess's eyes were sparkling like some lustrous jet. The deep flush of the jacqueminot burned in her cheeks as she smilingly regarded Natalie, the heroine of the jest. Was all this scintillation a mask, he wondered, or had the coming of the King—the remembrance of her vow—driven the recollection of that momentary surrender in Paris from her heart? He sighed. The girl next him turned in apology.
"Forgive me, monsieur, for forgetting you. But Her Grace—is she not beautiful? When she makes us girls forget, is it any wonder the youths of Krovitch are oblivious of our poor existence?"
"She has had many suitors, then?" Carter to save him could not refrain from the question.
"A legion," she answered; "but all have withdrawn nobly in favor of the King. Even Paul Zulka and Major Sobieska. They are transferring to him their lives and their swords to please her."
A slight commotion at the head of the table again caused them to turn their heads in that direction. The King was rising.
"He is going to announce his betrothal," suggested the girl at Carter's side. Carter's face grew grim and white. But such was not the royal intent. Being assured that all present understood French, King Stovik in a short speech thanked the people of Krovitch for their devotion to his House. He promised that, if destiny placed him on their throne, he would treat his power as a trust for them.
"For this day at least we give ourselves over to the joy of meeting you. To-morrow comes the fearful care of kings. You have labored faithfully, to-night be merry," he said in conclusion. He lifted a bubbling glass from the table. "Our battle cry, my lords, is 'God and Krovitch.'"
There was an hysteric outburst. Men and women leaped to their feet to drain the toast. When the King regained his seat the cheers subsided. Slowly, impressively Trusia arose at his side, the light of inspiration radiating from her glorious self like the warm light that comes from the sun.
"There can be only one other toast after that, my people," she said. "God save the King." Like a real prayer, solemn and soul-felt, arose a responsive, "God save the King." Then deliberately, that the glasses might never be profaned with a less loyal toast, the guests snapped the fragile stems between their fingers and cast the dainty bowls to the floor in tinkling fragments.
At a signal from Stovik the banquet was over. He arose, and, taking Trusia by the hand, escorted her to the great hall to lead the cotillion with him. The royal pair having departed, the guests arose and, in the order of their precedence, filed into the ballroom in the train of their King.
The first figure, patriotically named the "Flag of Krovitch," was danced by Stovik, Trusia and seven other couples all nearly related to royalty, each person waving a small silken flag bearing the Lion of their race.
Carter, from the throng, with hungry eyes saw but one wondrous form, supported on the arm of royalty, glide through the graceful maze. A lull came in the music and Stovik, bowing the Duchess to her seat, turned with evident relish to a coquettish brunette who had assured him that they were first cousins.
Having fulfilled the demands of Court etiquette in yielding first place to her sovereign, Trusia was now free to indulge any other preference for partners for the ensuing figures. The American glanced covetously toward the place where Sobieska and Zulka stood, expectantly awaiting her invitation. With a mild negation of her head she passed them, moving to where Carter was engaged talking to the Countess Muhlen-Sarkey. Seeing her approach, his heart beat with a foolish hope and his remarks to his matronly auditor, took on a perplexing shade of incoherence. Evidently Trusia shyly expected him to accept the courtesy; as through a myriad phantoms, where only she was real, he threaded his way to her side.
"You are the stranger within our gates," she explained as in rhythmic unison they drifted into the cadence of the waltz.
"Have I awakened," he inquired, "or is this part of the dream I had in the Boulevard S. Michel?"
"It must have been a dream, monsieur," she said with sad finality. "It is folly to encumber one's life with useless dreams."
"Your Grace wishes it?" he asked in halting syllables wrenched from a heavy heart.
"For your own happiness, now," she answered with a meaning nod toward the King.
"But," he pleaded, "it was such a beautiful dream."
"Dreams are—sometimes. Then we awake." He felt the slight tremor against his arm as she spoke.
"I wish," he sighed impotently, "that you were an American girl."
She smiled mechanically to hide the sadness welling in her breast. "Wishes," she murmured resignedly, "are too near akin to dreams for me to indulge them. Besides I have a country to hope for. Why should I join you in such a wish?"
"Have you, then, realized your wishes in His Majesty?" It was a brutal thing to say; he saw it when too late to recall the words which had passed his lips.
She shrank as if struck. Her eyes spoke the volumes of her appeal. They read in his a hopeless prayer for forgiveness, and graciously, gently, she pressed his arm under her hand as a sweet upward glance assured him of absolution. Like the sigh in his own soul, sweet and low, the music died out. The figure was finished.
