> " _Morbleu, Monsieur_ , you give me too much majesty," said the Prince.— _The History of Henry Esmond_.
"These gentlemen doubtless wish to confer—let them sequester themselves!" an_rmitage waved his hand to the line of empty sleeping-rooms. "I believ_onsieur Durand already knows the way about—he may wish to explore my trunk_gain," and Armitage bowed to the two men, who, with their wrists tied behin_hem and a strap linking them together, looked the least bit absurd.
"Now, Claiborne, that foolish Oscar has a first-aid kit of some sort that h_sed on me a couple of weeks ago. Dig it out of his simple cell back there an_e'll clear up this mess in my shoulder. Twice on the same side,—but I believ_hey actually cracked a bone this time."
He lay down on a long bench and Claiborne cut off his coat.
"I'd like to hold a little private execution for this," growled the officer.
"A little lower and it would have caught you in the heart."
"Don't be spiteful! I'm as sound as wheat. We have them down and the victor_s ours. The great fun is to come when the good Baron von Marhof gets here. I_ were dying I believe I could hold on for that."
"You're not going to die, thank God! Just a minute more until I pack thi_houlder with cotton. I can't do anything for that smashed bone, but Bledso_s the best surgeon in the army, and he'll fix you up in a jiffy."
"That will do now. I must have on a coat when our honored guests arrive, eve_f we omit one sleeve—yes, I guess we'll have to, though it does seem a bi_ffected. Dig out the brandy bottle from the cupboard there in the corner, an_hen kindly brush my hair and straighten up the chairs a bit. You might eve_oss a stick on the fire. That potato sack you may care to keep as _ouvenir."
"Be quiet, now! Remember, you are my prisoner, Mr. Armitage."
"I am, I am! But I will wager ten courses at Sherry's the Baron will be gla_o let me off."
He laughed softly and began repeating:
"'Why, hear you, my masters: was it for me to kill the heir apparent? Should _urn upon the true prince? Why, thou knowest I am as valiant as Hercules; bu_eware instinct; the lion will not touch the true prince. Instinct is a grea_atter; I was a coward on instinct. I shall think the better of myself an_hee during my life; I for a valiant lion, and thou for a true prince.'"
Claiborne forced him to lie down on the bench, and threw a blanket over him, and in a moment saw that he slept. In an inner room the voices of th_risoners occasionally rose shrilly as they debated their situation an_rospects. Claiborne chewed a cigar and watched and waited. Armitage wakene_uddenly, sat up and called to Claiborne with a laugh:
"I had a perfectly bully dream, old man. I dreamed that I saw the ensign o_ustria-Hungary flying from the flag-staff of this shanty; and by Jove, I'l_ake the hint! We owe it to the distinguished Ambassador who now approaches t_ly his colors over the front door. We ought to have a trumpeter to herald hi_rrival—but the white and red ensign with the golden crown—it's in th_eather-covered trunk in my room—the one with the most steamer labels on it—g_ring it, Claiborne, and we'll throw it to the free airs of Virginia. And b_uick—they ought to be here by this time!"
He stood in the door and watched Claiborne haul up the flag, and he made _ockery of saluting it as it snapped out in the fresh morning air.
"The Port of Missing Men! It was designed to be extra-territorial, and there'_o treason in hauling up an alien flag," and his high spirits returned, and h_talked back to the fireplace, chaffing Claiborne and warning him against eve_gain fighting under an unknown banner.
"Here they are," called Claiborne, and flung open the door as Shirley, he_ather and Baron von Marhof rode up under the billowing ensign. Dick steppe_ut to meet them and answer their questions.
"Mr. Armitage is here. He has been hurt and we have sent for a doctor; but"—and he looked at Shirley.
"If you will do me the honor to enter—all of you!" and Armitage came ou_uickly and smiled upon them.
"We had started off to look for Dick when we met your man," said Shirley, standing on the steps, rein in hand.
"What has happened, and how was Armitage injured?" demanded Judge Claiborne.
"There was a battle," replied Dick, grinning, "and Mr. Armitage got in the wa_f a bullet."
Her ride through the keen morning air had flooded Shirley's cheeks with color.
She wore a dark blue skirt and a mackintosh with the collar turned up abou_er neck, and a red scarf at her throat matched the band of her soft felt hat.
She drew off her gauntlets and felt in her pocket for a handkerchief wit_hich to brush some splashes of mud that had dried on her cheek, and th_ction was so feminine, and marked so abrupt a transition from the strang_usiness of the night and morning, that Armitage and Dick laughed and Judg_laiborne turned upon them frowningly.
Shirley had been awake much of the night. On returning from the ball at th_nn she found Dick still absent, and when at six o'clock he had not returne_he called her father and they had set off together for the hills, towar_hich, the stablemen reported, Dick had ridden. They had met Oscar jus_utside the Springs, and had returned to the hotel for Baron von Marhof.
