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Chapter 35 THE PAPER CROWN

  • Strange that the old Palace roof should, in close succession; have seen Nikk_orgetting his promise to the Chancellor, and Otto forgetting that he was no_o run away. Strange places, roofs, abiding places, since long ago, o_itches.
  • "How'd you happen to be in that gutter?" Bobby demanded, as they started dow_he staircase in the wall. "Watch out, son, it's pretty steep."
  • "I was getting a ball."
  • "Is this your house?"
  • "Well, I live here," temporized Prince Ferdinand William Otto. A terribl_hought came to him. Suppose this American boy, who detested kings an_rinces, should learn who he was!
  • "It looks like a big place. Is it a barracks?"
  • "No." He hesitated. "But there are a good many soldiers here. I—I never sa_hese steps before."
  • "I should think not," boasted Bobby. "I discovered them. I guess nobody els_n the world knows about them. I put up a flag at the bottom and too_ossession. They're mine."
  • "Really!" said Prince Ferdinand William Otto, quite delighted. He would neve_ave thought of such a thing.
  • A door of iron bars at the foot of the long flight of steps—there were four o_hem—stood open. Here daylight, which had been growing fainter, entirel_eased. And here Bobby, having replaced his mask, placed an air-rifle over hi_houlder, and lighted a candle and held it out to the Crown Prince.
  • "You can carry it," he said. "Only don't let it drip on you. You'll spoil you_lothes." There was a faintly scornful note in his voice, and Ferdinan_illiam Otto was quick to hear it.
  • "I don't care at all about my clothes," he protested. And to prove it h_eliberately tilted the candle and let a thin stream of paraffin run down hi_hort jacket.
  • "You're a pretty good sport," Bobby observed. And from that time on h_ddressed His Royal Highness as "old sport."
  • "Walk faster, old sport," he would say. "That candle's pretty short, and we'v_ot a long way to go." Or—"Say, old sport, I'll make you a mask like this, i_ou like. I made this one."
  • When they reached the old dungeon the candle was about done. There was onl_ime to fashion another black mask out of a piece of cloth that bore a strang_esemblance to a black waistcoat. The Crown Prince donned this with a wildl_eating heart. Never in all his life had he been so excited. Even Dick Deadey_as interested, and gave up his scenting of the strange footsteps that he ha_ollowed through the passage, to watch the proceedings.
  • "We can get another candle, and come back and cook something," said the senio_irate, tying the mask on with Pieces of brown string. "It gets pretty smoky, but I can cook, you'd better believe."
  • So this wonderful boy could cook, also! The Crown Prince had never met any on_ith so many varied attainments. He gazed through the eyeholes, which wer_ather too far apart, in rapt admiration.
  • "As you haven't got a belt," Bobby said generously, "I'll give you the rifle.
  • Ever hold a gun?"
  • "Oh, yes," said the Crown Prince. He did not explain that he had been taugh_o shoot on the rifle-range of his own regiment, and had won quite a number o_edals. He possessed, indeed, quite a number of small but very perfect guns.
  • With the last gasp of the candle, the children prepared to depart. The senio_irate had already forgotten the two men he had trailed through the passage, and was eager to get outdoors.
  • "Ready!" he said. "Now, remember, old sport, we are pirates. No quarter, except to women and children. Shoot every man."
  • "Even if he is unarmed?" inquired the Crown Prince, who had also studie_trategy and tactics, and felt that an unarmed man should be taken prisoner.
  • "Sure. We don't really shoot them, silly. Now. Get in step.
  • > "'Fifteen men on a dead man's chest > Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.'"
  • They marched up the steps and out through the opening at the top. If ther_ere any who watched, outside the encircling growth of evergreens, they wer_ot on the lookout for two small boys and a dog. And, as became pirates, th_hildren made a stealthy exit.
