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   Chapter 19 No.19

Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 9318

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Phyllis and I were sitting in one of the numerous cozy corners. I had danced badly and out of time. The music and the babel of tongues had become murmurous and indistinct.

"And so that is the Princess Hildegarde?" she said, after a spell.

"Yes; she is your double. Is she not beautiful?"

"Is that a left-handed compliment to me?" Phyllis was smiling, but she was colorless.

"No," said I. "I could never give you a left-handed compliment."

"How strange and incomprehensible!" said she, opening her fan.

"What?-that I have never, and could never, give you a-"

"No, no! I was thinking of the likeness. It rather unnerved me. It seemed as though I was looking into a mirror."

"What do you think of her?" suppressing the eagerness in my voice.

"She is to be envied," softly.

And I grew puzzled.

"Jack, for a man who has associated with the first diplomatists of the world, who has learned to read the world as another might read a book, you are surprisingly unadept in the art of dissimulation."

"That is a very long sentence," said I, in order to gain time enough to fathom what she meant. I could not. So I said: "What do you mean?"

"Your whole face was saying to the Princess, 'I love you!' A glance told me all. I was glad for your sake that no other woman saw you at that moment. But I suppose it would not have mattered to you."

"Not if all the world had seen the look," moodily.

"Poor Jack, you are very unlucky!" Her voice was full of pity. "I feel so sorry for you, it is all so impossible. And she loves you, too!"

"How do you know?"

"I looked at her while she was looking at you."

"You have wonderful eyes."

"So I have been told. I wonder why she gave you that withered and worm-eaten rose?"

"A whim," I said, staring at the rug. I wondered how she came to surmise that it was Gretchen's rose? Intuition, perhaps.

"Do you love her well enough," asked Phyllis, plucking the lace on her fan, "to sacrifice all the world for her, to give up all your own happiness that she might become happy?"

"She never can be happy without me-if she loves me as I believe." I admit that this was a selfish thought to express.

"Then, why is it impossible-your love and hers? If her love for you is as great as you say it is, what is a King, a Prince, or a principality to her?"

"It is none of those. It is because she has given her word, the word of a Princess. What would you do in her place?" suddenly.

"I?" Phyllis leaned back among the cushions her eyes half-closed and a smile on her lips. "I am afraid that if I loved you I should follow you to the end of the world. Honor is a fine thing, but in her case it is an empty word. If she broke this word for you, who would be wronged? No one, since the Prince covets only her dowry and the King desires only his will obeyed. Perhaps I do not understand what social obligation means to these people who are born in purple."

"Perhaps that is it. Phyllis, listen, and I will tell you a romance which has not yet been drawn to its end. Once upon a time-let me call it a fairy story," said I, drawing down a palm leaf as if to read the tale from its blades. "Once upon a time, in a country far from ours, there lived a Prince and a Princess. The Prince was rather a bad fellow. His faith in his wife was not the best. And he made a vow that if ever children came he would make them as evil as himself. Not long after the good fairy brought two children to her godchild, the Princess. Remembering the vow made by the Prince, the good fairy carried away one of the children, and no one knew anything about it save the Princess and the fairy. When the remaining child was two years old the Princess died. The child from then on grew like a wild flower. The Prince did his best to spoil her, but the good fairy watched over her, just as carefully as she watched over the child she had hidden away. By and by the wicked Prince died. The child reached womanhood. The good fairy went away and left her; perhaps she now gave her whole attention to the other." I let the palm leaf slip back, and drew down a fresh one, Phyllis watching me with interest. "The child the fairy left was still a child, for all her womanhood. She was willful and capricious; she rode, she fenced, she hunted; she was as unlike other women as could be. At last the King, who was her guardian, grew weary of her caprices. So he commanded that she marry. But what had the fairy done with the other child, the twin sister of this wild Princess? Perhaps in this instance the good fairy died and left her work unfinished, to be taken up and pursued by a conventional newspaper repor

ter. Now this pro tem fairy, who was anything but good, as the word goes, made some curious discoveries. It seems that the good fairy had left the lost Princess in the care of one of a foreign race. Having a wife and daughter of his own, he brought the Princess up as his niece, not knowing himself who she really was. She became wise, respected, and beautiful in mind and form. Fate, who governs all fairy stories, first brought the newspaper reporter into the presence of the lost Princess. She was a mere girl then, and was selling lemonade at-at twenty-five cents a glass. She-"

"Jack," came in wondering tones, "for mercy's sake, what are you telling me?"