Having performed her office as guide and satisfied herself that Dick was safe, she felt her conscience eased, and could see no reason why she should not rid_ome and leave the men to their council. Armitage saw her turn to her horse, whose nose was exploring her mackintosh pockets, and he stepped quickly towar_er.
"You see, Miss Claiborne, your brother is quite safe, but I very much hope yo_ill not run away. There are some things to be explained which it is only fai_ou should hear."
"Wait, Shirley, and we will all go down together," said Judge Claiborn_eluctantly.
Baron von Marhof, very handsome and distinguished, but mud-splashed, had tie_is horse to a post in the driveway, and stood on the veranda steps, his ha_n his hand, staring, a look of bewilderment on his face. Armitage, bareheaded, still in his riding leggings, his trousers splashed with mud, hi_eft arm sleeveless and supported by a handkerchief swung from his neck, shoo_ands with Judge Claiborne.
"Baron von Marhof, allow me to present Mr. Armitage," said Dick, and Armitag_alked to the steps and bowed. The Ambassador did not offer his hand.
"Won't you please come in?" said Armitage, smiling upon them, and when the_ere seated he took his stand by the fireplace, hesitated a moment, as thoug_eighing his words, and began:
"Baron von Marhof, the events that have led to this meeting have been somewha_ore than unusual—they are unique. And complications have arisen which requir_rompt and wise action. For this reason I am glad that we shall have th_enefit of Judge Claiborne's advice."
"Judge Claiborne is the counsel of our embassy," said the Ambassador. His gaz_as fixed intently on Armitage's face, and he hitched himself forward in hi_hair impatiently, grasping his crop nervously across his knees.
"You were anxious to find me, Baron, and I may have seemed hard to catch, bu_ believe we have been working at cross-purposes to serve the same interests."
The Baron nodded.
"Yes, I dare say," he remarked dryly.
"And some other gentlemen, of not quite your own standing, have at the sam_ime been seeking me. It will give me great pleasure to present one o_hem—one, I believe, will be enough. Mr. Claiborne, will you kindly allo_onsieur Jules Chauvenet to stand in the door for a moment? I want to ask hi_ question."
Shirley, sitting farthest from Armitage, folded her hands upon the long tabl_nd looked toward the door into which her brother vanished. Then Jule_hauvenet stood before them all, and as his eyes met hers for a second th_olor rose to his face, and he broke out angrily:
"This is infamous! This is an outrage! Baron von Marhof, as an Austria_ubject, I appeal to you for protection from this man!"
"Monsieur, you shall have all the protection Baron von Marhof cares to giv_ou; but first I wish to ask you a question—just one. You followed me t_merica with the fixed purpose of killing me. You sent a Servian assassi_fter me—a fellow with a reputation for doing dirty work—and he tried to stic_ knife into me on the deck of the _King Edward_. I shall not recite m_ubsequent experiences with him or with you and Monsieur Durand. You announce_t Captain Claiborne's table at the Army and Navy Club in Washington that _as an impostor, and all the time, Monsieur, you have really believed me to b_ome one—some one in particular."
Armitage's eyes glittered and his voice faltered with intensity as he uttere_hese last words. Then he thrust his hand into his coat pocket, stepped back, and concluded:
"Who am I, Monsieur?"
Chauvenet shifted uneasily from one foot to another under the gaze of the fiv_eople who waited for his answer; then he screamed shrilly:
"You are the devil—an impostor, a liar, a thief!"
Baron von Marhof leaped to his feet and roared at Chauvenet in English:
"Who is this man? Whom do you believe him to be?"
"Answer and be quick about it!" snapped Claiborne.
"I tell you"—began Chauvenet fiercely.
" _Who am I_?" asked Armitage again.
"I don't know who you are—"
"You do not! You certainly do not!" laughed Armitage; "but whom have yo_elieved me to be, Monsieur?"
"Yes; you thought—"
"I thought—there seemed reasons to believe—"
"Yes; and you believe it; go on!"
Chauvenet's eyes blinked for a moment as he considered the difficulties of hi_ituation. The presence of Baron von Marhof sobered him. America might not, after all, be so safe a place from which to conduct an Old World conspiracy, and this incident must, if possible, be turned to his own account. H_ddressed the Baron in German:
"This man is a designing plotter; he is bent upon mischief and treason; he ha_ontrived an attempt against the noble ruler of our nation—he is a menace t_he throne—"
"Who is he?" demanded Marhof impatiently; and his eyes and the eyes of al_ell upon Armitage.
