Maurice Carewe, attached to the American legation in Vienna, leaned agains_he stone parapet which separated the terraced promenade of the Continenta_otel from the Werter See, and wondered what had induced him to come t_leiberg.
He had left behind him the glory of September in Vienna, a city second only t_aris in fashion and gaiety; Vienna, with its inimitable bands, it_ncomparable gardens, its military maneuvers, its salons, its charming women; and all for a fool's errand. His Excellency was to blame. He had casuall_ropped the remark that the duchy's minister, Baron von Rumpf, had been give_is passports as a persona non grata by the chancellor of the kingdom, an_hat a declaration of war was likely to follow. Maurice's dormant love o_ournalistic inquiry had become aroused, and he had asked permission t_nvestigate the affair, a favor readily granted to him.
But here he was, on the scene, and nobody knew anything, and nobody could tel_nything. The duchess had remained silent. Not unnaturally he wished himsel_ack in Vienna. There were no court fetes in the city of Bleiberg. The king'_ondition was too grave to permit them. And, besides, there had been no rea_ourt in Bleiberg for the space of ten years, so he was told. Those solem_ffairs of the archbishop's, given once the week for the benefit of the corp_iplomatique, were dull and spiritless. Her Royal Highness was seldom seen, save when she drove through the streets. Persons who remembered the reig_efore told what a mad, gay court it had been. Now it was funereal. The yout_nd beauty of Bleiberg held a court of its own. Royalty was not included, no_id it ask to be.
A strange capital, indeed, Maurice reflected, as he gazed down into the cool, brown water. He regretted his caprice. There were pretty women in Vienna. Som_f them belonged to the American colony. They danced well, they sang an_layed and rode. He had taught some of them how to fence, and he could no_emember the times he had been "buttoned" while paying too much attention t_heir lips and eyes. For Maurice loved a thing of beauty, were it a woman, _orse or a Mediterranean sunset. What a difference between these two years i_ienna and that year in Calcutta! He never would forget the dingy office, wit_ts tarnished sign, "U. S. Consul," tacked insecurely on the door, and th_tter loneliness.
He cast a pebble into the lake, and watched the ripples roll away an_isappear, and ruminated on a life full of color and vicissitude. H_emembered the Arizona days, the endless burning sand, the dull routine of _avalry trooper, the lithe brown bodies of the Apaches, the first skirmish an_he last. From a soldier he had turned journalist, tramped the streets o_ashington in rain and shine, living as a man lived who must.
One day his star had shot up from the nadir of obscurity, not very far, bu_nough to bring his versatility under the notice of the discerning Secretar_f State, who, having been a friend of the father, offered the son a berth i_he diplomatic corps. A consulate in a South American republic, during _evolutionary crisis, where he had shown consummate skill in avoidin_olitical complications (and where, by a shrewd speculation in gold, he ha_eathered his nest for his declining years), proved that the continua_ncertitude of a journalistic career is a fine basis for diplomatic work. Fro_outh America he had gone to Calcutta, thence to Austria.
He was only twenty-nine, which age in some is youth. He possessed an old man'_isdom and a boy's exuberance of spirits. He laughed whenever he could; to hi_ife was a panorama of vivid pictures, the world a vast theater to whic_omehow he had gained admission. His beardless countenance had deceived mor_han one finished diplomat, for it was difficult to believe that behind it la_n earnest purpose and a daring courage. If he bragged a little, quizze_raybeards, sought strange places, sported with convention, and eluded women, it was due to his restlessness. Yet, he had the secretiveness of sand; h_bsorbed, but he revealed nothing. He knew his friends; they thought they kne_im. It was his delight to have women think him a butterfly, men write hi_own a fool; it covered up his real desires and left him free.
What cynicism he had was mellowed by a fanciful humor. Whether with steel o_ith words, he was a master of fence; and if at times some one got under hi_uard, that some one knew it not. To let your enemy see that he has hit you i_o give him confidence. He saw humor where no one else saw it, and traged_here it was not suspected. He was one of those rare individuals who, when th_pportunity of chance refuses to come, makes one.
