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   Chapter 7 No.7

Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 15497

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I saw some rye bread, cold meat and a pitcher of water on the table, and I made a sandwich and washed it down with a few swallows of the cool liquid. I had a fever and the water chilled it. There was a lump on the back of my head as large as an egg. With what water remained I dampened my handkerchief and wound it around the injury. Then I made a systematic search through my clothes. Not a single article of my belongings was missing. I was rather sorry, for it lent a deeper significance to my incarceration. After this, I proceeded to take an inventory of my surroundings. Below and beyond the little window I saw a wide expanse of beautiful gardens, fine oaks and firs, velvet lawns and white pebbled roads. Marble fountains made them merry in the roseate hue of early morning. A gardener was busy among some hedges, but beyond the sound of my voice. I was a prisoner in no common jail, then, but in the garret of a private residence. Having satisfied myself that there was no possible escape, I returned to my pallet and lay down. Why I was here a prisoner I knew not. I thought over all I had written the past twelvemonth, but nothing recurred to me which would make me liable to arrest. But, then, I had not been arrested. I had been kidnapped, nothing less. Nothing had been asked of me; I had made no statement. It had been all too sudden. Presently I heard footsteps in the corridor, and the door opened. It was mine enemy. He locked the door and thrust the key into his pocket. One of his eyes was decidedly mouse-colored. The knuckles of my hand were yet sore. I smiled; he saw the smile, his jaws hardening and his eyes threatening.

"I am sorry," I said. "I should have hit you on the point of your chin; but I was in a great hurry. Did you ever try raw meat as a poultice?"

"Enough of this," he snapped, laying a pistol on the table. I was considered dangerous; it was something to know that. "You must answer my questions."

"Must?"

"Must."

"Young man you have no tact. You are not an accomplished villain," said I, pleasantly. "You should begin by asking me how I spent the night, and if there was not something you could do for my material comfort. Perhaps, however, you will first answer a few questions of mine?"

"There are only two men whose questions I answer," he said.

"And who might they be?"

"My commander and the King. I will answer one question-the reason you are here. You are a menace to the tranquility of the State."

"Oh; then I have the honor of being what is called a prisoner of State?

Be careful," I cried, suddenly; "that pistol might go off, and then the

American Minister might ask you in turn some questions, disagreeable

ones, too."

"The American Minister would never know anything about it," said he, gruffly. "But have no fear; I should hesitate to soil an innocent leaden bullet in your carcass."

"Be gentle," I advised, "or when we meet again I shall feel it my duty to dull the lustre of your other eye."

"Pah!" he ejaculated. "We are indebted to the French for the word canaille, which applies to all Americans and Englishmen."

"Now," said I, climbing off the pallet, "I shall certainly do it."

"I warn you not to approach me," he cried, his fingers closing over the pistol.

"Well, I promise not to do it now," I declared, going over to the window. I found some satisfaction in his nervousness; it told me that he feared me. "What place is this; a palace?"

"Answer this question, sir: Why did you cross the frontier when you were expressly forbidden to do so?"

"I forbidden to cross the frontier?" My astonishment was indescribable. "Young man, you have made a blunder of some sort. I am not a Socialist or an Anarchist. I have never been forbidden to cross the frontier of any country. Your Chancellor is one of the best friends I have in the world. I went to school with his son."

He rocked to and fro on the table, laughing honestly and heartily. "You do not lack impudence. Are you, or are you not, the London correspondent of the New York ---?"

"I certainly am."

"You admit it?" eagerly.

"I see no earthly reason why I should not."

"When did you last visit this city?"

"Several years ago."

"Several years ago?" incredulously.

"Exactly. Have you ever seen me before?"

"No. But it was a little less than two years ago when you were here."

"It is scarcely polite," said I, "to question the veracity of a man you never saw before and of whom you know positively nothing." Suddenly my head began to throb again and I grew dizzy. "You hit me rather soundly with that pistol. Still, your eye ought to be a recompense."

He replied with a scowl.

"Perhaps your name is ---"

"Winthrop, John Winthrop, if that will throw any light on the subject."'

"One name is as good as another," with a smile of unbelief.

"That is true. What's in a name? There is little difference, after all, between the names of the nobility and the rabble."

"You are determined to irritate me beyond measure," said he. A German is the most sensitive man in the world as regards his title.

