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A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 30970

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Count Julius Marulitch and his friend Constantine Beliani, the one savagely impatient, the other moody and preoccupied, sprawled listlessly in Marulitch's flat in the Avenue Victor Hugo, and, though it was evening, each was reading "The Matin." That is to say, each was pretending to read; but their thoughts did not follow the printed words. Alexis III. had reigned only ten days, yet the most enterprising of the Paris newspapers was already making a feature of a column headed: "Our dear Alec, day by day." It ought to be an interesting record to these two men, yet it evidently was not one-tenth so humorous as "The Matin" believed, since there was a deep frown on both faces.

At last Marulitch flung the paper aside with an angry snarl.

"Ah, bah!" he growled. "May the devil fly away with our dear Alec and his doings day by day! A nice pair of fools we made of ourselves when we pitchforked him into power!"

"Patience, my friend, patience!" said the Greek. "Everything comes to him who waits, and Alec will fall far when his luck changes. It may be to-morrow, or next week; but he must experience a reverse. He is like a gambler at Monte Carlo who stakes maximums just because the table is running favorably."

"Fish!" snorted Marulitch. "What else would a gambler do?"

"What indeed?" agreed Beliani, though a far less alert intelligence than Marulitch's might have known that he was annoyed. The pink and white Julius, whom his friends had nicknamed "le beau Comte," did not fail to catch the contemptuous note of that purred answer; he sprang up from his chair, ransacked a cupboard, and threw on the table a box of those priceless cigarettes, the produce of a single southwesterly hillside at Salonica, that are manufactured solely for the Sultan of Turkey.

"There, smoke, my Constantine," he laughed harshly. "Why should we quarrel? We were idiots. Let us, then, admit it."

"Were we?"

"Can you deny it? We arranged the first move beautifully. With Theodore out of the way--"

The Greek turned his head swiftly and looked at the door. Marulitch lowered his voice.

"No need to refer to Theodore, you will say? How can one avoid it? His death was the cornerstone of the edifice. If only that senile uncle of mine had become King the path would be clear for the final coup before the year was out. And now where are we? What purpose do we serve by self delusion? Each day's newspaper bears witness to our folly. Alec carries the Assembly by storm; Alec captures a would-be assassin; Alec flouts Austria; Alec disbands the Seventh Regiment and hands its officers to the police; Alec attends the funeral of Theodore and Helena, and takes over their servants and debts; Alec tells the Sultan that he exists in Europe only on sufferance; Alec draws a map of Kosnovia and decorates it with railways; Alec bathes in the Danube at six, breakfasts at seven, attends a christening at eight, a wedding at nine, a review at ten, a memorial service in the cathedral at eleven, lunches at twelve, receives provincial deputations at one, inaugurates the Delgratz Polo Club at two and the Danubian Rowing Club at three,-Alec round the clock, and all Europe agape to know what next he will be up to-and you and I here, unknown, unrecorded,-you and I, the brains, the eyes, the organizers of the whole affair! Oh, it makes me sick when I remember how I stood like a stuck pig in old Delgrado's flat and let the son jump in and snatch from the father's hands the scepter I had purchased so dearly!"

The Greek rose languidly, strolled to the door, and threw it open. A page boy was in the lobby, and it was easy to see by his innocent face that his presence there was inspired by no more sinister motive than to deliver a newspaper.

Beliani took it, closed the door, listened a moment, and unfolded the damp sheet. He glanced at its foreign news.

"'Le Soir' gives prominence to a rumor that King Alexis will marry a Montenegrin Princess," he murmured composedly.

"Mirabel, of course?"

"She is unnamed."

"That's it. I know, I know! He will marry Mirabel. By Heaven! if he does, I'll shoot him myself!"

"The trial of the regicides is fixed for June," went on Beliani, wholly unmoved by Marulitch's vehemence. "Now, the vital question is, How far can Stampoff be relied on?"

"How does our reliance on Stampoff concern Mirabel?"

"I am not thinking of Mirabel, but of Julius and Constantine. If Stampoff tells our young Bayard everything, Delgratz is no place for you and me, my veteran."

Marulitch, though trembling with passion, could not fail to see that the Greek was remarkably nonchalant for one who had witnessed the utter collapse of ten years of work and expenditure.

"Are we going there?" he managed to ask without a curse.

"Soon, quite soon, provided Stampoff keeps a still tongue."

"But why? To grace the coronation by our presence?"