"Germany and Austria are great countries," he mused, lighting a cigar. "Ever_undredth man is a king, one in fifty is a duke, every tenth man is a prince, and one can not take a corner without bumping into a count or a baron. Eve_he hotel waiters are disquieting; there is that embarrassing atmosphere abou_hem which suggests nobility in durance vile. As for me, I prefer Kentucky, where every man is a colonel, and you never make a mistake. And thes_ingdoms!" He indulged in subdued laughter. "They are always like comi_peras. I find myself looking around every moment for the merry villagers s_appy and so gay (at fifteen dollars the week), the eternal innkeeper and th_erennial soubrette his daughter, the low comedian and the self-consciou_enor. Heigho! and not a soul in Bleiberg knows me, nor cares.
"I'd rather talk five minutes to a pretty woman than eat stuffed pheasants th_ear around, and the stuffed pheasant is about all Bleiberg can boast of.
Well, here goes for a voyage of discovery;" and he passed down the stone step_o the pier, quite unconscious of the admiring glances of the women wh_luttered back and forth on the wide balconies above.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon; a fresh wind redolent of pine and resi_lew across the lake. Maurice climbed into a boat and pulled away with _trong, swift stroke, enjoying the liberation of his muscles. A quarter of _ile out he let the oars drift and took his bearings. He saw the privat_ardens of the king and the archbishop, and, convinced that a closer vie_ould afford him entertainment, he caught up the oars again and moved inland.
The royal gardens ran directly into the water, while those of the archbisho_ere protected by a wall of brick five or six feet in height, in the center o_hich was a gate opening on the water. Behind the gate was a small boat dock.
Maurice plied the oars vigorously. He skirted the royal gardens, and the smel_f newly mown lawns filled the air. Soon he was gliding along the sides of th_oss-grown walls. A bird chirped in the overhanging boughs. He was about t_ast loose the oars again, when the boat was brought to a violent stop. A fe_ards waterward from the gate there lay, hidden in the shadowed water, _unken pier. On one of the iron piles the boat had become impaled.
Maurice was tumbled into the bow of the boat, which began rapidly to fill.
First he swore, then he laughed, for he was possessed of infinite good humor.
The only thing left for him to do was to swim for the gate. With a ruefu_lance at his thin clothes, he dropped himself over the side of the wreck an_truck out toward the gate. The water, having its source from the snowcla_ountains, was icy. He was glad enough to grasp the lower bars of the gate an_raw himself up. He was on the point of climbing over, when a pictur_resented itself to his streaming eyes.
Seated on a bench made of twisted vine was a young girl. She held in her han_ book, but she was not reading it. She was scanning the unwritten pages o_ome reverie; her eyes, dark, large and wistful, were holding communion wit_he god of dreams. A wisp of hair, glossy as coal, trembled against a chee_hite as the gown she wore.
At her side, blinking in the last rays of the warm sun, sat a bulldog, toothless and old. Now and then a sear leaf, falling in a zig-zag course, rustled past his ears, and he would shake his head as if he, too, wer_reaming and the leaves disturbed him. All at once he sniffed, his ears stoo_orward, and a low growl broke the enchantment. The girl, on discoverin_aurice, closed the book and rose. The dog, still growling, jumped down an_rotted to the gate. Maurice thought that it was time to speak.
"Mademoiselle," he said, "pardon this intrusion, but my boat has met with a_ccident."
The girl came to the gate. "Why, Monsieur," she exclaimed, "you are wet!"
"That is true," replied Maurice, his teeth beginning to knock together. "I wa_orced to swim. If you will kindly open the gate and guide me to the street, _hall be much obliged to you."
The gate swung outward, and in a moment Maurice was on dry land, or the nex_hing to it, which was the boat-dock.
"Thank you," he said.
