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   Chapter 4 THE WHITE CITY

A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 33098

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Alec was sound asleep when the Orient Express rumbled over the Danube for the last time during its slow run to the Near East. He was aroused by an official examining passports, which he was informed would be restored in the railway station at Delgratz. He disliked the implied subterfuge; but it could not be helped. Austria, gracious to travelers within her bounds, excepts those who mean to cross her southeastern frontier. There she frowns and inquires. If it was known that a Delgrado was in the train, he would have been stopped for days, pestered by officialdom; and possibly deported.

A curious element of safety was, however, revealed by newspapers purchased at Budapest. The various factions in Delgratz had declared a truce. The Delgrado partizans had telegraphed an invitation to Prince Michael to come and occupy the throne, and the Prince, or some wiser person, had sent a gracious reply stating that his matured decision would reach Kosnovia in due course. The National Assembly was still coquetting with the republican idea; but, in the same breath, avowed its patriotic impartiality. In a word, Delgratz wanted peace. Toward that end, the Seventh Regiment continued to occupy the Black Castle, the remainder of the troops stood fast, and the citizens pulled down their barricades.

Oddly enough, the Paris correspondent of "The Budapest Gazette" pointed out that Prince Michael's son was playing polo in the Bois during the afternoon of Tuesday. The journalist little dreamed that Alec was reading his sarcastic comments on the Delgrado lack of initiative at Budapest at midnight on Wednesday.

The train was about to cross the River Tave (Delgratz stands on the junction of that stream and the Danube) when Stampoff appeared. The Albanian servant accompanied him.

"Leave everything to Bosko," said the General. "We must display no haste, and he will smooth the way through the customs."

"I suppose you don't want me to ask any questions?" laughed Alec.

"Better not. Do you still adhere to your program of last night?"

"Absolutely."

Stampoff took off his hat, pointed through the window, and said quietly, "There, then, God willing, is your Majesty's future capital. I wish to congratulate your Majesty on your first sight of it."

Beyond a level stretch of meadowland rose the spires and domes and minarets of a white city. The sun, not long risen, gilded its graceful contours and threw the rest of a wondrous picture into shadow so sharp that the whole exquisite vista might have been an intaglio cut in the sapphire of the sky. The Danube, a broad streak of silver, blended with the blue Tave to frame a glimpse of fairyland. For one thrilling moment Alec forgot its bloodstained history and looked only on the fair domain spread before his eyes. Then the black girders and crude latticework of a bridge shut out the entrancing spectacle, and he was conscious that Stampoff had caught his hand and was pressing it to his lips.

The gallant old Serb meant well, for he was a patriot to the core; but his impulsive action grated. Perhaps it was better so. Alec, bred in a society that treated such demonstrations with scant respect, was suddenly recalled to earth, and the business that lay before him seemed to be more in keeping with the modern directness of the railway bridge than with daydreams founded on a picturesque vision of Delgratz.

The city, too, lost its glamour when seen from those backdoor suburbs that every railway in every land appears to regard as the only natural avenue of approach to busy communities. The line turned sharply along the right bank of the Tave and ran past tobacco factories, breweries, powder mills, scattered hovels, and unkempt streets. Here was no sun, but plenty of bare whitewash. Even Alec, accustomed to the singularly ugly etchings of Paris viewed from its chief railways, was completely disillusioned by these drab adumbrations of commerce and squalor. The Tave was no longer blue, but dull brown with the mud of recent rain. Not even the inhabitants were attractive. They were not garbed as Serbs, but wore ungainly costumes that might have passed unnoticed in the Bowery. He was irresistibly reminded of the stage, with its sharp contrasts between the two sides of the footlights, and in the luggage net near his head reposed that melodramatic sword, still wrapped in brown paper.

The train slowed, and Stampoff went into the corridor. He came back instantly. "The station is guarded by troops," he muttered. "Some of the officers may recognize me. Perhaps we ought to separate."

"No, no," said Alec. "Let us stick to the other passengers. I am the real stranger here, and they can look at me as much as they like."

