MoboReader> Literature > The Goose Girl

   Chapter 14 FIND THE WOMAN

The Goose Girl By Harold MacGrath Characters: 20002

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The watch, slipping from the clock-mender's hand, spun like a coin on the counter, while the clock-mender himself, his eyes bulging, his jaw dangling, it might be said, staggered back upon his stool.

"So this is the end?" he said in a kind of mutter.

"The end of what?" demanded the owner of the watch.

"Of all my labors, to me and to what little I have left!"

"Fiddlesticks! I am here for no purpose regarding you, my comrade. So far as I am concerned, your secret is as dead as it ever was. I had a fancy that you were living in Paris."

"Paris! Gott! For seventeen, eighteen years I have traveled hither and thither, always on some false clue. Never a band of Gipsies I heard of that I did not seek them out. Nothing, nothing! You will never know what I have gone through, and uselessly, to prove my innocence. It always comes back in a circle; what benefit to me would have been a crime like that of which I was accused? Was I not high in honor? Was I not wealthy? Was not my home life a happy one? What benefit to me, I say?" a growing fierceness in his voice and gestures. "All my estates confiscated, my wife dead of shame, and I molding among these clocks!"

"But why the clocks?" in wonder.

"It was a pastime of mine when I was a boy. I used to be tinkering among all the clocks in the house. So I bought out this old shop. From time to time I have left it in the hands of an assistant. The grand duke has a wonderful Friesian clock. One day it fell out of order, and the court jeweler could do nothing with it. I was summoned, I! No one recognized me, I have changed so. I mended the clock and went away."

"But what is the use of all this, now that her highness is found?"

"My honor; to the duke it is black as ever."

"Have you gone forward any?"

"Like Sisyphus! I had begun to give up hope, when the Gipsy I was seeking was seen by one of my agents. He alone knows the secret. And I am waiting, waiting. But you believe, Ludwig?"

"Carl, you are as innocent of it all as I am or as my brother was. Come with me to Jugendheit."

"No, Ludwig, this is my country, however unjustly it has treated me."

"Yes, yes. And to think that you and I and the grand duke were comrades at Heidelberg! But if your Gipsy fails you?"

"Still I shall remain. This will be all I shall have, these clocks. I am only sixty-eight, yet no one would believe me under eighty. I no longer gaze into mirrors. I have forgotten how I look. There were letters found in my desk, all forgeries, I knew, but so cleverly done I could only deny. I saw that my case was hopeless, so I fled to Paris. I wrote Herbeck once while there. He believed that I was innocent. I have his letter yet. He has a great heart, Ludwig, and he has done splendid work for Ehrenstein."

"He keeps a steady hand on the duke."

"But you, what are you doing in Dreiberg, in this guise?"

Herr Ludwig sat upon the counter and clasped a knee. "Do you care for fairy-stories?"

"Sometimes."

"Well, once upon a time there lived a king. He was young. He had an uncle who watched over him and his affairs. They call such uncles prince regents. This prince regent had an idea regarding the future welfare of this nephew. He would bring him up to be a man, well educated, broad-minded, and clean-lived. He should have a pilot to guide him past the traps and vices which befall the young. Time wore on. The lad grew up, clean in mind, strong in body, liberal; a fine prince. No scandalous entanglements; no gaming; no wine-bibbing beyond what any decent man may do. In his palace few saw anything of him after his fifteenth year. He went into the world under an assumed name. By and by he came home, quietly. His uncle was proud of him, for his eye was clear and his tongue was clean. In one month he was to be coronated. And now what do you think? He must have one more adventure, just one. Would his uncle go with him? Certainly not. Moreover, the time for adventure was over. He must no longer wander about; he was a king; he must put his hand to king-craft. And one morning his uncle found him gone, gone as completely as if he had never existed. What to do? Ah! The prince regent set it going that his majesty had gone a-hunting in Bavaria. Then the prince regent put on some old clothes and went a-venturing himself."

"And the end?"

"God knows!" said Ludwig, sliding off the counter.

Nothing but the ticking of the clocks was heard.

"And fatuous fool that this uncle was, he committed an almost irreparable blunder. He tried to marry his nephew."

"I understand. But if you are discovered here?"

"That is not likely."