"O! And you might have been drowned," compassion lighting her beautiful eyes.
"Sit down on the bench, Monsieur, for you must be weak. And it was that sunke_ier? I shall speak to Monseigneur; he must have it removed. Bull, sto_rowling; you are very impolite; the gentleman is in distress."
Maurice sat down, not because he was weak, but because the desire to gain th_treet had suddenly subsided. Who was this girl who could say "must" to th_ormidable prelate? His quick eye noticed that she showed no sign o_mbarrassment. Indeed, she impressed him as one who was superior to that pett_isturbance of collected thought. Somehow it seemed to him, as she stood ther_ooking down at him, that he, too, should be standing. But she put forth _and with gentle insistence when he made as though to rise. What an exquisit_ace, he thought. Against the whiteness of her skin her lips burned like popp_etals. Innocent, inquisitive eyes smiled gently, eyes in whose tranqui_epths lay the glory of the world, asleep. Presently a color, faint an_ugitive, dimmed the whiteness of her cheeks. Maurice, conscious of hi_udeness and of a warmth in his own cheeks, instinctively lowered his gaze.
"Pardon my rudeness," he said.
"What is your name, Monsieur," she asked calmly.
"It is Maurice Carewe. I am living in Vienna. I came to Bleiberg for pleasure, but the first day has not been propitious," with an apologetic glance at hi_ripping clothes.
"Maurice Carewe," slowly repeating the full name as if to imprint it on he_emory. "You are English?"
He said: "No; I am one of those dreadful Yankees you have possibly rea_bout."
Her teeth gleamed. "Yes, I have heard of them. But you do not appear so ver_readful; though at present you are truly not at your best. What is this—thi_ankeeland like?"
"It would take me ever so long to tell you about it, it is such a grea_ountry."
"You are a patriot!" clapping her hands. "No other country is so fine an_arge and great as your own. But tell me, is it as large as Austria?"
"Austria? You will not be offended if I tell you?"
"Well," with fun in his eyes, "it is my opinion that I could hide Austria i_y country so thoroughly that nobody would ever be able to find it again." H_ondered how she would accept this statement.
She lifted her chin and laughed, and the bulldog wagged his tail, as he alway_id when mirth touched her. He jumped up beside Maurice and looked into hi_ace. Maurice patted his broad head, and he submitted. The girl looked rathe_urprised.
"Are you a magician?" she asked.
"Bull never makes friends."
"But I do," said Maurice; "perhaps he understands that, and comes half-way.
But it is rather strange to see a bulldog in this part of the country."
"He was given to me, years ago, by an Englishman."
"That accounts for it." He was experiencing a deal of cold, but he dared no_ention it. "And may I ask your name?"
"Ah, Monsieur," shyly, "to tell you my name would be to frighten you away."
"I am sure nothing could do that," he declared earnestly. Had he been thinkin_f aught but her eyes he might have caught the significance of her words. But, then, the cold was numbing.
She surveyed him with critical eyes. She saw a clean-shaven face, brown, handsome and eager, merry blue eyes, a chin firm and aggressive, a mischievou_outh, a forehead which showed the man of thought, a slim athletic form whic_howed the man of action—all of which combined to produce that indescribabl_ir which attaches itself to the gentleman.
"It is Alexia," she said, after some hesitation, watching him closely t_bserve the effect.
But he was as far away as ever. "Alexia what?"
"Only Alexia," a faint coquetry stealing into her glance.
"O, then you are probably a maid?"
"Y—es. But you are disappointed?"
"No, indeed. You have put me more at ease. I suppose you serve the princess?"
"Whenever I can," demurely.
He could not keep his eyes from hers. "They say that she is a very lonel_rincess."
"So lonely." And the coquetry faded from her eyes as her glance wandere_aterward and became fixed on some object invisible and far away. "Poor lonel_rincess!"
Maurice was growing colder and colder, but he did not mind. He had wished fo_ome woman to talk to; his wish had been granted. "I feel sorry for her, i_hat they say is true," having no other words.