"It may be. Remember, if you please, that we are Alec's best friends. We gave him his chance. I offered to finance him; did finance Stampoff in fact. We are unknown personally to the officers of the Seventh. That was wise, Julius, far-seeing, on my part. Oh, yes, we must go to Delgratz. Delgratz is the nerve center now."

"You are keeping something from me."

"On my honor, no. But you sneered at my parable of the successful gambler, whereas I believe in it implicitly. I have seen that type of fool backing the red, staking his six thousand francs on every coup, and have watched a run of twelve, thirteen, seventeen, twenty-one; but the smash came at last."

"What matter? A man who wins twenty times can well afford to lose once."

"I said a gambler, not a financier," smiled Beliani. "But let it pass. I thought you told me there was a girl here in Paris--"

"So there is, a beauty too; but Alec has meanwhile become a King."

"A somewhat peculiar King. He has borrowed his regal notions from America rather than Kosnovia, Julius. He would laugh at any claim of divine right. One of these days you will find him chaffing the Hohenzollerns, and that is dangerous jesting in the Balkans. If he loves a girl in Paris, he will not marry your Mirabel. I fancy I have taken his measure. If I am right, he is far too honest to occupy the throne of Kosnovia."

"Grand Dieu! the country is pining for honest government. Even you will grant that."

"Even I, as you say; but I should be wrong. If I have an ax to grind, so has the other fellow. Kosnovia is in the East, and the East loves deceit. Alec has dazzled the people for a few days. Wait till he begins to sweep the bureaus free of well paid sinecurists. Wait till he finds out how the money is spent that the Assembly votes for railways, education, forestry, and the like. Wait till he reduces the staff of the army and the secretaries. I know Delgratz and Kosnovia, and he does not. He will win the people, it is true; but he will alienate the men who can twist the people this way and that to suit their own purposes. Before a month is out he will be wrangling with the Assembly. See if I am not a prophet. Oh, yes, Julius, you and I must go to Delgratz. No hurry; slow but sure. I'll break the journey at Vienna. We must sound Stampoff too. But before I go, I should like to be sure that the girl has gone there."

"The artist girl to Delgratz!"

Julius was bitter and skeptical; but he reposed such confidence in Beliani's judgment that he choked his doubts. "Yes. Can it be managed?"

Le beau Comte leered, and the satyr grin was highly expressive. It seemed to show the man's real nature. In repose his face was insipid; now for an instant he resembled the god Pan.

"You called Alec a Bayard just now. Not a bad title for him. He has that kind of repute among his friends. Perhaps the girl is built on the same lines, and we don't want to send a pretty saint to Delgratz merely to inspire him to fresh efforts."

The Greek inhaled a deep breath of the aromatic smoke. "You'll be an average sort of King, Julius; but you are not a philosopher," said he thoughtfully. "I tell you we are safer than ever if we can bring him and the girl together. He will marry her, you short sighted one-marry her, and thus alienate every Slav in the Balkans. I have turned this thing in my mind constantly since I recovered from the first shock of his achievement, and I am fairly certain of my ground. Mark you, Princess Mirabel of Montenegro will be reported to-morrow as out of the running. If that is so, you will begin to believe me and stop clawing your hair and injuring your fine complexion by scowling."

Next morning's "Matin" announced that King Alexis was greatly annoyed by the mischievous and utterly unfounded canard that bracketed his name with that of a woman he had never seen. Count Julius read, and made a hasty toilet. Beliani and he had laid their plans overnight, and he lost no time in opening the new campaign.

It was a difficult and delicate task he had undertaken. Paris, big in many respects, is small in its society, which, because of its well marked limits, makes a noise in the world quite incommensurate with its importance; whereas London, close neighbor and rival, contains a dozen definite circles that seldom overlap. The woman Julius had seen with Alec in the Louvre was not on Princess Michael's visiting list, of that he had no manner of doubt. Therefore, from his point of view, the only possible solution of their apparent friendship would prove to be something underhanded and clandestine, an affair of secret meetings, and letters signed in initials, and a tacit agreement to move unhindered in different orbits.

Being of the nature of dogs and aboriginal trackers, Marulitch made straight for the Louvre. There he had quitted the trail, and there must he pick it up again. But the hunt demanded the utmost wariness. If he startled the quarry, he might fail at the outset, and, supposing his talking was successful, both he and Beliani must still beware of a King's vengeance if their project miscarried.