It was, indeed, easy to concede that Alexis III. was a man apart from his people. Swarthy old Stampoff, Prince Michael Delgrado, the pink and white Julius Marulitch, even the olive skinned, oval faced Beliani, might have mingled with the throng on the platform and found each his racial kith and kin; not so Alec. His stature, his carriage, his fair complexion tanned brown with an open air life, picked him out among these Balkan folk almost as distinctly as a Polar bear would show among the denizens of an Indian jungle. Moreover, every man of importance wore some sort of uniform, whereas Alec was quietly dressed in tweeds.

Thus, he drew many eyes, and evoked many a whispered comment; but never a man or woman in that crowded terminus harbored the remotest notion that he was a Delgrado. There were guesses in plenty, wherein he ranged from an English newspaper correspondent to a Greek Prince, the latter wild theory originating in the discovery of his name on the passport. Stampoff was ignored, and all went well till Bosko, laden with portmanteaus, led the way to the exit.

Alec, swayed by a desire to please his father, carried under his arm the sword of Ferdinand VII. The customs officials at the barrier allowed the party to pass; but a shrewd visaged officer standing just outside eyed Alec's package.

"What have you there?" he asked, probably more anxious to exchange a word with this distinguished looking stranger than really inquisitive.

"A sword," said Alec.

"And why are you carrying a sword?" said the other, who seemed hardly to expect this prompt reply in the vernacular.

"It is a curiosity, a veritable antique."

"Ha! I must see it."

"Come with me to Monsieur Nesimir's house and I will show it to you."

The suspicious one became apologetic, since Monsieur Nesimir was President of the National Assembly.

"I pray your pardon," he said. "Any friend of the President passes unchallenged. But these are troublous times in Kosnovia, so you understand--"

"Exactly. Brains are far more useful than swords in Delgratz to-day, and this, at the best, is but a gilded toy."

Stampoff was already inside a closed carriage, and Bosko was holding the door open for Alec, who gave the driver clear instructions before he entered. The vehicle rattled off, and Stampoff swore bluntly.

"Gods! I thought there would be a row," he growled. "That fellow is Captain Drakovitch, I remember him well; he is all nose."

"I shall appoint him sanitary inspector," said Alec, sniffing.

Stampoff laughed. Now that they were fairly committed to Alec's scheme, he was in excellent spirits. "By the patriarch! you certainly believe in yourself, and I am beginning to believe in you!" he vowed.

But his faith was rudely shaken when Alec insisted on sending his own card to Nesimir. "That is a mad thing," he protested. "He will refuse to receive you and hand you over to the guard."

"On the contrary, he will hasten to meet us. Curiosity is the most potent of human attributes. Even Presidents yield to it. At this moment, in all likelihood, he is struggling into a frock coat."

Alec was right. A portly person, wearing, indeed, a frock coat, a sash, and peg top trousers, appeared in the doorway of the presidential mansion. He also wore an expression of deep amazement. He glanced from the tall smiling youth to the diminutive General, on whom his eyes dwelt searchingly.

"Yes," said Stampoff abruptly, speaking in French, "I am Paul Stampoff, shorn of his fleece. This is the King," and he nodded to Alec.

"The King!"

"Alexis III., grandson of Ferdinand VII., and son of Michael V."

Nesimir hastily ordered a servant to close the outer door. As it happened, the President's military guard was stationed at a gate on the other side of the main courtyard, and no one could be aware of the visitor's identity, except the man who had taken Alec's card, while he, probably, was unable to read Roman script.

"Your Excellency will doubtless permit our baggage to be placed in the hall?" said Alec, using the most musical of all the Slavonic tongues with fluency.

The President, in that state of trepidation best described by the homely phrase, "You could have knocked him down with a feather," seemed to collapse utterly when he heard the stranger talking like a native.