Pleading fatigue, Carter sought the quarters assigned him in the castle. His senses were awhirl, his spirits high in the chimera that Trusia cared for him. Had he been compelled to remain in attendance he felt certain that he would have bruited his glad tidings abroad. Between the throbs of hope, however, with growing insistence threaded the stinging pulses of despair and pity; despair that destiny would never give her to him as wife, pity that she should sacrifice her own sweet self to a man who had no real affection for her. Hers was a nature, he well knew, requiring the full measure of tenderness to bloom in its fullest beauty. Believing her beyond his reach he felt a sudden overpowering sense of utter loneliness. Fully clad as he was, he flung himself upon his bed, but his arm, his breast, still tingled with the contact from the dance. Sleep held aloof from him. Darkness was no refuge from her tempting face, for, visible to his soul, it stood between him and the gloom.
From the distant hall, augmenting his restlessness, came occasional snatches of music mingled with the hum of voices. The hours passed on while he tossed nervously on his bed. Then the music stopped. Laughter and farewells floated up to him. In a few minutes all was silence save for the footfalls of the sentries on their posts.
Somewhere in its boat of song, the nightingale was floating on the sea of darkness. Drawn aimlessly by the pathos of the songster's lay, Carter wandered to the window to gaze out into the moonless midnight. Racking his quivering heart, his imagination dwelt on a pictured life with Trusia, emphasizing the sweet moments of her complete surrender.
Time lost all measure in his rhapsody. He might have stood leaning over the sill a day or a second, when a sound, persistent and murmuring, haled him back to mundane things. Intermittently, but with growing volume, from somewhere beyond the wall of black, came the echoes of an army in passage. He could separate the different noises. That, he recognized by its deep grumbling noise, was cannon; the rattling sound, like an empty hay wagon, was caissons, while the muffled, thudding echo was cavalry at the trot. The force, apparently a heavy one, did not seem to be coming from Schallberg. He leaned far out of the window challenging the darkness with his peering eyes. Dimly he could descry the plateau about the castle with its low bastions at the cliff's edge. Indefinite shapes pacing along the wall he knew to be Krovitzer sentries. He fancied he heard a challenge on the distant road, a halt, then the invisible army took up its march again.
Straining every sense, he concluded that the force was moving from, and not toward, the frontier. Sutphen, then, for some unknown reason, must have consented to withdraw part of his none too strong army from points which Carter believed to be greatly in need of reinforcement. He debated with himself, therefore, the military necessity of confirming these impressions. Knowing, however, how prone to offense the plethoric Colonel could be, and reassured by the fancied challenges, he relinquished the idea. Growing drowsy with the extra mental exertion, he divested himself of his clothing and was soon in bed and asleep.
During his slumber another detachment passed, then another, while just before dawn a heavy force of infantry at double time went down the road.
Carter arose late the next morning. After a hasty breakfast, too early, however, for the other participants in the evening's festivities, he buckled on his sabre and, taking his fatigue cap, strolled out upon the terrace. He found the Minister of Private Intelligence pacing moodily back and forth on the stone flags. Acknowledging his salute, Carter stopped and spoke.
"Anything doing?" he inquired with a cheerful air.
Sobieska nodded. "Zulka's in command of Schallberg. Sutphen with a small force occupies Markos due east of the capital. Lesky's Rifles have seized Bagos on a line with both at the western frontier. This completes our alignment on the south. Wings have been thrown out from both Markos and Bagos to the extreme north, making a monster 'E' of which we are the middle arm."
Carter betrayed surprise. "Well, what force was that which passed during the night?" he asked. "I thought you said Sutphen had only a small command on the frontier, yet there were two or three parks of heavy artillery went by."
"I didn't hear them," responded Sobieska, "but Josef reported them as reinforcements from the Rifles for the frontier. There may have been some cannon, but not as many as you think. He dare not weaken his strength that way."
"It seemed to me," said Carter dubiously, "that they marched from the frontier, not toward it. But how did Josef come to report it? Where was the officer of the guard?"
Sobieska turned an indulgently commiserating smile on Carter.
"Haven't you heard?" he asked as he lightly flicked the ash from his morning cigar. Carter pleaded ignorance.