"Phyllis, can you not look back, perhaps as in a dream, to an old inn,

where soldiers and ministers in a hurry and confusion moved to and fro?

No; I dare say you were too young. The Princess Hildegarde of

Hohenphalia is your sister." I rose and bowed to her respectfully.

"My sister?-the Princess?-I, a Princess? Jack," indignantly, "you are mocking me! It is not fair!"

"Phyllis, as sure as I stand before you, all I have said is true. And now let me be the first to do homage to Your Serene Highness," taking her hand despite her efforts to withdraw it, and kissing it.

"It is unreal! Impossible! Absurd!" she cried.

"Let me repeat the words of the French philosopher, who said, 'As nothing is impossible, let us believe in the absurd,'" said I.

"But why has Uncle Bob kept me in ignorance all these years?" unconvinced.

"Because, as I have said before, he knew nothing till to-day. I have even spoken to the Chancellor, who has promised to aid in recovering your rights."

"And does she know-the Princess Hildegarde? My sister? How strange the word feels on my tongue."

"No; she does not know, but presently she will."

Then Phyllis asked in an altered tone, "And what is all this to you that you thrust this greatness upon me?-a greatness, I assure you, for which I do not care?"

I regarded her vaguely. I saw a precipice at my feet. I could not tell her that in making her a Princess I was making Gretchen free. I could not confess that my motive was purely a selfish one.

"It was a duty," said I, evasively.

"And in what way will it concern the Princess Hildegarde's affairs-and yours?" She was rather merciless.

"Why should it concern any affair of mine?" I asked.

"You love her, and she loves you; may she not abdicate in my favor?"

"And if she should?" with an accent of impatience.

Phyllis grew silent. "Forgive me, Jack!" impulsively. "But all this is scarcely to be believed. And then you say there are no proofs."

"Not in the eyes of the law," I replied; "but nature has written it in your faces." I was wondering why she had not gone into raptures at the prospect of becoming a Princess.

"It is a great honor," she said, after some meditation, "and it is very kind of you. But I care as little for the title as I do for this rose." And she cast away one of Pembroke's roses. It boded ill for my cousin's cause.

Presently we saw the giver of the rose loom up in the doorway. He was smiling as usual.

"It is supper, Jack," he said; "I'm afraid you'll have to go."

"Does he know?" whispered Phyllis as we rose.

"Yes."

She frowned. And as they went away I mused upon the uncertainty of placing valuable things in woman's hands.

The next person I saw was the Chancellor.

"Well?" I interrogated.

"There can be no doubt," he said, "but-" with an expressive shrug.

"Life would run smoother if it had fewer 'buts' and 'its' and 'perhapses.' What you would say," said I, "is that there are no proofs. Certainly they must be somewhere."

"But to find them!" cried he.

"I shall make the effort; the pursuit is interesting."

The expression in his eyes told me that he had formed an opinion in regard to my part. "Ah, these journalists!" as he passed on.

Everything seemed so near and yet so far. Proofs? Where could they be found if Wentworth had them not? If only there had been a trinket, a kerchief, even, with the Hohenphalian crest upon it! I shook my fists in despair. Gretchen was so far away, so far!

I went in search of her. She was still surrounded by men. The women were not as friendly toward her as they might have been. The Prince was standing near. Seeing me approach, his teeth gleamed for an instant.

"Ah," said Gretchen, "here is Herr Winthrop, who is to take me in to supper."

It was cleverly done, I thought. Even the Prince was of the same mind. He appreciated all these phases. As we left them and passed in toward the supper room, I whispered:

"I love you!"

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