"Certainly, your-certainly. I don't understand, of course; but I shall give directions..." he stuttered. "You have come by train, from-er-from the west? You have not breakfasted? A cup of chocolate? Ah, yes, a cup of chocolate. Then we can discuss matters. The Assembly meets at ten, and I am very busy; but I can give you half an hour, Monsieur--" he looked at the card in his hand,-"Monsieur--"

Then he gave it up. He simply dared not pronounce the name; so, with hospitable flourish, he ushered the two up a broad staircase and into a room.

While climbing the stairs he recovered sufficiently to tell the doorkeeper that the gentlemen's portmanteaus were to be brought within and no one admitted without specific permission. Once in the room he closed the door, stood with his back to it, and gasped at Stampoff with one word:

"Now!"

"As soon as you like. I am famished. I ate but little en route, because I detest German cooking," said Stampoff, on whom Alec's methods were taking effect.

"But--"

"Ah, you wonder why his Majesty should appear without ceremony? Well, he quitted Paris on Tuesday night, an hour after Prince Michael had abdicated in his favor."

"Abdicated!" wheezed the President.

"Our friend takes too much for granted," broke in Alec, smiling and unembarrassed. "My father could not vacate a throne he did not occupy. He merely resigned his claims in my favor. Kosnovia should be governed by a constitutional King, and the power to choose him now rests solely with the honorable house of which you are chief. If that is your view, I share it to the uttermost. It is reported in the press that the men who murdered King Theodore and Queen Helena have declared their allegiance to the Delgrado line. My reply is that I refuse their nomination. If I am elected King by the representatives of the people, I shall have much pleasure in hanging every officer who took part in the infamy of the Black Castle. But-it is an early hour for politics. You mentioned breakfast, Monsieur le Président?"

Fat and asthmatic Sergius Nesimir was not the man to deal with a candid adventurer of this type. It occurred to him that he ought to summon help and clap the soi-disant King and his henchman into prison. But on what charge? Could any royal pretender put forth more reasonable plea? And Kosnovia is near enough to the East to render sacred the claims of hospitality.

"One moment, I beg," he stammered. "Why has your-why have you come to me? What am I to do? The Assembly--"

"The Assembly seems to favor a Republic," said Alec. "Be it so. There are certain arguments against such a course which I would be glad of an opportunity to place before members. If you introduce me, they will give me a fair hearing. Let a vote be taken at once. If it is opposed to a monarchy, I am ready to be conducted to either the railway station or the scaffold, whichever the Assembly in its wisdom may deem best fitted to national needs. If it is in my favor, I am King. What more is there to be said?"

"What, indeed?" growled Stampoff. "Why so much talk? Let us eat!"

Poor Nesimir! He had the unhappy history of his country at his fingers' ends, and never before had Delgrado or Obrenovitch striven for kingship in this kid-glove fashion.

"Breakfast shall be served instantly," he said, trying vainly to imitate the cool demeanor of his guests. "But-you will appreciate the difficulties of my position. I must consult with the ministers."

"I hope I may call your Excellency a friend," said Alec, "and I shall be ever ready to accept your Excellency's counsel; but on this exceptional occasion I venture to advise you. Let none know I am here. In the present disturbed condition of affairs there must be almost as many hidden forces existing in Delgratz as there are men in the Cabinet. Why permit them to fret and fume when you alone have power to control them? I promise faithfully to abide by the decision of the Assembly. Should it favor me, your position is consolidated; should it prove adverse to my cause, you still remain the chief man in the State, since the world will realize that it was to you, and you only, I submitted in the first instance."

"By all the saints, that is well put!" cried Stampoff. "Now, Sergius, my lamb, a really good omelet, something grilled, and a bottle of sound Karlowitz-none of your Danube water for me!"

The President surrendered at discretion. Alec's appeal to his self importance was irresistible. He was excited, elated, frightened; but happily he was strong enough to perceive that a chance of obtaining distinction was within his grasp, and he clutched at it, though with palsied hands.

So it came to pass that when the hundred and fifty members of the National Assembly gathered in the great hall of the convention, none there knew why a tall, pleasant faced young man should be sitting in the President's private room, and apparently not caring a jot who came or went during the half-hour's lobbying and retailing of political gossip that preceded the formal opening of the sitting.