Neither man had the slightest belief in Alec's innate nobility of character. Beliani likened him to Bayard, it is true, and Marulitch had scoffingly adopted the simile; but that was because each thought Bayard not admirable, but a fool. The somber history of the Kosnovian monarchy, a record of crass stupidity made lurid at times by a lightning gleam of passion, justified the belief that Alexis would follow the path that led Theodore, and Ferdinand, and Ivan, and Milosch to their ruin. Each of these rulers began to reign under favorable auspices, yet each succumbed to the siren's spell, and there was no reason at all, according to such reckoning, why the handsome and impulsive Alexis should escape. That a pretty Parisienne who was also an artist should fail to offer herself as a willing bait did not enter at all into the calculation.

"Be suave, spend money, and keep in the background," said the Greek.

Julius entered the Grande Galerie prepared to apply these instructions through the medium of his own subtle wit. At the outset, luck favored him. Somehow, it is always easier to do evil than good, and the longevity of evil is notorious, whereas the short lived existence of good would horrify an insurance agent.

Joan was not present; but Felix Poluski was preparing a canvas for his twenty-seventh copy of the famous Murillo. Two of his "Immaculate Conceptions" were in private collections; one had been sold to a South American millionaire as the Spanish artist's own duplicate of the picture, though Poluski was unaware of the fraud; and twenty-three adorned the high altars of various continental churches, where they edified multitudes happily ignorant of the irreverent conditions under which the cheery souled anarchist hunchback droned his snatches of song and extracted from a few tubes of paint some glimpse of heaven, and rays of sunlight, and hints of divine love and divine maternity.

The crooked little Pole's genius and character were alike unknown to Count Julius. He saw only a quaintly artistic personage who might possibly be acquainted with such a remarkable looking habitué of the gallery as Joan. Instead, therefore, of appealing to one of the officials, he approached Poluski, and the two exchanged greetings with the politeness that Paris quickly teaches to those who dwell within her gates.

"You work in this gallery most days, monsieur?" said Julius.

"But yes, monsieur," said Felix.

"About a fortnight ago, monsieur," explained Marulitch, "I happened to be here at this hour, and I noticed a young lady copying one of the pictures on the opposite wall. Can you tell me who she was?"

"Can you tell me which picture she was copying?" said Poluski.

"I am not sure; this one, I think," and Julius pointed to "The Fortune Teller."

"Ah! Describe her, monsieur."

"She was tall, elegant, charming in manner and appearance."

Poluski appeared to reflect. "The vision sounds entrancing, monsieur," he said; "but that sort of girl doesn't usually earn her crusts by daubing canvas in the Louvre at so much a square foot."

"Yet I saw her, without a doubt. She was not alone that morning. In fact, a friend of mine was with her."

Poluski turned to his easel. He was in no mind to discuss Joan with this inquiring dandy.

"That simplifies your search, monsieur," said he carelessly. "All that is necessary is to go to your friend."

"I cannot. He is not in Paris."

"Where is he?"

"Far enough away to render it impossible that he should solve my dilemma to-day. And the thing is urgent. I have a commission to offer, a good one. If you help, you will be doing the young lady a turn-and yourself, too, perhaps."

"Kindly explain, monsieur."

"I mean that I will gladly pay for any information."

"How much? Five, ten francs, a louis?"

The Pole's sarcasm was not to be mistaken. Julius was warned and drew back hurriedly.

"I really beg your pardon," he said; "but I am so anxious to carry out my undertaking that I have expressed myself awkwardly, and I see now that you are misinterpreting my motives. Let me speak quite candidly. I have no desire to meet the lady in person. An art connoisseur, who admires her work, wishes to send her to a cathedral in a distant city to copy a painting. He will pay well. He offers traveling expenses, hotel bill, and five thousand francs. The picture is not a large one, and the work easy, a Byzantine study of Saint Peter, I believe. If you tell me, monsieur, that you can arrange the matter, I shall be pleased to leave it entirely in your hands."

"Since when did Alec become a connoisseur?" demanded Poluski, grinning.

Marulitch was startled; but he smiled with a ready self possession that did him credit. "It was in Monsieur Delgrado's company I saw the fair unknown," he admitted; "but this affair does not rest with him. It is genuine, absolutely."

"Nevertheless, this Byzantine Saint Peter hangs in Delgratz, I suppose?"

"I-I think so."

"Five thousand francs, you said, and expenses. Not bad. I'm a pretty good hand myself. Will I do?"