  • Then began, for the Crown Prince, such a day of joy as he had never know_efore. Even the Land of Delight faded before this new bliss of stalking fro_ree to tree, of killing unsuspecting citizens who sat on rugs on the groun_nd ate sausages and little cakes. Here and there, where a party had moved on, they salvaged a bit of food—the heel of a loaf, one of the small countr_pples. Shades of the Court Physicians, under whose direction the Crown Princ_as daily fed a carefully balanced ration!
  • When they were weary, they stretched out on the ground, and the Crown Prince, whose bed was nightly dried with a warming-pan for fear of dampness, wallowe_lissfully on earth still soft with the melting frosts of the winter. He gre_uddy and dirty. He had had no hat, of course, and his bright hair hung ove_is forehead in moist strands. Now and then he drew a long breath of shee_appiness.
  • Around them circled the gayety of the Carnival, bands of students in white, with the tall peaked caps of Pierrots. Here and there was a scarlet figure, _evil with horns, who watched the crowd warily. A dog, with the tull_etticoats of a dancer tied around it and a great bow on its neck, mad_riends with Dick Deadeye, alias Tucker, and joined the group.
  • But, as dusk descended, the crowd gradually dispersed, some to supper, bu_ome to gather in the Place and in the streets around the Palace. For th_umor that the King was dying would not down.
  • At last the senior pirate consulted a large nickel watch.
  • "Gee! it's almost supper time," he said.
  • Prince Ferdinand William Otto consulted his own watch, the one with th_nscription: "To Ferdinand William Otto, from his grandfather, on the occasio_f his taking his first communion."
  • "Why can't you come home to supper with me?" asked the senior pirate. "Woul_our folks kick up a row?"
  • "I beg your pardon?"
  • "Would your family object?"
  • "There is only one person who would mind," reflected the Crown Prince, aloud,
  • "and she will be angry anyhow. I—do you think your mother will be willing?"
  • "Willing? Sure she will! My governess—but I'll fix her. She's a German, an_hey're always cranky. Anyhow, it's my birthday. I'm always allowed a guest o_irthdays."
  • So home together, gayly chatting, went the two children, along the cobble- paved streets of the ancient town, past old churches that had been sacked an_illaged by the very ancestors of one of them, taking short cuts throug_arrow passages that twisted and wormed their way between, and sometime_eneath, century-old stone houses; across the flower-market, where faint odor_f dying violets and crushed lilies-of-the-valley still clung to the bar_ooden booths; and so, finally, to the door of a tall building where, from th_oncierge's room beside the entrance, came a reek of stewing garlic.
  • Neither of the children had noticed the unwonted silence of the streets, whic_ad, almost suddenly, succeeded the noise of the Carnival. What few passers-b_hey had seen had been hurrying in the direction of the Palace. Twice they ha_assed soldiers, with lanterns, and once one had stopped and flashed a ligh_n them.
  • "Well, old sport!" said Bobby in English, "anything you can do for me?"
  • The soldier had passed on, muttering at the insolence of American children.
  • The two youngsters laughed consumedly at the witticism. They were very happy, the lonely little American boy and the lonely little Prince—happy from shee_regariousness, from the satisfaction of that strongest of human inclinations, next to love—the social instinct.
  • The concierge was out. His niece admitted them, and went back to he_nterrupted cooking. The children hurried up the winding stone staircase, wit_ts iron rail and its gas lantern, to the second floor.
  • In the sitting-room, the sour-faced governess was darning a hole in a smal_tocking. She was as close as possible to the green-tile stove, and she wa_ooking very unpleasant; for the egg-shaped darner only slipped through th_ole, which was a large one. With an irritable gesture she took off he_lipper, and, putting one coarse-stockinged foot on the fender, proceeded t_arn by putting the slipper into the stocking and working over it.
  • Things looked unpropitious. The Crown Prince ducked behind Bobby.
  • The Fraulein looked at the clock.
  • "You are fifteen minutes late," she snapped, and bit the darning thread—no_ith rage, but because she had forgotten her scissors.
  • "I'm sorry, but you see—"
  • "Whom have you there?"
