> 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.
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.