The Pole was enjoying the stupid little plot; for it could wear no other guise to him, and Count Julius was mortified by the knowledge that he had blundered egregiously at the first step in the negotiation. What would Beliani say? This wizened elf of a man had seen clear through their precious scheme in an instant, and, worst of all, it had not advanced an inch. Julius

made a virtue of necessity, and placed all his cards on the table.

"I want you to credit my statements," he said emphatically. "This proposal is quite straightforward. My principal is prepared to pay half the money down before the lady leaves Paris, and the balance when the picture is delivered. Further, he will bear the expenses of any one who accompanies her,-a relative, or a friend, such as yourself, for instance. I don't figure in the matter at all. I am a mere go-between, and if you think otherwise you are utterly mistaken."

Felix began to whistle softly between his teeth, and the action annoyed Julius so greatly that he decided to try a new line.

"I seem to have amused you by my sincerity, monsieur!" he snapped. "Pray forget that I have troubled you--"

"But why, my paragon? Que diable! one does not spurn five thousand francs like that! I hum or whistle when I am thinking, and just now I am wondering how this business can be arranged. Who is your client?"

"Who is yours?" retorted Julius.

"She exists, at any rate."

"So does the other."

"Well, then, let us meet to-morrow--"

"But time is all important."

"There can't be such a mortal hurry, seeing that Saint Peter has hung so long undisturbed in Delgratz," said Felix dryly. "Moreover, it will clear the air if I tell you that the lady is not in Paris, so I cannot possibly give you her answer before to-morrow morning."

"How can I be sure that she is the person actually intended for this commission?"

"There won't be the least doubt about it when King Alexis III. sets eyes on her."

Julius was certainly not himself that day. His pink face grew crimson with amazement. "If you tell her that you will defeat my friend's object in sending her to Delgratz!" he blurted out.

"Eh, what are you saying? What, then, becomes of that poor Saint Peter?"

"Exactly. She is going there to copy it, not to philander with Alec."

Poluski screwed his eyes up until he was peering at Julius's excited features as if endeavoring to catch some transient color effect. "Frankly, you puzzle me," he said after a pause; "but come again to-morrow. And no tricks, no spying or that sort of thing! I am the wrong man for it. If you doubt me, ask some one who has heard of Felix Poluski. You see, Count Julius Marulitch, I am far more open than you. I knew you all the time, and as to your motives, I can guess a good deal that I don't actually know. Still, there is nothing positively dishonest about a Byzantine Saint Peter. It is not art, but five thousand francs sounds like business. Half the cash down, you said; anything by way of preliminary expenses?"


"Say, one per cent., fifty francs. Otherwise, I must paint all day and trust to the post-the least eloquent of ambassadors."

"Oh, as to that," and Julius produced a hundred-franc note from his pocketbook.

The Pole accepted it gravely. "I go instantly, monsieur," he said. He began to fold his easel and put away his brushes and colors. Once he glanced up at the rapt Madonna.

"Au 'voir, ma belle," he murmured. "This affair of Saint Peter must be arranged. It presses. They change Kings speedily in Delgratz nowadays, and their taste in saints may follow suit. But, courage! I shall return, and who knows what will come of this excursion into the forgotten realm of Byzantium?"

Count Marulitch, of course, had not counted on one who was a complete stranger not only recognizing him but stripping the pretense so thoroughly of the artistic commission offered to Alec's fair companion of that memorable morning. He must put the best face on his blunder when discussing it with Beliani, and he promised himself a quite definite understanding with Poluski ere another sou left his pocket.

Meanwhile, who was Poluski? That question, at least, could be answered easily. One clue might lead to another. To-morrow, when they met, it might be his turn to astonish the warped little Pole.

Felix, feeling that he had spoiled the Egyptians excellently well, hobbled off to his favorite café. Early as the hour was, various cronies were there already, sipping their morning refreshments; but he passed them with a nod and made for the fat proprietress throned behind a high desk. When she caught sight of him, a certain air of firmness seemed to struggle with sympathy for possession of her bulging features, and she hastily thumbed a small account book taken from beneath a pile of waiter's dockets.

"How much, madame?" asked Felix, who had missed none of this.

"Twenty-seven seventy-five," she said severely.

"Can one make it thirty, mignonne?"

"Thirty! Tell me, then, how market bills are to be met when one is owed these thirties?"

"Dear angel, Providence has decided that you shall deal with such problems."

"Well, well, no more, not a centime beyond the thirty!"