  • The Prince cowered. She looked quite like his grandfather when his tutor'_eports had been unfavorable.
  • "A friend of mine," said Bobby, not a whit daunted.
  • The governess put down the stocking and rose. In so doing, she caught he_irst real glimpse of Ferdinand William Otto, and she staggered back.
  • "Holy Saints!" she said, and went white. Then she stared at the boy, and he_olor came back. "For a moment," she muttered "—but no. He is not so tall, no_as he the manner. Yes, he is much smaller!"
  • Which proves that, whether it wears it or not, royalty is always measured t_he top of a crown.
  • In the next room Bobby's mother was arranging candles on a birthday cake i_he center of the table. Pepy had iced the cake herself, and had forgotten on_f the "b's" in "Bobby" so that the cake really read: "Boby—XII."
  • However, it looked delicious, and inside had been baked a tiny black chin_oll and a new American penny, with Abraham Lincoln's head on it. The penn_as for good fortune, but the doll was a joke of Pepy's, Bobby bein_ggressively masculine.
  • Bobby, having passed the outpost, carried the rest of the situation b_ssault. He rushed into the dining-room and kissed his mother, with one eye o_he cake.
  • "Mother, here's company to supper! Oh, look at the cake! B-O-B-Y'! Mother!
  • That's awful!"
  • Mrs. Thorpe looked at the cake. "Poor Pepy," she said. "Suppose she had mad_t 'Booby'?" Then she saw Ferdinand William Otto, and went over, somewha_uzzled, with her hand out. "I am very glad Bobby brought you," she said. "H_as so few little friends—"
  • Then she stopped, for the Prince had brought his heels together sharply, and, bending over her hand, had kissed it, exactly as he kissed his Aun_nnunciata's when he went to have tea with her. Mrs. Thorpe was fairl_tartled, not at the kiss, but at the grace with which the tribute wa_endered.
  • Then she looked down, and it restored her composure to find that Ferdinan_illiam Otto, too, had turned eyes toward the cake. He was, after all, only _ungry small boy. With quick tenderness she stooped and kissed him gravely o_he forehead. Caresses were strange to Ferdinand William Otto. His warm littl_eart leaped and pounded. At that moment, he would have died for her!
  • Mr. Thorpe came home a little late. He kissed Bobby twelve times, and one t_row on. He shook hands absently with the visitor, and gave the Fraulein th_vening paper—an extravagance on which he insisted, although one could rea_he news for nothing by going to the cafe on the corner. Then he drew his wif_side.
  • "Look here!" he said. "Don't tell Bobby—no use exciting him, and of cours_t's not our funeral anyhow but there's a report that the Crown Prince ha_een kidnapped. And that's not all. The old King is dying!"
  • "How terrible!"
  • "Worse than that. The old King gone and no Crown Prince! It may mean almos_ny sort of trouble! I've closed up at the Park for the night." His arm aroun_is wife, he looked through the doorway to where Bobby and Ferdinand wer_ounting the candles. "It's made me think pretty hard," he said. "Bobb_ustn't go around alone the way he's been doing. All Americans here ar_onsidered millionaires. If the Crown Prince could go, think how easy—"
  • His arm tightened around his wife, and together they went in to the birthda_east. Ferdinand William Otto was hungry. He ate eagerly—chicken, frui_ompote, potato salad—again shades of the Court physicians, who fed him a_ight a balanced ration of milk, egg, and zwieback! Bobby also ate busily, an_onversation languished.
  • Then the moment came when, the first cravings appeased, they sat back in thei_hairs while Pepy cleared the table and brought in a knife to cut the cake.
  • Mr. Thorpe had excused himself for a moment. Now he came back, with a bottl_rapped in a newspaper, and sat down again.
  • "I thought," he said, "as this is a real occasion, not exactly Robert's comin_f age, but marking his arrival at years of discretion, the period when h_eases to be a small boy and becomes a big one, we might drink a toast to it."
  • "Robert!" objected the big boy's mother.
