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Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 16043

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The affair caused considerable stir. The wise men of diplomacy shook their heads over it and predicted grave things in store for Hohenphalia. Things were bad enough as they were, but to have a woman with American ideas at the head-well, it was too dreadful to think of. And the correspondents created a hubbub. The news was flashed to Paris, to London, thence to New York, where the illustrated weeklies printed full-page pictures of the new Princess who had but a few months since been one of the society belles. And everybody was wondering who the "journalist" in the case was. The Chancellor smiled and said nothing. Mr. Wentworth said nothing and smiled. A cablegram from New York alarmed me. It said: "Was it you?" I answered, "Await letter." The letter contained my resignation, to take effect the moment my name became connected with the finding of the Princess Elizabeth. A week or so later I received another cablegram, "Accept resignation. Temptation too great." In some manner they secured a photograph of mine, and I became known as "The reporter who made a Princess;" and for many days the raillery at the clubs was simply unbearable. But I am skipping the intermediate events, those which followed the scene in the King's palace.

I was very unhappy. Three days passed, and I saw neither Phyllis nor Gretchen. The city was still talking about the dramatic ending of Prince Ernst's engagement to the Princess Hildegarde, Twice I had called at the Hohenphalian residence to pay my respects. Once I was told that Their Highnesses were at the palace. The second time I was informed that Their Highnesses were indisposed. I became gloomy and disheartened. I could not understand. Gretchen had not even thanked me for my efforts in saving her the unhappiness of marrying the Prince. And Phyllis, she who had called me "Jack," she whom I had watched grow from girlhood to womanhood, she, too, had forsaken me. I do not know what would have become of me but for Pembroke's cheerfulness.

Monday night I was sitting before the grate, reading for the hundredth time Gretchen's only letter. Pembroke was buried behind the covers of a magazine. Suddenly a yellow flame leaped from a pine log, and in it I seemed to read all. Gretchen was proud and jealous. She believed that I loved Phyllis and had made her a Princess because I loved her. It was the first time I had laughed in many an hour. Pembroke looked over his magazine.

"That sounds good. What caused it?"

"A story," I answered. "Some day I shall tell you all about it. Have you noticed how badly I have gone about lately?"

"Have I!" he echoed. "If I haven't had a time of it, I should like to know!"

"Well, it is all over," said I, placing a hand on his shoulder and smiling into his questioning eyes. "Now if you will excuse me, cousin mine, I'll make a call on her Serene Highness the Princess Hildegarde."

Just then the door opened and Pembroke's valet came in. He handed a card to me, and I read upon it, "Count von Walden." I cast it into Pembroke's lap.

"That's the man. He is the inseparable of the Prince of Wortumborg."

Then to the valet, "Show him up."

"What's it all about?" asked Pembroke.

"Honestly, I should like to run away," I said musingly. The snow on the housetops across the way sparkled in the early moonshine. "It's about a woman. If I live-ah!" I went to the door and swung it open. The Count gravely passed over the threshold.

"Good evening," he said, with a look of inquiry at Pembroke.

"This gentleman," said I, as I introduced him, "will second me in the affair to-morrow morning. I suppose you have come to make the final arrangements?"

"Pardon me," began Pembroke, "but I do not understand-"

"Oh, I forgot. You are," I responded, "to be my second in a duel to-morrow morning. Should anything happen to me, it were well to have a friend near by, better still a relative. Well, Count?"

"The Prince desires me to inform you that he has selected pistols at your request, and despite the fact that he has only the use of his left hand, he permits you to use either of yours. There will be one shot each, the firing to be drawn for on the grounds. The time is six, the place one mile out on the north road, in the rear of the Strasburg inn. I trust this is entirely satisfactory to you?"

"It is," I answered.

"Then allow me to bid you good night." He bowed and backed toward the door. He remained a moment with his hand on the knob, gazing into my eyes. I read in his a mixture of amusement and curiosity. "Good night," and he was gone.

Pembroke stared at me in bewilderment. "What the devil-"

"It is a matter of long standing," said I.

"But a duel!" he cried, impatiently. "Hang me if I'll be your second or let you fight. These are not the days of Richelieu. It is pure murder. It is against the law."

"But I cannot draw back honorably," I said. "I cannot."

"I'll notify the police and have them stop it," he said with determination.

"And have us all arrested and laughed at from one end of the continent to the other. My dear cousin, that man shot the dearest friend I had in the world. I am going to try to kill him at the risk of getting killed myself. He has also insulted the noblest woman that ever lived. If I backed down, I should be called a coward; the people who respect me now would close their doors in my face."