"Ah, Ludwig, it is not the expected that always happens. Be careful; you know the full wording of Herbeck's treaty."

"Herbeck; there's a man," said Herr Ludwig admiringly. "To have found her highness as he did!"

"He is lucky," but without resentment.

The other picked up his watch. "Can I be of material assistance?"

"I want nothing," haughtily.

"Proud old imbecile!" replied the mountaineer kindly. "You have been deeply wronged, but some day you will pick up the thread in the labyrinth, and there will be light forward. I myself shall see what can be done with the duke."

"He will never be brought to reason unless indubitable evidence of my innocence confronts him. With the restoration of the princess fifty political prisoners were given their liberty and restored to citizenship. The place once occupied by my name is still blank, obliterated. It is hard. I have given the best of my heart and of my brain to Ehrenstein-for this! I am innocent."

"I believe you, Carl. Remember, Jugendheit will always welcome you. I must be going. I have much to do between now and midnight. The good God will unravel the snarl."

"Or forget it," cynically. "Good-by, Ludwig."

There was a hand-clasp, and the mountaineer took himself off. The clock-mender philosophically reached for his tools. He had wasted time enough over retrospection; he determined to occupy himself with the present only. Tick-tock! tick-tock! sang the clocks about him. All at once a volume of musical sounds broke forth; cuckoo-calls, chimes, tinkles light and thin, booms deep and vibrant. But the clock-mender bent over his work; all he was conscious of was the eternal tick-tock! tick-tock! on and on, without cessation.

* * *

Carmichael walked his horse. This morning he had ridden out almost to the frontier and was now on his return. As he passed through the last grove of pines and came into the clearing the picture was exquisite; the three majestic bergs of ice and snow above Dreiberg, the city shining white and fairylike in the mid-morning's sun, and the long, half-circling ribbon of a road. He sighed, and the horse cocked his ears at the sound.

No longer did Carmichael take the south pass for his morning rides. That was the favored going of her highness, and he avoided her now. In truth, he dared not meet her now; it would have been out of wisdom. So long as she had been free his presence had caused no comment, only tolerant amusement among the nobles at court. It chafed him to be regarded as a harmless individual, for he knew that he was far from being in that class. There was a wild strain in him. Dreiberg might have waked up some fine morning to learn that for a second time her princess had been stolen, and that there was a vacancy in the American consulate. How many times had he been seized with the mad desire to snatch the bridle of her horse and ride away with her into a far country! How often had his arms started out toward her, only to drop stiffly to his sides!

March hares! They were Solons as compared with his own futile madness. But it was different now. She was to marry the king of Jugendheit; it was in the order of things that he ride alone. He knew that court etiquette demanded the isolation of the Princess Hildegarde from male escort other than that formally provided. The two soldiers detailed to act as her grooms or bodyguards were not, of course, to be considered. So, of the morning, he went down to the military field to watch the maneuvers, which were drawing to a close; or rode out to the frontier, or took the side road to Eissen, where the summer palaces were. But it was all dreary; the zest of living had somehow dropped out of things.

The road to Eissen began about six miles north of the base of the Dreiberg mountain. It swerved to the east. As Carmichael reached the fork his horse began to limp. He jumped down and removed the stone. It was then that he heard the far-off mutter of hoofs. Coming along the road from Eissen were a trio of riders. Carmichael laughed weakly.

"I swear to Heaven that this is no fault of mine!"

Should he mount and be off before she made the turn? Bah! It was an accident; he would make the most of it. The bodyguard could easily vindicate him, in any event. He remounted and waited.

She came in full flight, rosy, radiant, as lovely as Diana. Carmichael swung his cap boyishly; and there was a swirl of dust as she drew up.

"Good morning, Herr Carmichael!"

"Good morning, your Highness!"

"Which way have you been riding?"

"Toward Jugendheit."

"And you are returning?" With a short nod of her head she signaled for the two soldiers to fall back.

The two looked at each other embarrassedly.

"Pardon, Highness," said one of them, "but the orders of the duke will not permit us to leave you. There have been thieves along the road of late."

Thieves? This was the first time Carmichael had heard of it. The real significance of the maneuver escaped him; but her highness was not fooled.

"Very well," she replied. "One of you ride forward and one of you take the rear." Then she spoke to Carmichael in English.

