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!
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!"
"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.
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.