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Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 16277

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


During the first year of my residence in London there happened few events worth chronicling. Shortly after my arrival Hillars disappeared. His two months' vacation stretched into twelve, and I was directed to remain in London. As I knew that Hillars did not wish to be found I made no inquiries. He was somewhere on the Continent, but where no one knew. At one time a letter dated at St. Petersburg reached me, and at another time I was informed of his presence at Monte Carlo. In neither letter was there any mention of her Serene Highness, the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia. Since the night he recounted the adventure the wayward Princess had never become the topic of conversation. I grew hopeful enough to believe that he had forgotten her. Occasionally I received a long letter from Phyllis. I always promptly answered it. To any one but me her letters would have proved interesting reading. It was not for what she wrote that I cared, it was the mere fact that she wrote. A man cannot find much pleasure in letters which begin with "Dear friend," and end with "Yours sincerely," when they come from the woman he loves.

In the preceding autumn I completed my first novel. I carried it around to publishers till I grew to hate it as one hates a Nemesis, and when finally I did place it, it was with a publisher who had just started in business and was necessarily obscure. I bowed politely to my dreams of literary fame and became wholly absorbed in my journalistic work. When the book came out I could not but admire the excellence of the bookmaking, but as I looked through the reviews and found no mention save in "books received," I threw the book aside and vowed that it should be my last. The publisher wrote me that he was surprised that the book had not caught on, as he considered the story unusually clever. "Merit is one thing," he said, "but luck is another." I have found this to be true, not only in literature, but in all walks of life where fame and money are the goals. Phyllis wrote me that she thought the book "just splendid"; but I took her praise with a grain of salt, it being likely that she was partial to the author, and that the real worth of the book was little in comparison with the fact that it was I who wrote it.

One morning in early June I found three letters on my desk. The first was from Hillars. He was in Vienna.

"MY DEAR SON," it ran, "there is another rumpus. The Princess disappeared on the 20th of last month. They are hunting high and low for her, and incidentally for me. Why me, is more than I can understand. But I received a letter from Rockwell of the American Legation warning me that if I remained in Austria I should be apprehended, put in jail, hanged and quartered for no other reason on earth than that they suspect me having something to do with her disappearance. Due, I suppose, to that other miserable affair. Though I have hunted all over the Continent, I have never seen the Princess Hildegarde since that night at B--. Where shall I find her? I haven't the least idea. But as a last throw, I am going to the principality of Hohenphalia, where she was born and over which she rules with infinite wisdom. The King is determined that she shall wed Prince Ernst. He would take away her principality but for the fact that there would be a wholesale disturbance to follow any such act. If I ever meet that watch dog of hers, the Count von Walden, the duffer who gave me my congé, there will be trouble. The world isn't large enough for two such men as we are. By the way, I played roulette at the Casino last night and won 3,000 francs. Well, au revoir or adieu as the case may be. They sell the worst whiskey here you ever heard of. It's terrible to have an educated palate.

"HILLARS."

So he was still desiring for something he could never have! I got out of patience with the fellow. Even if she loved him, what chance had he against the legions of the King? Hillars was a wild-headed fellow, and, if at liberty, was not incapable of creating a disturbance. It might land him in jail, or on the gallows. The phlegmatic German is not particular whom he hangs. In that wide domain there is always some petty revolution going on. In each of those petty kingdoms, or principalities, or duchies, there are miniature Rousseaus and Voltaires who shout liberty and equality in beer halls and rouse the otherwise peaceful citizens to warfare; short, it is true, but none the less warfare. Military despotism is the tocsin. When the King presses an unwilling subject into the army, upon his discharge the unwilling subject, usually a peasant, becomes a socialist. These Rousseaus and Voltaires have a certain amount of education, but they lack daring. If a man like Hillars, who had not only brains but daring, should get mixed up in one of these embroglios, some blood would be spilled before the trouble became adjusted. Still, Hillars, with all his love of adventure, was not ordinarily reckless. Yet, if he met the Princess, she would find a willing tool in him for her slightest caprice. Whatever happened the brunt would fall upon him. My opinion, formed from various stories I had heard of the Princess, was not very flattering to her. The letter and its possibilities disturbed me.

The second letter was from headquarters in New York.