"I tell you we found him lurking about in Europe, waiting his chance, and w_rove him away—drove him here to watch him. See these things—that sword—thos_rders! They belonged to the Archduke Karl. Look at them and see that it i_rue! I tell you we have rendered Austria a high service. One death—on_eath—at Vienna—and this son of a madman would be king! He is Frederic_ugustus, the son of the Archduke Karl!"
The room was very still as the last words rang out. The old Ambassador's gaz_lung to Armitage; he stepped nearer, the perspiration breaking out upon hi_row, and his lips trembled as he faltered:
"He would be king; he would be king!"
Then Armitage spoke sharply to Claiborne.
"That will do. The gentleman may retire now."
As Claiborne thrust Chauvenet out of the room, Armitage turned to the littl_ompany, smiling.
"I am not Frederick Augustus, the son of the Archduke Karl," he said quietly;
"nor did I ever pretend that I was, except to lead those men on in thei_onspiracy. The cigarette case that caused so much trouble at Mr. Claiborne'_upper-party belongs to me. Here it is."
The old Ambassador snatched it from him eagerly.
"This device—the falcon poised upon a silver helmet! You have much to explain, Monsieur."
"It is the coat-of-arms of the house of Schomburg. The case belonged t_rederick Augustus, Karl's son; and this sword was his; and these orders an_hat cloak lying yonder—all were his. They were gifts from his father. An_elieve me, my friends, I came by them honestly."
The Baron bent over the table and spilled the orders from their silver box an_canned them eagerly. The colored ribbons, the glittering jewels, held th_yes of all. Many of them were the insignia of rare orders no longe_onferred. There were the crown and pendant cross of the Invincible Knights o_aringer; the white falcon upon a silver helmet, swung from a ribbon of clot_f gold—the familiar device of the house of Schomburg, the gold Maltese cros_f the Chevaliers of the Blessed Sacrament; the crossed swords above an iro_rown of the Ancient Legion of Saint Michael and All Angels; and the full- rigged ship pendant from triple anchors—the decoration of the rare Spanis_rder of the Star of the Seven Seas. Silence held the company as th_mbassador's fine old hands touched one after another. It seemed to Shirle_hat these baubles again bound the New World, the familiar hills of home, th_irginia shores, to the wallowing caravels of Columbus.
The Ambassador closed the silver box the better to examine the white falco_pon its lid. Then he swung about and confronted Armitage.
"Where is he, Monsieur?" he asked, his voice sunk to a whisper, his eye_weeping the doors and windows.
"The Archduke Karl is dead; his son Frederick Augustus, whom thes_onspirators have imagined me to be—he, too, is dead."
"You are quite sure—you are quite sure, Mr. Armitage?"
"I am quite sure."
"That is not enough! We have a right to ask more than your word!"
"No, it is not enough," replied Armitage quietly. "Let me make my story brief.
I need not recite the peculiarities of the Archduke—his dislike o_onventional society, his contempt for sham and pretense. After living _ermit life at one of the smallest and most obscure of the royal estates fo_everal years, he vanished utterly. That was fifteen years ago."
"Yes; he was mad—quite mad," blurted the Baron.
"That was the common impression. He took his oldest son and went into exile.
Conjectures as to his whereabouts have filled the newspapers sporadically eve_ince. He has been reported as appearing in the South Sea Islands, in India, in Australia, in various parts of this country. In truth he came directly t_merica and established himself as a farmer in western Canada. His son wa_illed in an accident; the Archduke died within the year."
Judge Claiborne bent forward in his chair as Armitage paused.
"What proof have you of this story, Mr. Armitage?"
"I am prepared for such a question, gentlemen. His identity I may establish b_arious documents which he gave me for the purpose. For greater security _ocked them in a safety box of the Bronx Loan and Trust Company in New York.
To guard against accidents I named you jointly with myself as entitled to th_ontents of that box. Here is the key."
As he placed the slim bit of steel on the table and stepped back to his ol_osition on the hearth, they saw how white he was, and that his hand shook, and Dick begged him to sit down.
"Yes; will you not be seated, Monsieur?" said the Baron kindly.
"No; I shall have finished in a moment. The Archduke gave those documents t_e, and with them a paper that will explain much in the life of that unhapp_entleman. It contains a disclosure that might in certain emergencies be o_ery great value. I beg of you, believe that he was not a fool, and not _adman. He sought exile for reasons—for the reason that his son Francis, wh_as been plotting the murder of the new Emperor-king, _is not his son_!"
"What!" roared the Baron.
"It is as I have said. The faithlessness of his wife, and not madness, drov_im into exile. He intrusted that paper to me and swore me to carry it t_ienna if Francis ever got too near the throne. It is certified by half _ozen officials authorized to administer oaths in Canada, though they, o_ourse, never knew the contents of the paper to which they swore him. He eve_arried it to New York and swore to it there before the consul-general o_ustria-Hungary in that city. There was a certain grim humor in him; he sai_e wished to have the affidavit bear the seal of his own country, and th_onsul-general assumed that it was a document of mere commercia_ignificance."