"And what do they say, Monsieur?"
"That she and her father have been socially ostracized. I should be proud t_e her friend." Once the words were gone from him, he saw their silliness. "_resumptuous statement," he added; "I am an obscure foreigner."
"Friendship, Monsieur, is a thing we all should prize, all the more so when i_s disinterested."
He said rapidly, for fear she might hear his teeth chatter: "They say she i_ery beautiful. Tell me what she is like."
"I am no judge of what men call beauty. As to her character, I believe I ma_ecommend that. She is good."
He was sure that merriment twitched the corners of her lips, and he gre_houghtful. "Alexia. Is that not her Highness's name also?"
"Yes, Monsieur; we have the same names." Her eyes fell, and she began t_inger the pages of the book.
"I am rested now," he said, with a sudden distrust. "I thank you."
"Come, then, and I will show you the way to the gate."
"I am sorry to have troubled you," he said.
She did not reply, and together they walked up the path. The plants wer_ying, and the odor of decay hovered about them. Splashes of rich vermilio_rowned the treetops, leaves of gold, russet and faded green rustled on th_round. The sun was gone behind the hills, the lake was tinted with salmon an_un, and Maurice (who honestly would have liked to run) was turning purple, not from atmospheric effect, but from the partly congealed state of his blood.
Already he was thinking that his adventure had turned out rather well. It wa_ut a simple task for a man of his imagination to construct a pretty romance, with a kingdom for a background. A maid of honor, perhaps; no matter, he woul_ind means for future communication. A glamour had fallen upon him.
As to the girl, who had scarce spoken to a dozen young men in her life, sh_as comparing four faces; one of a visionary character of which she ha_reamed for ten years, and three which had recently entered into the smal_ircle of her affairs. It was little pleasure to her to talk to those bal_iplomats, who were always saying what they did not mean, and meaning wha_hey did not say. And the young officers in the palace never presumed t_ddress her unless spoken to.
What a monotonous life it was! She was like a bird in a cage, ever longing fo_reedom, not of the air, but of impulse. To be permitted to yield to th_mpulses of the heart! What a delightful thought that was! But she, she seeme_part from all which was desirable to youth. Women courtesied to her, me_ouched their hats; but homage was not what she wanted. To be free, that wa_ll; to come and go at will; to laugh and to sing. But ever the specter o_oyal dignity walked beside her and held her captive.
She was to wed a man on whom she looked with indifference, but wed him sh_ust; it was written. A toy of ambition, she was neither more nor less. Ah, t_e as her maids, not royal, but free. Of the three new faces one belonged t_he man whom she was to wed; another was a tall, light-haired man whom she ha_een from her carriage; the last walked by her side. And somehow, th_isionary face, the faces of the man whom she was to wed and the light-haire_an suddenly grew indistinct. She glanced from the corner of her eyes a_aurice, but meeting his glance, in which lay something that caused he_neasiness, her gaze dropped to the path.
"I shall be pleased to tell her Highness that a stranger, who has not met her, who does not even suspect her rebel spirit, desires to be her friend."
"O, Mademoiselle," he cried in alarm, "that desire was expressed i_onfidence."
"I know it. It is for that very reason I wish her to know. Have no fear, Monsieur;" and she laughed without mirth. "Her Highness will not send you t_rison."
Close at hand Maurice discovered a cuirassier, who, on seeing them, salute_nd stood attention. Maurice was puzzled.
"Lieutenant," said the girl, "Monsieur—Carewe?" turning to Maurice.
"Yes, that is the name."
"Well, then, Monsieur Carewe has met with an accident; please escort him t_he gate. I trust you will not suffer any inconvenience from the cold. Goo_vening, Monsieur Carewe."
She retraced her steps down the path. The bulldog followed. Once he looke_ack at Maurice, and stopped as if undecided, then went on. Maurice stared a_he figure of the girl until it vanished behind a clump of rose bushes.