The Privy Counselor drew close to his shoulder and spoke in a confidential tone. "Josef has made himself indispensable to His Majesty. He begged for, and yesterday received, a commission as Colonel of Hussars as a return for services in restoring the King to his own. Whether or not at his own request, he was yesterday appointed Officer of the Guard. It was in the line of his duty that he reported." He next spoke as to one in whom he could safely confide. "I don't like the look of things there," he said, pointing toward the frontier. "There weren't too many men, in my opinion, to hold it as it was. Now they have withdrawn part of that force. Unless they can mobilize quickly on this road we are holding wide open arms for Russia's forces. However," he said hopefully, "last night's movement may have been to cure the evil."
Setting them down to the vagaries of darkness, Carter dismissed his surmises of the night before as untenable in the face of this explanation. His companion continued his promenade nervously along the front of the castle. Carter joined him.
"There is another matter," said the Krovitzer with a slight contraction of his brows, "that is causing me some little annoyance. I am very punctilious about some things and exact promptitude as the greatest qualification in my subordinates. I should have had dispatches from London and Paris two days ago. I am out here now waiting for Max to arrive with them. It's a minor matter, but it has made me uneasy."
"Information concerning Carrick?" Carter queried.
"Yes," Sobieska replied. "What is that?" he asked with more than usual animation as the dull sound of distant booming interrupted them.
"Krupp guns," Carter answered, as much in surprise as for the information of the other. "Russia must have awakened at last. Sounds like a general engagement," he said as the volume of the distant sounds increased.
"We'll have to inform His Majesty. Hope he is awake." Sobieska started for the door. Carter lingered, for just then Trusia appeared in the entrance.
She seemed a part of the sweet, pure morning. Clad in an informal riding habit, such as he had frequently met in early rides in Central Park, in her starched waist, khaki skirt and broad-brimmed felt, she made a charming picture against the grim doorway.
"Plotting?" she asked with a gay little smile, shaking her bamboo crop at them. "You look like surprised conspirators. Major Carter, I'll have to claim your escort this morning. Casimir is still asleep. I'm afraid Lady Natalie danced him to death last night, the will-o'-the-wisp. His Majesty has his duties for some hours to come, as I can tell by that portentous frown on Sobieska's face. I, alone, once so busy, now find time hanging heavy on my hands. Can you come?"
"My only duty, Highness, is to serve you. That makes any duty a pleasure."
"Rather well done," she said with head on one side critically, "just a trifle stiff. I saw Carrick at the stable and anticipated your acquiescence. He is saddling a mount for you. Here he comes now," she added, as the clatter of hoofs on the flags approached from the direction of the stables.
The Cockney approached leading two horses. He held Trusia's foot as she leaped lightly into the saddle. After he was satisfied that she was properly mounted he came to the off side of Carter's horse. There was a request written in every line of the earnest face.
"Well?" asked Carter bending down from his saddle.
"May I go too, sir? Just as groom, sir. Please, sir?" he added, seeing a shade of dissent upon his master's face. "The truth is, sir, I 'ad a bad dream last night. Don't laugh," he pleaded as the corners of Carter's mouth twitched suggestively, "don't laugh. It was too real, too 'orrible. I thought an army rode over you and 'Er Grace and tramped you down. You called out to me to 'elp. I could 'ave saved you, but was too far away. Let me go, sir; just as groom. I'll keep far be'ind." The fellow was honestly distressed, so Carter sent him to Trusia, who gave him the desired permission. Then for the first time the Major noted that Carrick wore his sabre. The holster by his saddle held a revolver.
CARRICK WAS FAR BEHIND
Carrick was far behind. Overhead the tattered roof of leaves made a lacework of the sun. Birds were singing; their bright eyes turned curiously on the young couple passing beneath their verdant bowers. Tiny feathered brides nodded dainty heads, urging the great, stupid, human fellow to sing the love song in his heart to the girl by his side. "Mate now," they chirped, "in leaf time, in flower time, while fields are warm and nature yielding. The great mother, herself, commands it."
The impulses of nature were astir in the breasts of both Trusia and Carter, awakening in each a silent rebellion against a destiny which was forcing them to talk of trivial nothings which add naught to the greater issues of life. So far they had bowed to the dictates of destiny, but were growing more and more restive under the self-imposed restraint.