But there was an awkward moment when Nesimir, pale and shaken, entered the chamber through the folding doors at the back of the presidential dais.

"Silence for his Excellency the President!" shouted a loud voiced usher, and all men looked up in wonder when they discovered that the youthful stranger was standing by the President's side. The session was to be a secret one. Press and public were excluded. Who, then-

"Gentleman," said Sergius Nesimir, and he spoke with the slowness of ill repressed agitation, "I have a momentous announcement to make. This honorable house has almost committed itself to the republican form of Government--"

"Gentlemen, here stands Alexis Delgrado"

Page 75

"Definitely!" cried a voice.

"No, no!" this from a Senator.

The President lifted a hand. In other circumstances, the interruptions would have provoked rival storms of agreement and dissent from the many groups into which the Assembly was split up; but now there was an electric feeling in the air that their trusted chief would not broach this grave question so suddenly without good cause. And-who was his companion? Why did he occupy the dais?

"I ask for silence," said Nesimir. "The fortunes of Kosnovia tremble in the balance. You will be given ample time for discussion; but hear me first. I have said that the republican idea has been mooted in all seriousness. We, in common with the rest of humanity, have been horror stricken by recent events in our beloved land. Our reigning dynasty has been blotted out of existence. There is no heir of the Obrenovitch line. Were we, the representatives of the people, to declare in favor of a King, we should naturally turn to the other royal house of our own blood. We should send for a Delgrado. Gentlemen, here stands Alexis Delgrado--"

He could go no further. A yell of sheer amazement came from all parts of the crowded chamber. Ministers, Senators, Representatives, joined in that bewildered roar. Those who were sitting rose; those in the back benches stood on the seats in order to gaze over the heads in front. Men shouted and glared and turned to shout again at one another; but through all the turmoil Alec faced them, smiling and imperturbable, and, at what he judged to be the right moment-for that volcanic outburst must be given time to exhaust itself-he placed his one hand on the President's shoulder and with the other signaled his

desire to be heard.

Again he placed implicit confidence in the all powerful element of curiosity. He knew full well that these emotional Serbs could not hear his name unmoved, while the extraordinary racial difference between himself and every other man in the Assembly must have made a strong appeal to their dramatic instincts. And again was he justified; for the mere expression of his wish to address them was obeyed by an instant hushing of the storm.

"My fellow countrymen," he began, "you whom I expect to count among my friends ere this day is out--"

Another wave of sound ran through the hall. Men still wondered; but their hearts were beating high, and a new note had come into their voices. He was speaking their own language, speaking it as one to the manner born, speaking it as no Austrian could ever speak it, since harsh, dominant German can never reproduce the full Slavonic resonance. Alec, but yesterday Joan's typical idler, had fathomed some uncharted deep in the mysterious art of swaying his fellow men. He realized at once that this rumble of astonishment was the very best thing that could have happened. He waited just long enough for the sympathetic murmur to merge into nods and whisperings, then he continued:

"It is true that I am here as a Delgrado. I come as a candidate, not a claimant. It rests with you whether I shall remain among you as Alexis III., King of Kosnovia, or go back to my father and tell him that our people are anxious to try a new form of Government. Of course," and here Alec beamed on them most affably, "there are other alternatives. You may elect to put me in jail, or throw me into the Danube, or swing me from a gibbet as a warning to all would-be monarchs and other malefactors. But there is one thing you cannot do. You can never persuade me to wade to a throne through the blood of innocent people! And that is why I am here, and not in the company of the wretched conspirators now skulking behind the walls of the Schwarzburg."

Then a hurricane of cheers made the windows rattle, and a deputy from the Shumadia, "the heart of Kosnovia," a bigchested, deep voiced forester, sent forth a trumpet shout that reached every ear:

"Hola! That's a King! Look at him!"

