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Chapter 4 AN ADVENTURE WITH ROYALTY

  • 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?"
  • "No."
  • "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.
  • "Why?"
  • "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.