The soldiers shrugged. To them it did not matter what language her highness adopted so long as they obeyed the letter of the duke's instructions. The little cavalcade directed its course toward the city.

"You h

ave not been riding of late," she said.

Then she had missed him. Carmichael's heart expanded. To be missed is to be regretted, and one regrets only those in whom one is interested.

"I have ridden the same as usual, your Highness; only I have taken this road for a change."

"Ah!" She patted the glistening neck of her mare. So he had purposely tried to avoid her? Why? She stole a sly glance at him. Why were not kings molded in this form? All the kings she had met had something the matter with them, crooked legs, weak eyes, bald, young, or old, and daft over gaming-tables and opera-dancers. And the one man among them all-at least she had been informed that the king of Jugendheit was all of a man-had politely declined. There was some chagrin in this for her, but no bitterness or rancor. In truth, she was more chagrined on her father's account than on her own.

"You should have taken the south pass. It was lovely yesterday."

"Perhaps this way has been wisest."

"Are you become afraid of me?" archly.

"Yes, your Highness." If he had looked at her instead of his horse's ears, and smiled, all would have been well.

She instantly regretted the question. "I am sorry that I have become an ogress."

"To me your highness is the most perfect of women. I am guilty of lese-majesty."

"I shall not lock you up," she said, and added under her breath, "as my good father would like to! Besides," she continued aloud, "I rather like to set the court by the ears. Whoever heard of a serene highness doing the things I do? I suppose it is because I have known years of freedom, freedom of action, of thought, of speech. These habits can not change at once. In fact, I do not believe they ever will. But the duke, my father, is good; he understands and trusts me. Ah, but I shall lead some king a merry life!" with a wicked gleam in her eyes.

"Frederick of Jugendheit?"

"Is it true that you have not heard yet? I have declined the honor."

"Your highness?"

"My serene highness," with a smile. "This, of course, is as yet a state secret; and my reason for telling you is not a princess', but a woman's. Solve it if you can."

Carmichael fumbled the reins blindly. "They say that he is a handsome young man."

"What has that to do with it? The interest he takes in his kingdom is positively negative. I have learned that he has been to his capital but twice since he was fifteen. He is even now absent on a hunting trip in Bavaria, and his coronation but a few days off. There will be only one king in Jugendheit, and that will be the prince regent."

"He has done tolerably well up to the present," observed Carmichael, welcoming this change. "Jugendheit is prosperous; it has a splendid army. The prince regent is a fine type of man, they say, rugged, patient, frugal and sensible."

"There is an instance where he made a cruel blunder."

"No man is infallible," said he, wondering what this blunder was.

"I suppose not. Look! The artillery is firing."

Boom-boom! They saw the smoke leap from the muzzles of the cannon, and it seemed minutes before the sound reached them.

"I have a fine country, too," she said, with pride; "prosperous, and an army not inferior to that of Jugendheit."

"I was not making comparisons, your Highness."

"I know that, my friend. I was simply speaking from the heart. But I doubt if the prince regent is a better man than our Herbeck."

"I prefer Herbeck, never having met the prince regent. But I have some news for your highness."

"News for me?"

"Yes. I am about to ask for my recall," he said, the idea having come into his mind at that precise moment.

"Your recall?"

Had he been looking at her he would have noticed that the color on her fair cheeks had gone a shade lighter.

"Yes."

"Is not this sudden? it is not very complimentary to Ehrenstein."

"The happiest days in my life have been spent here."

"Then why seek to be recalled?"

"I am essentially a man of action, your Highness. I am growing dull and stupid amid these charming pleasures. Action; I have always been mixed up in some trouble or other. Here it is a round of pleasure from day to day. I long for buffets. I am wicked enough to wish for war."

"Cherchez la femme!" she cried. "There is a woman?"

"Oh, yes!" recklessly.

"Then go to her, my friend, go to her." And she waved her crop over his head as in benediction. "Some day, before you go, I shall ask you all about her." Ah, as if she did not know! But half the charm in life is playing with hidden dangers.

He did not speak, but caught up the reins firmly. She touched her mare on the flank, and the four began trotting, a pace which they maintained as far as the military field. Here they paused, for the scene was animated and full of color. Squadrons of cavalry raced across the field; infantry closed in or deployed; artillery rumbled, wheeled, stopped, unlimbered. Bang-bang! The earth shivered and rocked. Guerdons were flying, bugles were blowing, and sabers were flashing.

