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Chapter 28 JOHN ARMITAGE

  • > If so be, you can discover a mode of life more desirable than the being _ing, for those who shall be kings; then the true Ideal of the State wil_ecome a possibility; but not otherwise.—Marius the Epicurean.
  • June roses overflowed the veranda rail of Baron von Marhof's cottage at Stor_prings. The Ambassador and his friend and counsel, Judge Hilton Claiborne, sat in a cool corner with a wicker table between them. The representative o_ustria-Hungary shook his glass with an impatience that tinkled the ic_heerily.
  • "He's as obstinate as a mule!"
  • Judge Claiborne laughed at the Baron's vehemence.
  • "He comes by it honestly. I can imagine his father doing the same thing unde_imilar circumstances."
  • "What! This rot about democracy! This light tossing away of an honest title, _espectable fortune! My dear sir, there is such a thing as carrying democrac_oo far!"
  • "I suppose there is; but he's of age; he's a grown man. I don't see wha_ou're going to do about it."
  • "Neither do I! But think what he's putting aside. The boy's clever—he ha_ourage and brains, as we know; he could have position—the home government i_nder immense obligations to him. A word from me to Vienna and his services t_he crown would be acknowledged in the most generous fashion. And with hi_ather's memory and reputation behind him—"
  • "But the idea of reward doesn't appeal to him. We canvassed that last night."
  • "There's one thing I haven't dared to ask him: to take his own name—to becom_rederick Augustus von Stroebel, even if he doesn't want his father's money o_he title. Quite likely he will refuse that, too."
  • "It is possible. Most things seem possible with Armitage."
  • "It's simply providential that he hasn't become a citizen of your republic.
  • That would have been the last straw!"
  • They rose as Armitage called to them from a French window near by.
  • "Good afternoon, gentlemen! When two diplomats get their heads together on _ummer afternoon, the universe is in danger."
  • He came toward them hatless, but trailing a stick that had been the prop o_is later convalescence. His blue serge coat, a negligée shirt and duc_rousers had been drawn a few days before from the trunks brought by Osca_rom the bungalow. He was clean-shaven for the first time since his illness, and the two men looked at him with a new interest. His deepened temples an_ean cheeks and hands told their story; but his step was regaining its ol_ssurance, and his eyes were clear and bright. He thrust the little stic_nder his arm and stood erect, gazing at the near gardens and then at th_ills. The wind tumbled his brown newly-trimmed hair, and caught the loos_nds of his scarf and whipped them free.
  • "Sit down. We were just talking of you. You are getting so much stronger ever_ay that we can't be sure of you long," said the Baron.
  • "You have spoiled me,—I am not at all anxious to venture back into the world.
  • These Virginia gardens are a dream world, where nothing is really quite true."
  • "Something must be done about your father's estate soon. It is yours, waitin_nd ready."
  • The Baron bent toward the young man anxiously.
  • Armitage shook his head slowly, and clasped the stick with both hands and hel_t across his knees.
  • "No,—no! Please let us not talk of that any more. I could not feel comfortabl_bout it. I have kept my pledge to do something for his country—something tha_e may hope pleases him if he knows."
  • The three were silent for a moment. A breeze, sweet with pine-scent of th_ills, swept the valley, taking tribute of the gardens as it passed. The Baro_as afraid to venture his last request.
  • "But the name—the honored name of the greatest statesman Austria has known—_ame that will endure with the greatest names of Europe—surely you can a_east accept that."
  • The Ambassador's tone was as gravely importunate as though he were begging th_ession of a city from a harsh conqueror. Armitage rose and walked the lengt_f the veranda. He had not seen Shirley since that morning when the earth ha_lipped from under his feet at the bungalow. The Claibornes had been back an_orth often between Washington and Storm Springs. The Judge had just bee_ppointed a member of the Brazilian boundary commission which was to mee_hortly in Berlin, and Mrs. Claiborne and Shirley were to go with him. In th_laiborne garden, beyond and below, he saw a flash of white here and ther_mong the dark green hedges. He paused, leaned against a pillar, and waite_ntil Shirley crossed one of the walks and passed slowly on, intent upon th_ose trees; and he saw—or thought he saw—the sun searching out the gold in he_rown hair. She was hatless. Her white gown emphasized the straight line o_er figure. She paused to ponder some new arrangement of a line of hydrangeas, and he caught a glimpse of her against a pillar of crimson ramblers. Then h_ent back to the Baron.
  • "How much of our row in the hills got into the newspapers?" he asked, sittin_own.
  • "Nothing,—absolutely nothing. The presence of the _Sophia Margaret_ off th_apes caused inquiries to be made at the embassy, and several correspondent_ame down here to interview me. Then the revenue officers made some raids i_he hills opportunely and created a local diversion. You were hurt whil_leaning your gun,—please do not forget that!—and you are a friend of m_amily,—a very eccentric character, who has chosen to live in the wilderness."
  • The Judge and Armitage laughed at these explanations, though there was _ittle constraint upon them all. The Baron's question was still unanswered.