"Monstrous, yet all heart!" murmured Felix. He struck an attitude, and sang with exquisite feeling the opening bars of the Jewel Song from "Faust." As applied to the earthly tabernacle of madame's generous soul, the effect of that impassioned address was ludicrous. But Felix recked little of that. He threw the hundred-franc note on the counter.

"There, ma petite, be rewarded for your trust," he cried. "Now give me the railway timetable; for I have far to go ere I return, when you and I shall crack a bottle of Clos Vosgeot with our dinner."

Madame, who had not betrayed the least embarrassment when she and her café were apostrophized in Gounod's impassioned strains, was utterly bewildered by Poluski's wealth. Not once in many years had he owned so much at one time, since he always drew small sums on account of his pictures and kept himself going hand-to-mouth fashion. But here was Felix intent on the timetable and sweeping seventy-two francs twenty-five centimes of change into his pocket without troubling to count a coin.

"You have found a mad Englishman, I suppose?" tittered madame.

"Better, far better, ma chérie; I have met a man who would be a King!" He hurried out, climbed into a passing omnibus, and descended at the Gare de Lyon.

Joan was just leaving the pretty hotel at Barbizon, meaning to put in some hours of work after a distracted morning, when Felix emerged from the interior of a ramshackle cab that had carried him from Melun to the edge of the forest. Now, a cab drive of several miles, plus a journey from Paris, was a sufficiently rare event in Poluski's life to make Joan stare. His unexpected appearance chimed so oddly with her own disturbed thoughts that she paled.

"Felix," she cried, "have you brought ill news?"

"Of whom, chère mademoiselle?" he demanded.

"Of-of any one?"

"Alec still reigns, if that is what you mean."

"But he has sent you?"

"What, do I look like an envoy?" He laughed. "Well, well, ma belle, there is some truth in that. I come in behalf of one before whom even Kings must bow; I represent Saint Peter! But even an apostolic dynamitard must eat. I am starving, having sacrificed my luncheon to my love of you. Commend me, then, to some deft handed waiter, and let hunger and curiosity be sated at the same time."

Joan knew that Poluski would choose his own way of explaining his presence. The hour for luncheon was long past; but she hurried to the empty dining room and was able to secure some soup and a cold chicken. Felix eyed the bird distrustfully.

"Although I am here in behalf of Saint Peter, there is no sense in asking me to chew the wretched fowl that proclaimed his downfall," he muttered.

"Oh, Felix dear, please do tell me what has happened!" said Joan, clasping her hands in real distress. "I received a letter from Alec this morning. It was sent to me from my lodgings, and, what between that and the extraordinary things in the newspapers, I think I am bewitched. Now I am sure that you too have heard from him. Is it a telegram?"

"Yes," he said, "a message sent without wires; it came by one of those underground currents that convulse an unconscious world, sometimes agonizing mountains, at others perplexing a simple maid like yourself. You see, Joan, all things conspire to draw you to Delgratz."

"I am not going!" she vowed, thereby giving Poluski the exact information he needed; for his nimble brain was beginning to see the connection between Alec's letter and Count Julius Marulitch's intense desire to avail himself of Joan's skill as a copyist.

"You are, my dear," he said, dropping his bantering tone and looking her straight in the eyes.

"How can such an absurdity be dreamed of?" she demanded breathlessly.

"Because it is a dream that will come true. Listen, now, and don't be afraid, for these gray old trees of Barbizon have heard madder whisperings than that you should become a Queen. It is in the natural order of things that I, who gave my best years to devising the ruin of Kings, should be chosen in my dotage to help in fixing a King firmly on his throne. It is some sport of the gods, I suppose, a superhuman jest, perhaps the touch of farce that makes tragedy more vivid, since even that colossal Shakespeare of yours thought fit to lighten Hamlet by introducing a comic gravedigger. Be that as it may, Joan, you are Alec's Queen, and, as he cannot come for you it follows that you must go to him. Shall I tell you why? You are necessary to him. It is decreed, and you cannot shirk your lot. He knows it, and he has written to bid you come. His enemies know it; but there is a kind of knowledge that leads its votaries blindfold to the pit, and Alec's enemies are blindly plotting now to send you to Delgratz and thus compass his ruin."

"Felix! What are you saying?"

