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   Chapter 24 No.24

Arms and the Woman By Harold MacGrath Characters: 9285

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

Immediately Pembroke and I journeyed to the feudal inn. When we arrived a mixture of rain and snow was falling. But I laughed at that. What if I were drenched to the skin with chill rain and snow, my heart was warm, warmer than it had been in many a day. Woman is infallible when she reads the heart of another. Phyllis said that Gretchen loved me; it only remained for me to find her. Pembroke began to grumble.

"I am wet through," he said, as our steaming horses plodded along in the melting snow. "You might have waited till the rain let up."

"I'm just as wet as you are," I replied, "but I do not care."

"I'm hungry and cold, too," he went on.

"I'm not, so it doesn't matter."

"Of course not!" he cried. "What are my troubles to you?"

"Nothing!" I laughed and shook the flakes from my sleeves. "Cousin, I am the happiest man in the world."

"And I'm the most dismal," said he. "I wish you had brought along an umbrella."

"What! Ride a horse with an umbrella over you? Where is your sense of romance?"

"Romance is all well enough," said he, "when your stomach is full and your hide is dry. If you can call this romance, this five-mile ride through rain and snow, you are gifted with a wonderful imagination."

"It is beautiful here in the summer," defensively.

"I wish you had waited till then, or brought a mackintosh. Your Princess would have kept." He shoved his head deeper into his collar, and began to laugh. "This is the discomfort man will go through for love. If she is a true woman she will feed you first and explain afterward. But, supposing she is not here?"

"Where else can she be?" I asked.

"The world is very large-when a woman runs away from you."

This set me thinking. If she shouldn't be there! I set my teeth and gave the horse a cut, sending him into a gallop, which I forced him to maintain till the end. At length we turned into the roadway. A man I had never seen before came out.

"Where is the innkeeper?" I asked, my heart sinking.

"He is not here," was the answer,

"Is Her Highness the Princess Hildegarde-"

"Her Highness?" he cried, in astonishment. "She has never been here.

This is an inn; the castle is in the village."

"How long have you been here?" asked Pembroke.

"Two weeks, Your Highness." Doubtless he thought us to be high personages to be inquiring for the Princess.

"Is Stahlberg here?" I asked.

"He is visiting relatives in Coberg," was the answer.

"Do you know where Her Highness is?"

"No." It occurred to me that his voice had taken to sullen tones.

"When will the innkeeper be back?"

The fellow shrugged his shoulders. "I cannot say, Your Highness. The inn is not open for guests till March."

"Jack," said Pembroke in English, "it is evident that this fellow has been instructed to be close-lipped. Let us return to the village. The castle is left." He threw some coins to the servant and they rattled along the porch. "Come." And we wheeled and trotted away.

I cannot tell how great was my disappointment, nor what I did or said. The ride back to the village was a dreary affair so far as conversation went. At the castle we found not a soul.

"It is as I expected," said Pembroke. "Remember that Her Highness is accustomed to luxury, and that it is not likely for her to spend her winter in such a deserted place. You're a newspaper man; you ought to be full of resources. Why don't you telegraph to all the news agencies and make inquiries? She is a personage, and it will not be difficult to find her if you go at it the right way."

I followed his advice, and the first return brought me news. Gretchen was at present in Vienna. So we journeyed to Vienna, futilely. Then commenced a dogged, persistent search. I dragged my cousin hither and thither about the kingdom; from village to train, from train to city, till his life became a burden to him and his patience threadbare. At Hohenphalia, the capital, we were treated coldly; we were not known; they were preparing the palace for the coronation of Her Serene Highness the Princess Elizabeth; the Princess Hildegarde might be in Brussels. At Brussels Her Highness was in Munich, at Munich she was in Heidelberg, and so on and so on. It was truly discouraging. The vaguest rumor brought me to the railway, Pembroke, laughing and grumbling, always at my heels. At last I wrote to Phyllis; it was the one hope left. Her reply was to the effect that she, too, did not know where her sister was, that she was becoming a puzzle to her, and concluded with the advice to wait till the coronation, when Gretchen would put in appearance, her presence being i

mperative. So weeks multiplied and became months, winter passed, the snows fell from the mountains, the floods rose and subsided, summer was at hand with her white boughs and green grasses. May was blooming into June. Still Gretchen remained in obscurity. Sometimes in my despair I regretted having loved her, and half resolved to return to Phyllis, where (and I flushed at the thought!) I could find comfort and consolation. And yet-and yet!