The horses stopped to drink from a stream which crossed their path. Carter, glancing in the direction of its source, saw that a heavy limb had fallen from a dead tree, blocking the passage of what had otherwise been but a wavering string of water. Restrained, however, it had mounted higher and higher, until at last, broadened, strengthened, and deepened, it had swept triumphantly over the dam and kept on its way. He felt that he was undergoing the same process in restraining the natural expression of his love for Trusia. Unconscious of his comprehension, she, too, had grasped the lesson of the stream. Their satiny nozzles dripping sparkling drops of water, the horses resumed their progress beneath the forest colonnade.
Trusia turned to him. Her resolution had been difficult to reach.
"When Krovitch is free," she said, "you must still remain with our army." She observed him covertly as she awaited his reply. The hopefulness, which at first drew him erect, gradually disappeared, leaving in its wake the bending lines of despair. There was a drawn look in his face as he turned to answer.
"No," he said, and moodily turned his eyes away again.
"That means you will return to America." A subtle sensitiveness could have construed this to embrace a query, a request and a regret. The slightest quiver inflected her voice as she had spoken, but she bravely finished without a break. Poor girl, she, too, was suffering. She was sending away her ideal lover with only a meagre taste of maiden romance to make life all the more sorrowful for the having. All this he felt. As he recognized what it must mean to her—to any woman—deprived of man's right of initiative in declaration, he was tempted to gather her roughly in his arms and carry her away from duties, friends, country even, to fulfil her own happiness, which was his. The maxillary muscles ached with the strain his restraint put upon them.
"I must go. I must," he replied. "Pride, honor, sanity demand it."
"It is better so," she said softly as she bent her head. She, a Jeanne D'Arc to her people, was inured to sacrifice. Above all, sweet and clean, she saw Duty shine through Love as the sun shone through the leaves above her head. So was the royal duchess fortified for her future. Then Trusia, beautiful and desirable, Trusia, the woman, rebelled that destiny should have ignored her in the plans for Trusia the princess.
"I will never see you again—as a dear friend—after you have gone. But I—but Krovitch will never forget you." Then in her royal pride that felt no noble confession could shame her womanhood, she turned almost fiercely upon him.
"Oh, why was I chosen for the sacrifice? Why couldn't I be as other women? Natalie need not drive her friends away. Alone; I stand alone." Her breath came in short, sobbing gasps which she fought courageously to silence.
Carrick was far behind. Forgetting everything except the quivering heart of the girl beside him, Carter leaned over and drawing her gently toward him, patted the convulsive shoulders with awkward masculine solace. Like a child in the shelter of maternal arms, the glossy head, forgetful for the instant, nestled against his shoulder, soothed and at peace. While Duty had manacled the queen, the woman had been justified. Then she sighed. With a weary gesture of renunciation she sat upright in her saddle, looking directly to the front. A single tear hung quivering on her lashes.
"Another dream for the Queen to sigh over," she commented with a quick laugh, flavored of wormwood.
"Why must it be?" he queried. "You do not love the King." Then all the tide of courage flooding past his lips, he asserted against all denial,—"You love me."
The regal head drooped as she turned from him.
"'I would not love you, dear, so much, Loved I not honor more,'"
she quoted sadly.
"But it is not honor; it is sacrifice," he argued.
"What duty is not?" she questioned sadly.
"It is madness," he fumed impotently.
"Think of my people." She shook her head in magnificent self-abnegation, putting aside the tenderer visions which were thronging her heart, picturing her life with the man at her side. "Their welfare demands it."
He leaned across to plead with her. The loose flying tresses of her hair touched his cheeks in elusive salute. They beckoned him closer and ever closer. His heart could be heard, he feared, so loudly did it beat. He could feel the great red surges being pumped through arteries, too small for their impulsive torrents. They choked him.
"Trusia," he cried hoarsely, for the first time using her Christian name. The entire soul of the man, every particle of his entity, had entered into the saying of that name.
Startled, she turned to learn the reason for his vehemence; that voice had spoken so compellingly to her eyes, ears, heart and body, and had sought out every resistance and overcome it. Her eyes, held captive to his gaze, were wide with question.
"I love you," he continued with quiet masterfulness, as one who, staking all on one throw of the dice, dispenses with pretense and braggadocio in the face of despair. "Listen to me. I would make you happy. I'd be your devoted slave, till white-haired, aged and blissful, life should pass from us gently as the echoes of a happy song of spring."
"You make it so hard for me," she said pleadingly.