From that instant Alec was as surely King of Kosnovia as the German Emperor is King of Prussia. Of course, he had to talk till he was hoarse, and wring strong hands till he was weary, and Stampoff had to make more than one gruff speech, and eloquent Senators and Deputies had to proclaim the inviolate nature of the new constitution, and Alec had to sign it amid a scene of riotous enthusiasm. But these things were the aftermath of a harvest reaped by half a dozen sentences. The Shumadia man's simple phrases became a formula. Men laughed and said:

"Hola! That's a King! Look at him!"

In time it reached the streets. The people took it up as a popular catchword. It whirled through all Kosnovia. Those who had never seen Alec, nor heard of him before they were told he was King, adopted it as a token of their belief that the nation had at last obtained a ruler who surpassed all other Kings.

But that was to come later. While Alec was listening to the plaudits that proclaimed his triumph, Stampoff growled at him from behind the half-closed door:

"Gods! You've done it! And without a blow! Never was Kingdom won so easily. God bless your Majesty! May you live long and reign worthily!"

Good wishes these; but in them was the germ of an abiding canker. What would Joan say? He had taken a sleeping car ticket from Paris and had stepped into his patrimony with as little anxiety or delay as would herald a royal succession in the oldest and most firmly established monarchy in Europe. What of the goddess with the great gray eyes, clear and piercing, who knew all the thoughts of men's hearts and the secrets of their souls? What of her warning that she would drive her chosen ones by strange paths through doubt and need and danger and battle? Which of these had he encountered, beyond the vanished phantoms of idle hours passed in the cozy comfort of the Orient Express? "Never was kingdom won so easily!"

Well meant; but it rankled. That ominous line of Vergil's came to his mind. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (I fear the Greeks even bringing gifts). Truly the Greeks were come speedily, carrying in full measure the gifts of loyalty and dominion. Yet he feared them. A whiff of peril, pitfalls to be leaped, some days or weeks of dire uncertainty, men to be won, and factions placated, any or all of these might have appeased the jealous gods. But this instant success would shock Olympus. It cried for contrast by its very flight to the pinnacle.

None suspected this mood in the chosen King. He charmed these volatile and romantic Serbs by his naturalness. He seemed to take it so thoroughly for granted that he was the one man living who could rule them according to their aspirations, that they adopted the notion without reserve. The morning passed in a blaze of enthusiasm. Alec, outwardly calm and hale fellow with all who came in contact with him, was really in a state of waking trance. His brain throbbed with ideas, words that he had never conned flowed from his lips. Thus, when asked to sign the constitution, he wrote "Alexis, Rex," with a firm hand, and then looked round on the circle of intent faces.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I hereby pledge myself to our land. When I am dead, if my successor shows signs of faltering, make my skin into a drumhead for the cause of Kosnovia!"

At the moment he really did not know that this was borrowed thunder, and assuredly the Kosnovians did not care. Already his utterances were being retailed with gusto. Before night, every adult inhabitant of Delgratz was likening their marvelous King, fallen from the skies, to a drum that should summon the Serbs to found the Empire of their dreams.

He was asked if he would not order the Seventh Regiment to evacuate the Black Castle so that he might take up his quarters there.

"There is no hurry," he said. "The place needs cleaning."

A review of the troops stationed in other parts of the capital was arranged for the afternoon in the beautiful park that crowns the promontory formed by the two rivers, and it was suggested that he should drive thither in the President's carriage.

"I would prefer to ride," said he. "Then the people and I can see one another."

A number of horses were brought from the late King's stables and Alec selected a white Arab stallion that seemed to have mettle and be up to weight. Soldiers and civilians exchanged underlooks at the choice. Selim was the last horse ridden by the ill fated Theodore, and, after the manner of Arabs, he had stumbled on the level roadway and the royal equestrian was thrown.

During the procession, while passing through the densely packed Wassina-st., Selim stumbled again and was promptly pulled back almost on his haunches. At that very instant a revolver was fired from the crowd and a bullet flattened itself on the opposite wall. The would-be assassin was seized instantly, a hundred hands were ready to tear him to shreds, when the King's white horse suddenly pranced into the midst of the press. Grasping the man by the neck, Alec drew him free by main force.