"But you have everything to lose, and he has nothing to gain."

"It cannot be helped," said I. "The woman I love once fought a duel for me; I cannot do less for her. You will be my second?"

"Yes. But if he wounds you, woe to him."

"Very well, I'll leave you," said I.

It was not far to the residence of Their Highnesses, so I walked. It was a fine night, and the frost sang beneath my heels. I had never fought a duel. This time no one would stand between. I was glad of this. I wanted Gretchen to know that I, too, was brave, but hitherto had lacked the opportunity to show it. It was really for her sake, after all, even though it would be something to avenge poor Hillars. And I wondered, as I walked along, would Gretchen and Phyllis love each other? It was difficult to guess, since, though sisters, they were utter strangers in lives and beliefs. Soon my journey came to an end, and I found myself mounting the broad marble steps of the Hohenphalian mansion. My heart beat swiftly and I had some difficulty in finding the bell.

The liveried footman took my card.

"Present it to her Highness the Princess Hildegarde," I said, as I passed into the hall.

"Her Serene Highness has left town, I believe, Your Excellency. Her

Serene Highness the Princess Elizabeth is dining at the palace."

"Gone?" said I.

"Yes, Your Excellency." He examined my card closely. "Ah, allow me to deliver this note to you which Her Serene Highness directed me to do should you call."

My hands shook as I accepted the missive, and the lights began to waver. I passed out into the cold air. Gone? And why? I walked back to the rooms in feverish haste. Pembroke was still at his reading.

"Hello! What brings you back so soon?"

"She was not at home," I answered. I threw my coat and hat on the sofa. I balanced the envelope in my hand. For some moments I hesitated to open it. Something was wrong; if all had been well Gretchen would not have left the city. I glanced at Pembroke. He went on with his reading, unconcerned. Well, the sooner it was over, the better. I drew forth the contents and read it.

"Herr Winthrop-Forgive the indiscretion of a Princess. On my honor, I am sorry for having made you believe that you inspired me with the grand passion. Folly finds plenty to do with idle minds. It was a caprice of mine which I heartily regret. There is nothing to forgive; there is much to forget. However, I am under great obligations to you. I am positive that I shall love my sister as I have never loved a human being before. She is adorable, and I can well comprehend why you should love her deeply. Forgive me

for playing with what the French call your summer affections. I am about to leave for Hohenphalia to prepare the way for the new sovereign. Will you kindly destroy that one indiscreet letter which I, in the spirit of mischief, wrote you last autumn?

"The Princess Hildegarde."

The envelope reminded me of a rusty scabbard; there was a very keen weapon within. I lit my pipe and puffed for a while.

"Cousin," said I, "I have a premonition that I shall not kill Prince

Ernst of Wortumborg at six o'clock to-morrow morning."

"What put that into your head? You are not going to back down, after all, are you?"

"Decidedly not. Something strikes me that I shall miss fire."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed Pembroke. "I have been thinking it over, and I've come to the conclusion that it would not be a bad plan to rid this world of a man like your Prince. It'll all come out right in the end. You will wed the Princess Hildegarde just as sure as-as I will not wed her sister." He spoke the last words rapidly, as though afraid of them.

"I shall never marry the Princess Hildegarde," said I. "She has gone."

"Gone? Where?"

"It matters not where. Suffice it is that she has gone. Pembroke, you and I were very unfortunate fellows. What earthly use have Princesses for you and me? The little knowledge of court we have was gotten out of cheap books and newspaper articles. To talk with Kings and Princesses it requires an innate etiquette which commoners cannot learn. We are not to the manner born. These Princesses are but candles; and now that we have singed our mothy wings, and are crippled so that we may not fly again, let us beware. This may or may not be my last night on earth. . . . Let us go to the opera. Let us be original in all things. I shall pay a prima donna to sing my requiem from the footlights-before I am dead."

"Jack!" cried Pembroke, anxiously.

"Oh, do not worry," said I. "I am only trying to laugh-but I can't!"

"Are you truly serious about going to the opera?" he asked.

"Yes. Hurry and dress," said I.

I leaned against the mantel and stared into the flickering tongues of flame. A caprice? I read the letter again, then threw it into the grate and watched the little darts of light devour it. Now and then a word stood out boldly. Finally the wind carried the brown ashes up the chimney, I would keep the other letter-the one she had asked for-and the withered rose till the earth passed over me. She was a Princess; I was truly an adventurer, a feeble pawn on the chess-board. What had I to do with Kings and bishops and knights? The comedy was about to end-perhaps with a tragedy. I had spoken my few lines and was going behind the scenes out of which I had come. As I waited for Pembroke the past two years went by as in a panorama. I thought of the old lawyer and the thousand-dollar check; the night at the opera with Phyllis; the meeting of Hillars and his story. "When there is nothing more to live for, it is time to die." If there was such a place as Elysium in the nether world, Hillars and I should talk it all over there. It is pleasant to contemplate the fact that when we are dead we shall know "the reason why."