"I shall be a physical wreck," said Pembroke, when we finally returned to B--, "if you keep this up much longer."

"Look at me!" was my gloomy rejoinder.

"Well, you have that interesting pallor," he admitted, "which women ascribe to lovers."

Thrusting my elbows on the table, I buried my chin in my hands and stared. After a while I said: "I do not believe she wants to be found."

"That has been my idea this long while," he replied, "only I did not wish to make you more despondent than you were."

So I became resigned-as an animal becomes resigned to its cage. I resolved to tear her image from my heart, to go with Pembroke to the jungles and shoot tigers; to return in some dim future bronzed, gray-haired and noted. For above all things I intended to get at my books again, to make romances instead of living them.

There were times when I longed to go to Phyllis and confide my troubles to her, but a certain knowledge held me back.

One morning, when I had grown outwardly calm, I said to Pembroke:

"Philip, I shall go with you to India."

"Here is a letter for you," he replied; "it may change your plans."

My mail, since leaving the journalistic field, had become so small that to receive a letter was an event. As I stretched forth a hand for the letter my outward calm passed swiftly, and my heart spoke in a voice of thunder. I could not recall the chirography on the envelope. The hand, I judged, which had held the pen was more familiar with flays and scythes. Inside of the envelope I discovered only six words, but they meant all the world to me. "She is here at the inn." It was unsigned. I waved the slip of paper before Pembroke's eyes.

"She is found!" I cried.

"Then go in search of her," he said.

"And you will go with me?"

"Not I! I prefer tigers to princesses. By the way, here is an article in the Zeitung on the coming coronation of Her Serene Highness the Princess Elizabeth of Hohenphalia. I'm afraid that I shan't be present to witness the event." He thrust the paper into my hands and approached the window, out of which he leaned and stared at the garden flowers below. . . . "When I asked her why it could not be, she answered that she had no love to give in return for mine." Presently he rapped his pipe on the sill and drew in his head. His brow was wrinkled and his lips were drawn down at the corners. With some shame I remembered that I had thought only of myself during the past few months. "Jack," he said, "I have gone around with you for the excitement of it, for the temporary forgetfulness, and because I wanted to see you well cared for before I left you. The excitement took my mind from my own malady, but it has returned to-day with all its old violence. There is the same blood in our veins. We must have one woman or none. I must get away from all this. We are at the parting of the ways, old man. To-night I leave for India. The jungle is a great place. I am glad for your sake that you are not to go with me. Sometimes one gets lost."

"She may change her mind," I said, putting a hand on his. "Most women do."

"Most admit of exceptions," he replied, regarding me with earnest eyes as if to read what was going on behind mine. "There are some women who never change. Her Highness is one of these. As I remarked before, she has no love to give me; it is gone, and as it is gone without reward, she will make no attempt to recall it to give to another. I love her all the more for that. The game fate plays with our hearts is a cruel one. For one affinity there are ten unfinished lives. Her Highness loves a good man."

My hand fell from his, and I went over to the window. This was the first intimation he had given to me that he knew the secret, the secret which had made me so sad, the secret which I tried not to believe.

"You are determined to go to India?" I said, without turning my head.

I could find no other words.

"Yes. It will be the best thing in the world."

"You will promise to write?"

"Whenever I strike the post. Marry and be happy; it is the lot of the few."

That night he started for Bombay, by the way of England, and the next morning I put out for the feudal inn.

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