"Well, Monsieur Carewe!" said the Lieutenant, a broad smile under hi_ustache.
"I beg your pardon, Lieutenant. May I ask you who she is?"
"What! You do not know?"
Maurice suddenly saw light. "Her Royal Highness?" blankly.
"Her Royal Highness, God bless her!" cried the Lieutenant heartily.
"Amen to that," replied Maurice, his agitation visible even to the officer.
They arrived at the gate in silence. The cuirassier raised the bar, touche_is helmet, and said, with something like an amused twinkle in his eyes:
"Would Monsieur like to borrow my helmet for a space?"
Maurice put up a hand to his water-soaked hair, and gave an ejaculation o_ismay. He had forgotten all about his hat, which was by now, in-al_robabilities, at the bottom of the lake.
"Curse the luck!" he said, in English.
"Curse the want of it, I should say!" was the merry rejoinder, also i_nglish.
Maurice threw back his head and laughed, and the cuirassier caught th_nfection.
"However, there is some compensation for the hat," said the cuirassier, straightening his helmet. "You are the first stranger who has spoken to he_ighness this many a day. Did the dog take to your calves? Well, never mind; he has no teeth. It was only day before yesterday that the Marshal swore he'_ave the dog shot. Poor dog! He is growing blind, too, or he'd never hav_isked his gums on the Marshal, who is all shins. If you will wait I wil_etch you one of the archbishop's skull caps."
"Don't trouble yourself," laughed Maurice. "What I need is not a hat, but _owel, and I'll get that at the hotel. George! I feel so like an ass. What i_our name, Lieutenant?"
"Von Mitter, Carl von Mitter, at your service. And you are Monsieur Carewe."
"Of the American legation in Vienna. Thanks for your trouble."
"None at all. You had better hurry along; your nails are growing black."
Maurice passed into the street. "Her Royal Highness!" he muttered. "The crow_rincess, and I never suspected. Her name is Alexia, and she serves th_rincess whenever she can! Maurice, you are an ass!"
Having arrived at this conclusion, and brushing the dank hair from his eyes, he thrust his hands into his oozing pockets, and proceeded across the squar_oward the Continental, wondering if there was a rear entrance. Happily th_dventure absorbed all his thoughts. He was quite unobservant of the marke_ttention bestowed on him. Carriages filled the Strasse, and many person_oved along the walks. It was the promenade hour. The water, which stil_ripped from his clothes and trickled from his shoes, left a conspicuous trai_ehind; and this alone, without the absence of a hat, would have made him th_bject of amused and wondering smiles.
A gendarme stared at him, but seeing that he walked straight, said nothing.
Maurice, however, was serenely unaware of what was passing around him. He di_ot notice even the tall, broad-shouldered man who, with a gun under his arm, brushed past him, followed by a round-faced German over whose back was slung _ame-bag. The man with the gun was also oblivious of his surroundings. H_umped into several persons, who scowled at him, but offered no remonstranc_fter having taken his measure. The German put his pipe into his pocket an_dvanced a step.
"The other gun, Herr," he said, "would have meant the boar."
"So it would, perhaps," was the reply.
"We've done pretty good work these two days," went on the German; but as th_ther appeared not to have heard he fell to the rear again, a sardonic smil_litting over his oily face.
When Maurice reached the hotel cafe he left an order for a cognac to be sen_o his room, whither he repaired at once. As he got into dry clothes he mused.
"I wonder what sort of a man that crown prince is? Now, if I were he, an arm_ould not keep me away from Bleiberg. Either he is no judge of beauty, or th_easant girls hereabout are something extraordinary. Pshaw! a man always make_n ass of himself on his wedding eve; the crown prince is simply starting i_arly. I believe I'll hang on here till the wedding day; a royal marriage i_ne of those things which I have yet to see. I have a fortnight or more t_nock around in. I should like to know what the duchess will eventually do."
He sipped the last drop of the cognac and went down the stairs.