"Come along," said Pembroke, entering.

So we went to the opera. They are full of wonderful scenes, these continental opera houses. Here and there one sees the brilliant uniforms, blue and scarlet and brown, glittering with insignias and softened by furs. Old men with sashes crossing the white bosoms of their linen dominate the boxes, and the beauty of woman is often lost in the sparkle of jewels. And hovering over all is an oppressive fragrance. Pembroke's glasses were roving about. Presently he touched my arm.

"In the upper proscenium," he said.

It was Phyllis. The Chancellor and the Grand Duke of S-- were with her.

"We shall visit her during the first intermission," said I.

"You had better go alone," replied Pembroke. "I haven't the courage."

The moment the curtain dropped I left the stall. I passed along the corridor and soon stood outside the box in which Phyllis sat. I knocked gently.

"Enter!" said a soft voice.

"Ah," said the Chancellor, smiling as he saw me. "Duke, I believe their Majesties are looking this way. Let us go to them. I am pleased to see you, Herr Winthrop. Duke, this is the gentleman who has turned us all upside down."

The Duke bowed, and the two left me alone with Phyllis.

There was an embarrassing silence, but she surmounted it.

"Why have you not been to see me?" she asked. "Are you done with me now that you have made me a Princess?"

"I did call, but was told that you were indisposed," said I.

"It was because I did not see your card. I shall never be indisposed to my friends-the old ones. However, they will be crowding in here shortly. Will you come and see me at four to-morrow afternoon?"

"Is it important?" I was thinking of the duel when I said this.

"Very-to you. You have a strange funereal expression for a man who is about to wed the woman he loves."

"Your sister has left town?" not knowing what else to say.

"Only for a few days; at least so she told me. Have you seen her?"

"No, I have not. A Princess!" dropping into a lighter tone. "You carry your honors well. It was to be expected of you. I might have made you a Queen, but that would not have changed you any."

"Thank you. Do you know, a title is a most wonderful drawing apparatus? Since Thursday it has been a continued performance of presentations. And I care absolutely nothing for it all. Indeed, it rests heavily upon me. I am no longer free. Ah, Jack, and to think that I must blame you! I have been longing all the evening for the little garden at home. Yes, it will always be home to me. I am almost an alien. I would rather sell lemonade to poor reporters who had only twenty-five-cent pieces in their pockets than queen it over a people that do not interest me and with whom I have nothing in common." She smiled, rather sadly, I thought, at the remembrance of that garden scene so long ago.

"Time has a cruel way of moving us around," said I, snapping the clasps on my gloves, and pulling the fingers and looking everywhere but at her. I was wondering if I should ever see her again. "When is the coronation to take place?"

"In June. The King does not wish to hurry me. You see, I must learn to be a Princess first. It was kind of him. And you will be at Hohenphalia to witness the event?"

"If nothing happens. We live in a continual uncertainty."

She regarded me somewhat strangely.

"Is there a significance in that last sentence?"

"No," I answered. I felt compelled to add something. "But here come some of your new admirers. Their glittering medals will make me feel out of place if I remain. I shall do my best to accept your invitation."

"Jack, you are hiding something from me. Are you going to leave the city to search for her?"

"No," said I. "The truth is," with a miserable attempt to smile, "I have an engagement to-morrow morning, and it is impossible to tell how long it will last. Good night."

Fate played loose with me that night. As I was turning down the corridor I ran into the Prince. He was accompanied by Von Walden and an attaché whom I knew.

"Good evening," said the Prince. "Do you not prefer the French opera, after all?"

"All good music is the same to me," I answered, calmly returning his amused look with a contemptuous one. "Wagner, Verdi, Gounod, or Bizet, it matters not."

The attaché passed some cigarettes. Only the Prince refused.

"No thanks. I am not that kind of a villain." He laughed as he uttered these words, and looked at me.

I would have given much to possess that man's coolness.

"Till we meet again," he said, as I continued on. "Shall I add pleasant dreams?"

"I am obliged to you," I answered over my shoulder, "but I never have them. I sleep too soundly."

"Cousin," said I, later, "what was that opera?"

"I forgot to bring along a program," said Pembroke.

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