  • "You ceased to be of particular interest some time ago. While you were sic_he fraudulent Von Kissel was arrested in Australia, and I believe some of th_ewspapers apologized to you handsomely."
  • "That was very generous of them;" and Armitage shifted his position slightly.
  • A white skirt had flashed again in the Claiborne garden and he was trying t_ollow it. At the same time there were questions he wished to ask and hav_nswered. The Baroness von Marhof had already gone to Newport; the Baro_ingered merely out of good feeling toward Armitage—for it was as Armitag_hat he was still known to the people of Storm Springs, to the doctor an_urses who tended him.
  • "The news from Vienna seems tranquil enough," remarked Armitage. He had no_et answered the Baron's question, and the old gentleman grew restless at th_elay. "I read in the _Neue Freie Presse_ a while ago that Charles Louis i_howing an unexpected capacity for affairs. It is reported, too, that an hei_s in prospect. The Winkelried conspiracy is only a bad dream and we ma_afely turn to other affairs."
  • "Yes; but the margin by which we escaped is too narrow to contemplate."
  • "We have a saying that a miss is as good as a mile," remarked Judge Claiborne.
  • "We have never told Mr. Armitage that we found the papers in the safety box a_ew York to be as he described them."
  • "They are dangerous. We have hesitated as to whether there was more risk i_estroying them than in preserving them," said the Baron.
  • Armitage shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
  • "They are out of my hands. I positively decline to accept their furthe_ustody."
  • A messenger appeared with a telegram which the Baron opened and read.
  • "It's from the commander of the _Sophia Margaret_ , who is just leaving Ri_aneiro for Trieste, and reports his prisoners safe and in good health."
  • "It was a happy thought to have him continue his cruise to the Brazilian coas_efore returning homeward. By the time he delivers those two scoundrels to hi_overnment their fellow conspirators will have forgotten they ever lived.
  • But"—and Judge Claiborne shrugged his shoulders and smiled disingenuously—"a_ lawyer I deplore such methods. Think what a stir would be made in thi_ountry if it were known that two men had been kidnapped in the sovereig_tate of Virginia and taken out to sea under convoy of ships carrying our fla_or transfer to an Austrian battle-ship! That's what we get for being a fre_epublic that can not countenance the extradition of a foreign citizen for _olitical offense."
  • Armitage was not listening. Questions of international law and comity had n_nterest for him whatever. The valley breeze, the glory of the blue Virgini_ky, the far-stretching lines of hills that caught and led the eye like se_illows; the dark green of shrubbery, the slope of upland meadows, and tha_lusive, vanishing gleam of white,—before such things as these the splendor o_mpire and the might of armies were unworthy of man's desire.
  • The Baron's next words broke harshly upon his mood.
  • "The gratitude of kings is not a thing to be despised. You could go to Vienn_nd begin where most men leave off! Strong hands are needed in Austria,—yo_ould make yourself the younger—the great Stroebel—"
  • The mention of his name brought back the Baron's still unanswered question. H_eferred to it now, as he stood before them smiling.
  • "I have answered all your questions but one; I shall answer that a littl_ater,—if you will excuse me for just a few minutes I will go and get th_nswer,—that is, gentlemen, I hope I shall be able to bring it back with me."
  • He turned and ran down the steps and strode away through the long shadows o_he garden. They heard the gate click after him as he passed into th_laiborne grounds and then they glanced at each other with such a glance a_ay pass between two members of a peace commission sitting on the same side o_he table, who will not admit to each other that the latest proposition of th_nemy has been in the nature of a surprise. They did not, however, suffe_hemselves to watch Armitage, but diplomatically refilled their glasses.
  • Through the green walls went Armitage. He had not been out of the Baron'_rounds before since he was carried thence from the bungalow; and it wa_leasant to be free once more, and able to stir without a nurse at his heels; and he swung along with his head and shoulders erect, walking with th_onfident stride of a man who has no doubt whatever of his immediate aim.
  • At the pergola he paused to reconnoiter, finding on the bench certai_vestigia_ that interested him deeply,—a pink parasol, a contrivance of straw, lace and pink roses that seemed to be a hat, and a June magazine. He jumpe_pon the bench where once he had sat, an exile, a refugee, a person discusse_n disagreeable terms by the newspapers, and studied the landscape. Then h_ent on up the gradual slope of the meadow, until he came to the pasture wall.
  • It was under the trees beneath which Oscar had waited for Zmai that he foun_er.
  • "They told me you wouldn't dare venture out for a week," she said, advancin_oward him and giving him her hand.
  • "That was what they told me," he said, laughing; "but I escaped from m_eepers."
  • "You will undoubtedly take cold,—without your hat!"
  • "Yes; I shall undoubtedly have pneumonia from exposure to the Virgini_unshine. I take my chances."
  • "You may sit on the wall for three minutes; then you must go back. I can no_e responsible for the life of a wounded hero."
  • "Please!" He held up his hand. "That's what I came to talk to you about."
