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Chapter 26 "WHO ARE YOU, JOHN ARMITAGE?"

  • > " _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?"
  • "I thought—"
  • "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.