"Grant that I have some cause. And perhaps," observing him from the corner of my eye, "it is because you smoke such vile tobacco."

Remembering the incident in the railway carriage, he smiled in spite of the gravity of the situation.

"It was the best I had," he said; "and then, it was done in self-defence. I'll give you credit for being a fearless individual. But you haven't answered my question."

"What question?"

"Why you returned to this country when you were expressly forbidden to do so."

"I answered that," said I. "And now let me tell you that you may go on asking questions till the crack of doom, but no answer will I give you till you have told me why I am here, I, who do not know you or what your business is, or what I am supposed to have done."

He began to look doubtful. He thumped the table with the butt of the pistol.

"Do you persist in affirming that your name is Winthrop?"

"These gardens are very fine. I could see them better," said I, "if the window was larger."

"Perhaps," he cried impatiently, "you do not know where she is?"

"She?" I looked him over carefully. There was a perfectly sane light in his eyes. "Am I crazy, or is it you? She? I know nothing about any she!"

"Do you dare deny that you know of the whereabouts of her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde, and that you did not come here with the purpose to aid her to escape the will of his Majesty? And do you mean-Oh, here, read this!" flinging me a cablegram.

The veil of mystery fell away from my eyes. I had been mistaken for Hillars. Truly, things were growing interesting. I bent and picked up the cablegram and read:

"COUNT VON WALDEN: He has left London and is on his way to the capital.

Your idea to allow him to cross the frontier is a good one.

Undoubtedly he knows where the Princess is in hiding. In trapping him

you will ultimately trap her. Keep me informed."

The name signed was that of a well-known military attaché at the

Embassy in London. I tossed back the cablegram.

"Well?" triumphantly.

"No, it is not well; it is all very bad, and particularly for you. Your London informant is decidedly off the track. The man you are looking for is in Vienna."

"I do not believe you! It is a trick."

"Yes, it is a trick, and I am taking it, and you have lost a point, to say nothing of the time and labor and a black eye. If you had asked all these questions yesterday I should have told you that Mr. Hillars--"

"Yes, that's the name!" he interrupted.

"I should have told you that he is no longer the London representative of my paper. It is true that the descri

ption of Hillars and myself tallies somewhat, only my hair is dark, while his is light, what there is left of it, and he is a handsomer man than I. All this I should have told you with pleasure, and you would have been saved no end of trouble. I presume that there is nothing left for you to do but to carry me back to the city. To quell any further doubt, here are my passports, and if these are not satisfactory, why take me before Prince O--, your Chancellor."

He was irresolute, and half inclined to believe me.

"I do not know what to do. You know, then, the gentleman I am seeking?"

"Yes."

"Would he enter this country under an assumed name?"

"No. He is a man who loves excitement. Whatever he does is done openly. Had it been he instead of me, he would have thrown you out of the carriage at the first sign on your part that you were watching him. He is a very strong man."

"If he is stronger than you, I am half glad that I got the wrong man. You strike a pretty hard blow. But, whether you are the man I want, or not, you will have to remain till this afternoon, when the Count will put in appearance. I daresay it is possible that I have made a mistake. But I could not do otherwise in face of my instructions."

"The Princess seems to me more trouble than she is worth."

"It is possible that you have never seen her Highness," he said, hinting a smile. "She is worth all the trouble in the world."

"If a man loved her," I suggested.

"And what man does not who has seen her and talked to her?" he replied, pacing.

"The interest, then, you take in her discovery is not all due to that imposed upon you by Count von Walden?" I could not resist this thrust.

"The subject is one that does not admit discussion," squaring his shoulders.

"Suppose we talk of something that does not concern her? All this is a blunder for which you are partly to blame. I have a bad lump on my head and you have a black eye. But as you did what you believed to be your duty, and as I did what every man does when self-preservation becomes his first thought, let us cry quits. Come, what do you say to a game of cards? Let us play ecarte, or I will teach you the noble game of poker. To tell you the truth, I am becoming dreadfully bored."

"Believe me, I bear you no ill will," he said, "and I am inclined to your side of the story. Whoever you are, you have the bearing of a gentleman; and, now that we have come to an understanding, I shall treat you as such. I have a pack of cards downstairs. I'll go and get them. This is not my house, or I should have placed you in better quarters. I shall leave the door unlocked," a question in his eyes.