  • "About being a hero? You have taken an unfair advantage. I was going to sen_or the latest designs in laurel wreaths to-morrow."
  • She sat down beside him on the wall. The sheep were a grayish blur against th_reen. A little negro boy was shepherding them, and they scampered before hi_oward the farther end of the pasture. The faint and vanishing tinkle of _ell, and the boy's whistle, gave emphasis to the country-quiet of the lat_fternoon. They spoke rapidly and impersonally of his adventures in the hill_nd of his illness. When they looked at each other it was with swift laughin_lances. Her cheeks and hands were-already brown,—an honest brown won from Ma_nd June in the open field,—not that blistered, peeling scarlet that marks th_nsincere devotee of racket, driver and oar, who jumps into the game i_ugust, but the real brown conferred by the dear mother of us all upon th_aithful who go forth to meet her in April. Her hands interested hi_articularly. They were long, slender and supple; and she had a pretty way o_olding them upon her knees that charmed him.
  • "I didn't know, Miss Claiborne, that I was going to lose my mind that mornin_t the bungalow or I should have asked your brother to conduct you to th_onservatory while I fainted. From what they told me I must have been a littl_ight-headed for a day or two. If I had been in my right mind I shouldn't hav_et Captain Dick mix up in my business and run the risk of getting killed in _asty little row. Dear old Dick! I made a mess of that whole business; I ough_o have telegraphed for the Storm Springs constable in the beginning, and tol_im that if he wasn't careful the noble house of Schomburg would totter an_all."
  • "Yes; and just imagine the effect on our constable of telling him that th_ate of an empire lay in his hands. It's hard enough to get a man arrested wh_eats his horse. But you must go back to your keepers. You haven't your hat—"
  • "Neither have you; you shan't outdo me in recklessness. I inspected your ha_s I came through the pergola. I liked it immensely; I came near seizing it a_poil of war,—the loot of the pergola!"
  • "There would be cause for another war; I have rarely liked any hat so much.
  • But the Baron will be after you in a moment. I can't be responsible for you."
  • "The Baron annoys me. He has given me a lot of worry. And that's what I hav_ome to ask you about."
  • "Then I should say that you oughtn't to quarrel with a dear old man like Baro_on Marhof. Besides, he's your uncle."
  • "No! No! I don't want him to be my uncle! I don't need any uncle!"
  • He glanced about with an anxiety that made her laugh.
  • "I understand perfectly! My father told me that the events of April in thes_ills were not to be mentioned. But don't worry; the sheep won't tell—and _on't."
  • He was silent for a moment as he thought out the words of what he wished t_ay to her. The sun was dipping down into the hills; the mellow air was still; the voice of a negro singing as he crossed a distant field stole sweetly upo_hem.
  • "Shirley!"
  • He touched her hand.
  • "Shirley!" and his fingers closed upon hers.
  • "I love you, Shirley! From those days when I saw you in Paris,—before th_reat Gettysburg battle picture, I loved you. You had felt the cry of the Ol_orld, the story that is in its battle-fields, its beauty and romance, just a_ had felt the call of this new and more wonderful world. I understood—I kne_hat was in your heart; I knew what those things meant to you;—but I had pu_hem aside; I had chosen another life for myself. And the poor life that yo_aved, that is yours if you will take it. I have told your father and Baro_on Marhof that I would not take the fortune my father left me; I would not g_ack there to be thanked or to get a ribbon to wear in my coat. But my name, the name I bore as a boy and disgraced in my father's eyes,—his name that h_ade famous throughout the world, the name I cast aside with my youth, th_ame I flung away in anger,—they wish me to take that."
  • She withdrew her hand and rose and looked away toward the western hills.
  • "The greatest romance in the world is here, Shirley. I have dreamed it al_ver,—in the Canadian woods, on the Montana ranch as I watched the herd a_ight. My father spent his life keeping a king upon his throne; but I believ_here are higher things and finer things than steadying a shaking throne o_eing a king. And the name that has meant nothing to me except dominion an_ower,—it can serve no purpose for me to take it now. I learned much from th_oor Archduke; he taught me to hate the sham and shame of the life he had fle_rom. My father was the last great defender of the divine right of kings; bu_ believe in the divine right of men. And the dome of the Capitol i_ashington does not mean to me force or hatred or power, but faith and hop_nd man's right to live and do and be whatever he can make himself. I will no_o back or take the old name unless,—unless you tell me I must, Shirley!"
  • There was an instant in which they both faced the westering sun. He looke_own suddenly and the deep feeling in his heart went to his lips.
  • "It was that way,—you were just like that when I saw you first, Shirley, wit_he dreams in your eyes."
  • He caught her hand and kissed it,—bending very low indeed. Suddenly, as h_tood erect, her arms were about his neck and her cheek with its warmth an_olor lay against his face.
  • "I do not know,"—and he scarcely heard the whispered words,—"I do not kno_rederick Augustus von Stroebel,—but I love—John Armitage," she said.
  • Then back across the meadow, through the rose-aisled ways of the quiet garden, they went hand in hand together and answered the Baron's question.