"It is beautiful," she cried, "this mimic war."

"May your highness never see aught else!" he replied fervently.

"Yes, yes; you have seen it divested of all its pomp. You have seen it in all its cruelty and horror."

"I have known even the terror of it."

"You were afraid?"

"Many times."

She laughed. It is only the coward who denies fear.

He would certainly ask for his recall or transfer. He was eating his heart out here in Dreiberg.

They began the incline. She did most of the talking, brightly and gaily; but his ears were dull, for the undercurrent passed by him. He was, for the first time, impressed with the fact that the young ladies of the court never accompanied her on her morning rides. There were frequent afternoon excursions, when several ladies and gentlemen rode with her highness, but in the mornings, never.

"Will you return to America?" she queried.

"I shall idle in Paris for a while. I have an idea that there will be war one of these days."

"And which side will you take?"

"I should be a traitor if I fought for France; I should be an ingrate if I fought against her. I should be a spectator, a neutral."

"That would expose you to danger without the right to strike a blow in defense."

"If I were hurt it would be but an accident. War correspondents would run a hundred more risks than I. Oh, I should be careful; I know war too well not to be."

"All this is strange talk for a man who is a confessed lover."

"Pardon me!" his eyes rather empty.

"Why, you tell me there is a woman; and all your talk is about war and danger. These are opposites; please explain."

"There is a woman, but she will not hinder me in any way. She will, in fact, know nothing about it."

"You are a strange lover. I never read anything like you in story-books. Forgive me! I am thoughtless. The subject may be painful to you."

The horses began to pull. Under normal circumstances Carmichael would not have dismounted, but his horse had carried him many miles that morning, and he was a merciful rider. In the war days often had his life depended upon the care of his horse.

"You have been riding hard?"

"No, only far."

"I do not believe that there is a finer horseman in all Ehrenstein than yourself."

"Your highness is very good to say that." Why had he not gone on instead of waiting at the fork?

Within a few hundred yards of the gates he mounted again. And then he saw a lonely figure sitting on the parapet. He would have recognized that square form anywhere. And he welcomed the sight of it.

"Your Highness, do you see that man yonder, on the parapet? We fought in the same cavalry. He is covered with scars. Not one man in a thousand would have gone through what he did and lived."

"Is he an American?"

"By adoption. And may I ask a favor of your highness?"

"Two!" merrily.

"May I present him? It will be the joy of his life."

"Certainly. All brave men interest me."

Grumbach rose up, uncovered, thinking that the riders were going to pass him. But to his surprise his friend Carmichael stopped his horse and beckoned to him.

"Herr Grumbach," said Carmichael, "her serene highness desires me to present you."

Hans was stricken dumb. He knew of no greater honor.

"Mr. Carmichael," she said in English, "tells me that you fought with him in the American war?"

"Yes, Highness."

She plied him with a number of questions; how many battles they had fought in, how many times they had been wounded, how they lived in camp, and so forth; and which was the more powerful engine of war, the infantry or the cavalry.

"The cavalry, Highness," said Hans, without hesitation.

She laughed. "If you had been a foot-soldier, you would have said the infantry; of the artillery, you would have sworn by the cannon."

"That is true, Highness. The three arms are necessary, but there is ever the individual pride in the arm one serves in."

"And that is right. You speak good English," she remarked.

"I have lived more than sixteen years in America, Highness."

"Do you like it there?"

"It is a great country, full of great ideas and great men, Highness."

"And you will go back?"

"Soon, Highness."

The mare, knowing that this was the way home, grew restive and began prancing and pawing the road. She reined in quickly. As she did so, something yellow flashed downward and tinkled as it struck the ground. Grumbach hastened forward.

"My locket," said her highness anxiously.

"It is not broken, Highness," said Grumbach; "only the chain has come apart." Then he handed it to her gravely.

"Thank you!" Her highness put both chain and locket into a small purse which she carried in her belt, touched the mare, and sped up the road, Carmichael following.

Grumbach returned to the parapet. He followed them till they passed out of sight beyond the gates.

"Gott!" he murmured.

His face was as livid as the scar on his head.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top