The Baron looked at the key; he touched the silver box; his hand rested for _oment on the sword.
"It is a marvelous story—it is wonderful! Can it be true—can it be true?"
murmured the Ambassador.
"The documents will be the best evidence. We can settle the matter in twenty- four hours," said Judge Claiborne.
"You will pardon me for seeming incredulous, sir," said the Baron, "but it i_ll so extraordinary. And these men, these prisoners—"
"They have pursued me under the impression that I am Frederick Augustus. Oddl_nough, I, too, am Frederick Augustus," and Armitage smiled. "I was within _ew months of his age, and I had a little brush with Chauvenet and Durand i_eneva in which they captured my cigarette case—it had belonged to Frederick, and the Archduke gave it to me—and my troubles began. The Emperor-king was ol_nd ill; the disorders in Hungary were to cloak the assassination of hi_uccessor; then the Archduke Francis, Karl's reputed son, was to be installe_pon the throne."
"Yes; there has been a conspiracy; I—"
"And there have been conspirators! Two of them are safely behind that door; and, somewhat through my efforts, their chief, Winkelried, should now be unde_rrest in Vienna. I have had reasons, besides my pledge to Archduke Karl, fo_aking an active part in these affairs. A year ago I gave Karl's repudiatio_f his second son to Count Ferdinand von Stroebel, the prime minister. Th_tatement was stolen from him for the Winkelried conspirators by these men w_ow have locked up in this house."
The Ambassador's eyes blazed with excitement as these statements fell one b_ne from Armitage's lips; but Armitage went on:
"I trust that my plan for handling these men will meet with your approval.
They have chartered the _George W. Custis_ , a fruit-carrying steamer lying a_organ's wharf in Baltimore, in which they expected to make off after they ha_inished with me. At one time they had some idea of kidnapping me; and i_sn't my fault they failed at that game. But I leave it to you, gentlemen, t_eal with them. I will suggest, however, that the presence just now in th_est Indies, of the cruiser _Sophia Margaret_ , flying the flag of Austria- Hungary, may be suggestive."
He smiled at the quick glance that passed between the Ambassador and Judg_laiborne.
Then Baron von Marhof blurted out the question that was uppermost in the mind_f all.
"Who are _you_ , John Armitage?"
And Armitage answered, quite simply and in the quiet tone that he had use_hroughout:
"I am Frederick Augustus von Stroebel, the son of your sister and of the Coun_erdinand von Stroebel. The Archduke's son and I were school-fellows an_laymates; you remember as well as I my father's place near the royal lands.
The Archduke talked much of democracy and the New World, and used to jok_bout the divine right of kings. Let me make my story short—I found out thei_lan of flight and slipped away with them. It was believed that I had bee_arried away by gipsies."
"Yes, that is true; it is all true! And you never saw your father—you neve_ent to him?"
"I was only thirteen when I ran away with Karl. When I appeared before m_ather in Paris last year he would have sent me away in anger, if it had no_een that I knew matters of importance to Austria—Austria, always Austria!"
"Yes; that was quite like him," said the Ambassador. "He served his countr_ith a passionate devotion. He hated America—he distrusted the whol_emocratic idea. It was that which pointed his anger against you—that yo_hould have chosen to live here."
"Then when I saw him at Geneva—that last interview—he told me that Karl'_tatement had been stolen, and he had his spies abroad looking for th_hieves. He was very bitter against me. It was only a few hours before he wa_illed, as a part of the Winkelried conspiracy. He had given his life fo_ustria. He told me never to see him again—never to claim my own name until _ad done something for Austria. And I went to Vienna and knelt in the crowd a_is funeral, and no one knew me, and it hurt me, oh, it hurt me to know tha_e had grieved for me; that he had wanted a son to carry on his own work, while I had grown away from the whole idea of such labor as his. And now—"
He faltered, his hoarse voice broke with stress of feeling, and his pallo_eepened.
"It was not my fault—it was really not my fault! I did the best I could, and, by God, I've got them in the room there where they can't do any harm!—and Dic_laiborne, you are the finest fellow in the world, and the squarest an_ravest, and I want to take your hand before I go to sleep; for I'm sick—yes, I'm sick—and sleepy—and you'd better haul down that flag over the door—it'_reason, I tell you!—and if you see Shirley, tell her I'm John Armitage—tel_er I'm John Armitage, John Arm—"
The room and its figures rushed before his eyes, and as he tried to stan_rect his knees crumpled under him, and before they could reach him he sank t_he floor with a moan. As they crowded about he stirred slightly, sighe_eeply, and lay perfectly still.