"Kill him!" yelled the mob.

"No," cried Alec, "we will put him in the recruits' squad and teach him how to shoot!"

Throughout a long day he displayed a whole hearted abandonment to the joy of finding himself accepted by the people as their ruler that did more than a year's session of the Assembly to endear him to them; but the seal of national approval was conferred by his action next day, when news came that Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir was a prisoner at Semlin!

Naturally, the telegraph wires had thrilled Europe during every hour after ten o'clock on Thursday morning, but the thrills felt in Germany, Russia, and Turkey were supplemented by agonized squirming on the part of official Austria. That an upstart, a masquerader, a mountebank of a King, should actually have traversed Austria from west to east, without ever a soul cased in uniform knowing anything about him, was ill to endure, and the minions of Kosnovia's truculent neighbor swore mighty oaths that no bottle holder from Paris or elsewhere should be allowed to follow. So Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir was watched from Passau to Maria Theresiopel, and telegrams flew over the face of the land, and Alec's British ally was hauled from the train at Semlin soon after dawn Friday.

Captain Drakovitch, anxious to atone for his prying of the previous day, brought circumstantial details to his Majesty Alexis III., who was breakfasting with Nesimir, Stampoff, and Ministers of State. There could be no doubting Beaumanoir's identity, since his baggage was on the train, and Drakovitch had made sure of his facts before hurrying to the President's house.

"Has Austria any right to arrest a British subject merely because he wishes to enter Kosnovia?" asked Alec, looking round at the assembled gray-heads.

"None whatever," said Nesimir.

"It is an outrage," puffed the War Minister.

"She would not dare act in that way on any other frontier!" cried he of the Interior.

"What, then, is to be done?" demanded the King.

"Make the most emphatic protest to Vienna," came the chorus.

"Through the usual diplomatic channels?"

"Yes-of course."

"But that means leaving my friend in prison for an indefinite period."

Eloquent shrugs expressed complete agreement.

"Has it been the habit of Kosnovia to accept tamely such treatment at the hands of Austria?" inquired Alec, looking at the President.

"I fear so, your Majesty. We are small and feeble; she is mighty in size and armament."

"So was Goliath, yet David slew him with a pebble," said Alec, rising. "Come, Captain Drakovitch, you and I will call on the Austrian Ambassador. Stampoff, will you kindly arrange that a regiment of cavalry and six guns shall parade outside the station in half an hour's time? You might also ask the railway people to provide the necessary transport, though I hardly expect it will be needed. Still, we ought to make a show, just for practice."

Several faces at the table blanched.

"What does your Majesty mean by these preparations?" asked Nesimir.

"Preparations-for what? Surely we can inspect our own troops and test our own railway accommodation," laughed Alec. "As for the Austrian Ambassador, I intend to make an emphatic protest through the usual diplomatic channel. Isn't that what you all agreed to?"

He went out, followed by Drakovitch. In five minutes they were clattering through the streets accompanied by a small escort, which Alec would have dispensed with if it was not absolutely needed to clear a passage when once Delgratz knew that the King was abroad.

Neither the Austrian nor Russian representative had recognized the new régime as yet. Each was waiting to see how the other would act; so Baron von Rothstein viewed with mixed feelings the arrival of his royal visitor. But he met him with all ceremony, and began to say that instructions might reach him from Vienna at any moment to pay an official call.

"Quite correct, Herr Baron," said Alec cheerfully. "I am a novice at this game; but I fully understand that you act for your Government and not for yourself. That fact renders easy the favor I have to ask."

"Anything that lies in my power, your Majesty--"

"Oh, this is a simple matter. A friend of mine, Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir, who was coming here from Paris to visit me, was arrested at Semlin this morning. There is, or can be, no charge against him. Some of your zealous agents have blundered, that is all. Now, I want you to go to Semlin in a special train I will provide and bring his Lordship here before--" Alec looked at his watch-"It is now nine-shall we say?-by eleven o'clock sharp."