"Rest assured that I shall return to the city as I came-in a carriage. And to be honest, I am anxious to see the Count von Walden, who poses as the Princess's watchdog."

And when he came back and found me still sitting on the pallet, his face cleared.

We played for small sums, and the morning passed away rather pleasantly than otherwise. The young officer explained to me that he held an important position at court, and that he was entitled to prefix Baron to his name.

"The King is getting out of all patience with her Highness," he said. "This makes the second time the marriage has been postponed. Such occurrences are extremely annoying to his Majesty, who does not relish having his commands so flagrantly disregarded. I shouldn't be surprised if he forced her into the marriage."

"When he knows how distasteful this marriage is to her, why does he not let the matter go?"

"It is too late now. Royalty, having given its word, never retracts it. Events which the King wills must come to pass, or he loses a part of his royal dignity. And then, a King cannot very well be subservient to the will of a subject."

"But has she no rights as a petty sovereign?" I asked.

"Only those which the King is kind enough to give her. She is but a tenant: the rulers of Hohenphalia are but guests of his Majesty. It is to be regretted, but it cannot be helped."

That afternoon, as I lay on my pallet, it seemed to me that in some unaccountable way I was destined to become concerned in the affairs of her Serene Highness. I had never seen the woman, not even a picture of her. Certainly, she must be worth loving, inasmuch as she was worth trouble. I have always found it to be the troublesome woman who has the largest train of lovers. Troublesome, they are interesting; interesting, they are lovable.

It was more than a year since last I saw Phyllis; yet my love for her knew no diminution. I began to understand why Hillars traveled all over the Continent to get a glimpse of the woman he loved. With the pleasant thought that I should see Phyllis again, I dozed. I was half asleep when I was aroused by loud voices in the corridor.

"But I do not believe him to be the man," I heard my jailer declare.

"Bah! I know there is no mistake," roared a voice which was accustomed to command. "He's been trying to hoodwink you. Watch the surprise in his face when he sees me, the cursed meddler and scribbler. It would be a pleasure to witness his hanging. Come, show him to me."

"Yes; come along, my dear old warhorse," I murmured, turning my face toward the wall. "There is a nice little surprise party in here waiting for you."

The door opened.

"Unlocked!" bawled the Count. "What does this mean, Baron?"

"He gave his word as a gentleman," was the quiet reply.

"Gentleman? Ach! I'll take a look at the gentleman," said the Count, stepping up to the pallet and shaking me roughly by the shoulder. "Wake up!"

I sat up so as not to miss the comedy which was about to set its scenes upon the grim visage of the Count. As his eyes met mine his jaw fell.

"A thousand devils! Who are you?"

"I couldn't swear," said I, meekly. "Everybody hereabouts insists that

I am some one else. The situation warrants a complete explanation.

Perhaps you can give it?" I should have laughed but for those flashing

eyes.

"You are a blockhead," he said to his subaltern.

"He is the man, according to your London correspondent," responded the other with some show of temper. "I cannot see that the fault lies at my door. You told me that he would enter the country under an assumed name."

"I presume the affair is ended so far as I am concerned," I said, shaking the lameness from my legs.

"Of course, of course!" replied the Count, pulling at his gray mustaches, which flared out on either side like the whiskers of a cat.

"I should like to return to the city at once," I added.

"Certainly. I regret that you have been the victim of a blunder for which some one shall suffer. Your compatriot has caused me a deal of trouble."

"I assure you that he is in no wise connected with the present matter.

According to his latest advices he is at Vienna."

"I should be most happy to believe that," was the Count's rejoinder, which inferred that he didn't believe it.

"My friend seems to be a dangerous person?"

"All men of brains, coupled with impudence, are dangerous; and I give your friend credit for being as brave as he is impudent. But come, my carriage is at your service. You are a journalist, but you will promise not to make public this unfortunate mistake."

I acquiesced.

When the Count and I parted company I had not the vaguest idea that we should ever hold conversation again.

The result of the adventure was, I sent a very interesting story to New

York, omitting my part in it. This done, I wired my assistant in

London not to expect me for some time yet.

The truth was, I determined to hunt for Hillars, and incidentally for her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde of Hohenphalia.

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