"DEAR WINTHROP-We want a good Sunday special. Her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia has taken it into her head to disappear again. Go over and see Rockwell in B--; he will give you a good yarn. It has never been in type yet, and I daresay that it will make good reading. London seems particularly dull just now, and you can easily turn over your affairs to the assistant. This woman's life is more full of romance than that of any other woman of the courts of Europe. The most interesting part of it is her reputation is said to be like that of Caesar's wife-above reproach. Get a full history of her life and of the Prince whom she is to marry. If you can get any photographs do so. I know how you dislike this sort of work, prying into private affairs, as you call it, but with all these sensational sheets springing up around us, we must keep in line now and then. Do you know anything about Hillars; is he dead or alive? Take all the time you want for the story and send it by mail."

"The Princess Hildegarde!" I cried aloud. "The deuce take the woman!"

"What's that?" asked my assistant, who had overheard my outburst.

"Oh, I am to go across on a special story," I said with a snarl, "just as I was fixing for a week's fishing. I've got to concern myself with the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia."

"Ah, the Princess Hildegarde?" said the young fellow, pushing back his hat and elevating his feet, a trick he had acquired while being reared in his native land, which was the State of Illinois, in America. "You want to be careful. Every one burns his fingers or singes his wings around that candle."

"What do you know about her?" I asked.

"A little. You see, about six months ago I discovered all regarding Hillars and his fall from grace. It was through the Reuter agency. Hillars got badly singed. An elopement of some sort between him and the Princess was nipped in the bud. He was ordered to leave the country and warned never to return, at the peril of his liberty. A description of him is with every post on the frontier. As for the Princess she is an interesting character. She was educated in this country and France. She speaks several languages. She is headstrong and wilful, and her royal guardian is only too anxious to see her married and settled down. She masquerades in men's clothes when it pleases her, she can ride a horse like a trooper, she fences and shoots, she has fought two duels, and heaven alone knows what she has not done to disturb the tranquility of the Court. For a man she loved she would be a merry comrade. I saw her once in Paris. She is an extraordinarily beautiful woman. A man takes no end of risk when he concerns himself with her affairs, I can tell you. Hillars-Well, I suppose it's none of my business. He must have had an excit

ing time of it," concluded the young man.

"I'll leave you in charge for a week or so," said I. "What little news there is at the Houses you can cover. I'll take care of anything of importance that occurs abroad. I might as well pack up and get out to-night. A boat leaves Dover early in the morning."

Then I picked up the third and last letter. It was from Phyllis. It contained the enjoyable news that the Wentworths were coming abroad, and that they would remain indefinitely at B--, where Mr. Wentworth had been appointed chargé d'affaires under the American Minister. They were to visit the Mediterranean before coming to London. They would be in town in October. The mere thought of seeing Phyllis made my heart throb.

The next morning I put out from Dover. It was a rough passage for that time of the year, and I came near being sea-sick. A day or so in Paris brought me around, and I proceeded. As I passed the frontier I noticed that my passports were eagerly scanned, and that I was closely scrutinized for some reason or other.

A smartly dressed officer occupied half of the carriage compartment with me. I tried to draw him into conversation, but he proved to be untalkative; so I busied myself with the latest issue of the Paris L'Illustration. I never glanced in the direction of the officer but what I found him staring intently at me. This irritated me. The incident was repeated so many times that I said:

"I trust Herr will remember me in the days to come."

"Eh?" somewhat startled, I thought.

"I observed that you will possibly remember me in the days to come.

Or, perhaps I resemble some one you know."

"Not in the least," was the haughty retort.

I shrugged and relit my pipe. The tobacco I had purchased in Paris, and it was of the customary vileness. Perhaps I could smoke out Mein Herr. But the task resulted in a boomerang. He drew out a huge china pipe and began smoking tobacco which was even viler than mine, if that could be possible. Soon I let down the window.

"Does the smoke disturb Herr?" he asked, puffing forth great clouds of smoke. There was a shade of raillery in his tones.

"It would not," I answered, "if it came from tobacco."

He subsided.

Whenever there was a stop of any length I stepped out and walked the platform. The officer invariably followed my example. I pondered over this each time I re-entered the carriage. At last my irritation turned into wrath.

"Are you aware that your actions are very annoying?"

"How, sir?" proudly.

"You stare me out of countenance, you refrain from entering into conversation, and by the way you follow me in and out of the carriage, one would say that you were watching me. All this is not common politeness."