Von Rothstein was startled, and he showed it. "But this is the first I have heard of it," he said.

"Exactly. That is why I came in person to tell you."

"I fear I cannot interfere, your Majesty."

"Is that so? Why, then, Herr Baron, are you Minister for Austria at Delgratz?"

"I mean that this matter is not within my province."

"Surely it must be. I cannot allow my friends to be collared by Austrian police for no reason whatsoever. This passport question concerns Kosnovia, not Austria. The action of the Semlin authorities is one of brigandage. It can be adjusted amicably by you, Herr von Rothstein. Do you refuse?"

"I fear I cannot do what you desire, your Majesty."

"Ah! That is a pity! In that event, I must go to Semlin myself and liberate Lord Adalbert."

"I don't quite understand--"

"Is my German so poor, then?" laughed Alec.

"I mean, of course--"

"You think I am bluffing. Do you know the word? It is American for a pretense that is not backed by action. I intend nothing of the kind. Either you or I must start for Semlin forthwith. If I go, I take with me a bodyguard sufficiently strong to insure my friend's freedom. I am not declaring war against Austria. If any jack in office in Kosnovia acts like these Semlin policemen, and a Kosnovian official refuses to put matters straight, by all means let Austria teach the offenders a sharp lesson. She will have my complete approval, as I hope I have yours on the present occasion."

"But, your Majesty, such action on your part does really amount to a declaration of war!"

"Ridiculous! Austria seizes an inoffensive British gentleman merely because he travels from Paris to Delgratz, I appeal to you, the Austrian minister, to go and release him, and you refuse; yet you tell me I am making war on your country if I rescue him. The notion is preposterous! At any rate, it can be argued later. I have sufficient cavalry and guns assembled near the station, and I hope to be in Semlin in twenty minutes. Good morning, Baron."

"Your Majesty, I implore you to forego this rash enterprise."

"It is you or I for it!"

"Let me telegraph."

"Useless. That spells delay. You or I must go to Semlin-now! Which is it to be?"

The Austrian diplomat, pallid and bewildered, yet had the wit to believe that this quiet voiced young man meant every word he said. He reasoned quickly that the freeing of a pestiferous Englishman at Semlin could have no possible effect on Austria's subsequent action. She might please herself whether or not the threatened invasion of her territory should be deemed a cause of war, while to yield for the hour robbed this extraordinary adventurer of the prestige that would accrue from his bold act.

"I will go, your Majesty," said he, after a fateful pause.

"Good! Permit me to congratulate you on a wise decision," said Alec. "I shall wait your return in patience until eleven."

"And then?"

"Oh, then-I follow you, of course."

Baron von Rothstein thought silence was best. He drove to the station, and did not fail to note the military preparations. His special quitted Delgratz at nine-twenty A.M. At ten-forty A.M. it came back and Alec met him and Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir on the platform.

"Sorry you were held up, old chap," was the King's greeting. "Some of these frontier police are fearful asses; but Herr von Rothstein rushed off the instant he heard of your predicament, and here you are, only five hours late after all."

"Wouldn't have missed it for a pony, dear boy," grinned Beaumanoir. "There was a deuce of a shindy when three fat johnnies tried to pull me out of my compartment. I told 'em I didn't give a tinker's continental for their bally frontier, and then the band played. I slung one joker through the window. Good job it was open, or he might have been guillotined, eh, what?"

"No one was injured, I hope."

"Another fellow said I bent his ribs; but they sprang all right under the vet's thumb. Tell me, why does our baronial friend look so vinegary? He chattered like a magpie in the police bureau, or whatever it is called, at Semlin."

"Lord Adalbert wishes me to explain that a disagreeable incident had ended happily," said Alec to von Rothstein.

"I am not sure that it has ended, your Majesty," was the grim reply.

"Well, then, shall we say that it has taken a satisfactory turn? You see, my dear Baron, I am quite a young King, and I shall commit many blunders before I learn the usages of diplomacy. But I mean well, and that goes a long way,-much farther than Semlin, even beyond Vienna."

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