"Forgive me, sweetheart, but love will not be denied," he answered. "Let the King have Krovitch, and you come with me." His face was close to hers, his heart was slowly, strongly closing on her own fluttering heart.
She felt that, unless she could at once throw off the spell, in another minute she would be limply lying in his arms in complete surrender to his plea. For a long eternity it seemed that, strive as she would, she could not conquer herself. Then she sat erect; the victory was won.
"I cannot; I cannot," she replied tensely, the last modicum of will summoned to resist what he sought and she desired. "The King"—she began, bethinking her of her reason; "you know that he is not always prudent. Mine is a hot-headed though loyal people. I must be by to guide him—for Krovitch. But, ah, 'twill be with a heavy heart!"
He leaned across from his saddle. "I care not for Krovitch so much as you do. Tell me that you love me."
She turned away her face that the eye of the man might not see and be blinded by the white light of the woman's love which shone in her own countenance.
"Say it, Trusia," he urged; "say it for my soul's peace."
With a royal pride in the confession, she turned her head, meeting his regard with level eyes.
"I love you, Calvert," she responded simply.
Carrick was far behind. Though she struggled faintly, he drew her to him. Her face was turned up to his. Her eyes shone misty, dark and wonderful, like the reflection of stars on the shimmering waters of a lake. They illumined his soul. Her lips for the first time received a kiss from any lover. Then cheek to burning cheek, they passed the crest of a little hill and rode slowly down its thither side.
Like an accusation, from some place behind them, rang out the unmistakable clang of sword on sword. They reined in their horses to listen.
"Carrick," hazarded Trusia, voicing the premonition paralyzing both. Then, forgetful of self, in the chivalrous creed of her race, she pointed back in the direction of the noise. "Go," she commanded, "he needs you."
"But you?" he demurred, his first thought, lover-like, being for her safety. His eyes fell approvingly upon the thick covert by the roadside. He nodded suggestively toward it.
"Yes, I'll be safe—I'll hide," she promised eagerly; "now go." He fairly lifted his horse from its feet as he swung it around. In mighty bounds it carried him over the crest of the hill.
Two hundred yards away, Carrick could be seen defending himself gamely against the combined attack of three mounted men. Something, even at that distance, about their uncouth horses and absurdly high saddles, sent a shiver of recognition through Carter. He had seen thousands of their ilk along the Neva. The trio of strangers were Russian Cossacks. How had they passed the Krovitch outposts some miles back? The boldness of their onslaught argued the presence of reinforcements in the neighborhood. Could it be part of a reconnoissance in force? The sudden memory of the passing of the invisible army in the darkness came back to Carter with sinister meaning. He realized that it had been an invasion by a Russian army. Krovitch had been betrayed—by Josef. Carrick was in danger.
He roweled the horse's side. The animal, smarting under the punishment, plunged forward like some mad thing. Settling firmly back in his saddle for the crash to come, Carter drew his sabre with the yell that had swept the Americans up San Juan Hill and the Spaniards out of Cuba.
One Cossack, startled at the unexpected shout, turned his head for an instant in the direction of the approaching succor. It served for Carrick. Like a tongue of lightning his nimble sword entered the tough brown throat. Even from that distance the American could distinguish the "Ht" of the brute as he fell, lifeless, in the road. In order to make short work of the agile swordsman, the other two closed grimly in. The Cockney had had some difficulty in disengaging his blade from the falling man, permitting his adversaries to push their ponies so close to his sides that he could work only with a shortened blade. Appreciating what terrific additional handicap this would be to Carrick, Carter was yet scarcely prepared for the immediate tragedy that followed. Like the phantasmagoria of dreams, he saw the Cockney, cut, slashed, and pierced, fall heavily from his horse.
Just a second too late, he burst upon them. With the yell of a baffled animal Carter hurled himself upon the nearest Cossack. His fury was volcanic. Terrified by such titanic rage the pair gave way as to something superhuman, wielding an irresistible sword. Blood-lust made him see everything through a mist, red and stinging. He was a Cave Man. His opponents were pigmies who shrank back, appalled, by his murderous might. One Slav saw death beckon him, so fell, wild-eyed, to the ground, his neck spurting a fountain of blood. The other, too paralyzed with terror to fight or flee, stood irresolutely in the mid-road, his ugly face twitching with an idiotic grin. Carter, hell in his heart, rode fiercely against his horse. The Cossack raised a futile blade. Carter battered it down with vengeful satisfaction, driving its point through the fellow's heart.