"Herr jests," he replied with a forced smile. "If I desire not to converse, that is my business. As for getting in and out of the carriage, have I no rights as a passenger?"

It was I who subsided. A minute passed.

"But why do you stare at me?" I asked.

"I do not stare at you, I have no paper and tried to read yours at a distance. I am willing to apologize for that."

"Oh, that is different," I said. I tossed the paper to him. "You are welcome to the paper."

I covertly watched him as he tried to read the French. By and by he passed the paper back.

"I am not a very good French scholar, and the French are tiresome."

"They would not have been if they had had a General who thought more of fighting than of wearing pretty clothes."

"Oh, it would not have mattered," confidently.

"Prussia was once humbled by a Frenchman." I was irritating him with a purpose in view.

"Bah!"

"The only reason the French were beaten was because they did not think the German race worth troubling about."

He laughed pleasantly. "You Americans have a strange idea of the difference between the German and the Frenchman."

This was just what I wanted.

"And who informed you that I was an American?"

He was disconcerted.

"Why," he said, lamely, "it is easily apparent, the difference between the American and the Englishman." Then, as though a bright idea had come to him, "The English never engage in conversation with strangers while traveling. Americans are more sociable."

"They are? Then I advise them to follow the example set by the

Englishman: Never try to get up a conversation while traveling with a

German. It is a disagreeable task;" and I settled back behind my paper.

How had he found out that I was an American? Was I known? And for what reason was I known? To my knowledge I had never committed any offence to the extent that I must be watched like a suspect. What his object was and how he came to know that I was an American was a mystery to me. I was glad that the journey would last but an hour or so longer. The train arrived at the capital late at night. As I went to inquire about my luggage I saw my late fellow passenger joined by another officer. The two began talking earnestly, giving me occasional side-long glances. The mystery was deepening. In passing them I caught words which sounded like "under another name" and "positive it is he." This was anything but reassuring to me. At length they disappeared, only to meet me outside the station. It got into my head that I was a marked man. A feeling of discomfort took possession of me. Germans are troublesome when they get an idea. I was glad to get into the carriage which was to take me to my hotel. The driver seemed to have some difficulty in starting the horse, but I gave this no attention. When the vehicle did start it was with a rapidity which alarmed me. Corner after corner was turned, and the lights went by in flashes. It was taking a long time to reach my hotel, I thought. Suddenly it dawned upon me that the direction we were going was contrary to my instructions. I tried to open the window, but it refused to move. Then I hammered on the pane, but the driver was deaf, or purposely so.

"Hi there!" I thoughtlessly yelled in English, "where the devil are you going?"

No one paid any attention to my cries. It was becoming a serious matter. The lights grew fewer and fewer, and presently there were no lights at all. We were, I judged, somewhere in the suburbs. I became desperate and smashed a window. The carriage stopped so abruptly that I went sprawling to the bottom. I was in anything but a peaceful frame of mind, as they say, when the door swung open and I beheld, standing at the side of it, the officer who had accompanied me from the frontier.

"What tomfoolery is this?" I demanded. I was thoroughly incensed.

"It means that Herr will act peacefully or be in danger of a broken head," was the mind-easing reply of my quondam fellow passenger. The driver then came down from the box, and I saw that he was the officer who had joined us at the station.

"If it is a frolic," I said, "one of your beer hall frolics, the sooner it is ended the better for you."

The two laughed as if what I had said was one of the funniest things imaginable.

"Get out!"

"With pleasure!" said I.

Directly one of them lay with his back to the ground and the other was locked in my embrace. I had not spent four years on the college campus for intellectual benefits only. And indignation lent me additional strength. My opponent was a powerful man, but I held him in a grip of rage. Truthfully, I began to enjoy the situation. There is something exhilarating in the fighting blood which rises in us now and then. This exhilaration, however, brought about my fall. In the struggle I forgot the other, who meantime had recovered his star-gemmed senses. A crack from the butt of his pistol rendered me remarkably quiet and docile. In fact, all became a vacancy till the next morning, and then I was conscious of a terrible headache, and of a room with a window through which a cat might have climbed without endangering its spine-a very dexterous cat.

"Well," I mused, softly nursing the lump on my head, "here's the devil to pay, and not a cent to pay him with."

It was evident that, without knowing it, I had become a very important personage.

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