  • "A teaspoonful each, honey," he begged. "It changes it from a mere supper to _estivity."
  • He poured a few drops of wine into the children's glasses, and filled them u_ith water. Then he filled the others, and sat smiling, this big young man, who had brought his loved ones across the sea, and was trying to make the_appy up a flight of stone stairs, above a concierge's bureau that smelled o_arlic.
  • "First," he said, "I believe it is customary to toast the King. Friends, _ive you the good King and brave soldier, Ferdinand of Livonia."
  • They stood up to drink it, and even Pepy had a glass.
  • Ferdinand William Otto was on his feet first. He held his glass up in hi_ight hand, and his eyes shone. He knew what to do. He had seen the King'_ealth drunk any number of times.
  • "To His Majesty, Ferdinand of Livonia," he said solemnly. "God keep the King!"
  • Over their glasses Mrs. Thorpe's eyes met her husband's. How they traine_heir children here!
  • But Ferdinand William Otto had not finished. "I give you," he said, in hi_lear young treble, holding his glass, "the President of the United States—Th_resident!"
  • "The President!" said Mr. Thorpe.
  • They drank again, except the Fraulein, who disapproved of children being mad_uch of, and only pretended to sip her wine.
  • "Bobby," said his mother, with a catch in her voice, "haven't you something t_uggest—as a toast?"
  • Bobby's eyes were on the cake; he came back with difficulty.
  • "Well," he meditated, "I guess—would 'Home' be all right?"
  • "Home!" they all said, a little shakily, and drank to it.
  • Home! To the Thorpes, a little house on a shady street in America; to th_raulein, a thatched cottage in the mountains of Germany and an old mother; t_epy, the room in a tenement where she went at night; to Ferdinand Willia_tto, a formal suite of apartments in the Palace, surrounded by pomp, ordere_y rule and precedent, hardened by military discipline, and unsoftened b_amily love, save for the grim affection of the old King.
  • Home!
  • After all, Pepy's plan went astray, for the Fraulein got the china baby, an_erdinand William Otto the Lincoln penny.
  • "That," said Bobby's father, "is a Lincoln penny, young man. It bears th_ortrait of Abraham Lincoln. Have you ever heard of him?"
  • The Prince looked up. Did he not know the "Gettysburg Address" by heart?
  • "Yes, sir," he said. "The—my grandfather thinks that President Lincoln was _ery great man."
  • "One of the world's greatest. I hardly thought, over here—" Mr. Thorpe pause_nd looked speculatively at the boy. "You'd better keep that penny where yo_on't lose it," he said soberly. "It doesn't hurt us to try to be good. I_ou're in trouble, think of the difficulties Abraham Lincoln surmounted. I_ou want to be great, think how great he was." He was a trifle ashamed of hi_wn earnestness. "All that for a penny, young man!"
  • The festivities were taking a serious turn. There was a little packet at eac_late, and now Bobby's mother reached over and opened hers.
  • "Oh!" she said, and exhibited a gaudy tissue paper bonnet. Everybody had one.
  • Mr. Thorpe's was a dunce's cap, and Fraulein's a giddy Pierrette of black an_hite. Bobby had a military cap. With eager fingers Ferdinand William Ott_pened his; he had never tasted this delicious paper-cap joy before.
  • It was a crown, a sturdy bit of gold paper, cut into points and set with re_aste jewels—a gem of a crown. He was charmed. He put it on his head, with th_nconsciousness of childhood, and posed delightedly.
  • The Fraulein looked at Prince Ferdinand William Otto, and slowly the colo_eft her lean face. She stared. It was he, then, and none other. Stupid, no_o have known at the beginning! He, the Crown Prince, here in the home o_hese barbarous Americans, when, by every plan that had been made, he shoul_ow be in the hands of those who would dispose of him.
  • "I give you," said Mr. Thorpe, raising his glass toward his wife, "the give_f the feast. Boys, up with you!"
  • It was then that the Fraulein, making an excuse, slipped out of the room.