"The truth, the simple truth. Not a whiff of metaphor or extravagance about that statement, Joan. This morning a man came to me in the Louvre. He was seeking you. He wants to pay you five thousand francs for a copy of some blazoned daub that hangs in the cathedral at Delgratz. He will pay double, four times, the money if only you will consent to go there. Why? Because he believes that Alec is infatuated about you, and that the mere hint of marriage with one who is not a Slav princess will shatter the throne of Kosnovia about the ears of its present occupant. My anxious visitor is mistaken, of course. He is trying to do good that evil may come of it; but while there is justice in Heaven any such perversion of an eternal principle is foredoomed to failure.

"But just think of that man coming to me, Felix Poluski, who has an ear for every sob that rises from the unhappy people who dwell in the borderland between Teuton and Tartar! Isn't that the cream of comedy? When I make everything clear to you, when I show you how and by whom the killing of Theodore and his wife was engineered, you will begin to understand the fantastic trick that Fate played when she sent her emissary to the hunchback artist in the Louvre. But it is a long story, and it will beguile the journey across Austria, while there are many things you must attend to ere you leave Paris in the Orient Express to-morrow night."

"Felix, it is impossible!"

"Ah! Then you don't love our Alec."

"I-I have not heard a word from his lips-well, hardly a syllable--"

"Not in the letter?"

"That is different. Felix, I can trust you. Perhaps, under other conditions, I might marry Alec; but now I cannot."


"Because he is a King."

"The best of reasons, if he was bred in a palace. But he has lived long enough to become a man first. Frankly, Joan, I like Alec, and I think he ought to be given a chance. At any rate, I don't see why you are afraid of him."

"I am not. Indeed, I am not!" Joan's voice was tremulous. She was on the verge of tears; for the little Pole's persistence was breaking down the barrier that she had striven to erect against her lover's pleading. Alec had not said much in his letter; but what he did say was wholly to the point.

"Come to me, Joan," he wrote. "Don't wait. Don't stop and worry about what the world will say, since it will surely be something bitter and untrue. The people here are all right, and I think they are beginning to like me; but I can see quite plainly that they will not be content until I am married, and hints are being thrown out already that there are several eligible young ladies in neighboring States. But if these Kosnovians take me they must take you too, and it will be far easier for me when they have seen you.

"Now, no hesitation, no doubts, no weighing of pros and cons. Just set your teeth and toss your head up, and tell Pauline to sling your belongings into your boxes, and before you start send me one word in a telegram. I am horribly busy, of course (for details see daily papers), and this must be the most extraordinary love letter ever written; but what does that matter when you and I understand each other? It was you who sent me here. Don't forget that, dear teller of fortunes, and I want you to be standing by my side when the storm breaks that must surely be brewing for me after an incredible success."

There was more in the same vein. Alexis the King seemed to differ in no essential from the Alec Delgrado who used to wait for her every day in the neighborhood of the Pont Neuf. Dare she risk it? The question had tortured her ever since the early morning. It was not that the prospect of being a Queen was dazzling or even dismaying in itself; she really dreaded the result of such a marriage on the fortunes of the man she loved.

But against that self sacrificing attitude she was forced to admit the plea of Alec's own bewildering lack of conventionality. If half the stories in the newspapers were true, he was the most original minded monarch that ever reigned. She was quite sure that his answer to any evasive reply on her part would be a public announcement of the fact that his promised bride was a young lady in Paris, Joan Vernon by name. And that would be worse almost than going quietly to Delgratz and being married there.

What was she to do? She found Felix Poluski's gray eyes looking at her steadfastly. In this dilemma he was her only trusted counselor, and he had already advised her to yield.

"If I even knew his relatives," she faltered. "His parents live in Paris. We have never met. How can I say to his mother, 'Your son wants me to marry him. What do you think of me?' She, a Princess, would scoff at the idea."

"Alec is well aware of that; hence he has written direct to you, and said nothing to any other person. Let me assure you that if Prince Michael Delgrado had gone to Delgratz he would have died a sudden and violent death. Prince Michael knew it, and declined the distinction. Believe me, too, Alec has the very best of reasons for consulting no one in his choice of a wife. Now, Joan, be brave! When all is said and done, it should be far more pleasant to marry a King than fling a bomb at him, and I have met several young ladies almost as pretty as you who were ready enough to adopt the latter alternative. At any rate you will take no harm by crossing the Danube. It is not the Rubicon, you know, and you have Saint Peter to lean on in case of difficulty."

So Felix did not return to Paris alone, and when he met Count Julius Marulitch next morning in the Louvre he was able to announce that Miss Joan Vernon had accepted the commission to copy the Delgratz Saint Peter and was ready to start for Kosnovia by the night mail.

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