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   Chapter 8 SHOWING HOW THE KING KEPT HIS APPOINTMENT

A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 28913

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Joan's eyes could not leave Alec. She followed each movement of his lithe, strongly knit frame as he and Beaumanoir hauled the heavy pieces of furniture into position behind the door. She was not fully alive as yet to the real menace of the gesticulating mob surging in the street beneath, and her thoughts ran riot in the newly discovered paradise of being loved and in love.

For Alec had asked no questions, listened to no explanations. When he entered the room, he found her, half turned from the window, conscious that he was near, though trying to persuade her throbbing heart that Felix would not depart from an implied promise by sending him to her without warning. She strove to utter some words of greeting. Before she could speak, Alec's arms were around her, and he was kissing her lips, her forehead, her hair. She saw him as through a mist. Her first fleeting impression was that he had become older, sterner, more commanding. Kingship had set its seal on him. A short month of power had stamped lines on his face that would never vanish. But that sense of imperiousness was quickly dispelled by the enchantment of her presence.

Somehow, almost without spoken word, he brought the thrilling conviction that he was hungering for her. The light in his eyes, the overwhelming ardor of his embrace, the magnetic force that leaped the intervening space while yet they were separated by half the length of the room,-these things bewildered, charmed, subdued her wholly, and she kindled under them ere her brain could summon to aid the feeblest of remonstrances.

She abandoned the nebulous idea of protest when she found that she in turn was clinging to him, giving kiss for kiss with a delirious intensity that refused to be denied. Nevertheless, the sheer joy of her emotions frightened her, and she was endeavoring to subdue its too sensuous expression when Beaumanoir opened the door, to close it again hurriedly. She recovered her faculties slowly. She was still quivering under the stress of that moment of ineffable delight, and her brown eyes sparkled with the glow of a soul on fire, and she was brought back to earth only by the knowledge that Felix, standing at his post near a window, was on the verge of collapse.

The sideboard contained a flask of brandy, which Pauline had insisted on stowing in a dressing bag in case of illness. Joan, glad of the pretext to do some commonplace thing, thankful for the mere utterance of commonplace words, called for help.

"Please remove the table for an instant," she cried. "Felix is ill, and I want to get at some cognac that is in the cellarette."

"Ill! He was lively enough in the street a minute ago, singing like a thrush," said Alec cheerily, though he did not fail to pull the table clear of the cupboard. "What is it, my Humming Bee?" he demanded, turning to Poluski. "Is it a surfeit of excitement, or late hours, or what?"

"I am yielding to the unusual, my King," crackled the Pole's voice thinly. "During three whole days I have done naught but think, and that would incommode an elephant, leave alone a rat like me."

"Rat, indeed! When we are all out of this trap, Felix, you must tell me what caused your alarming exercise of brain power. Already you have bothered me to guess how you fathomed the pretty scheme you are now upsetting."

"There, dear Felix, drink that, and you will soon feel strong again," put in Joan.

"Ha, dear Felix, am I? I expected to be called anything but that after breaking my word so disgracefully!"

"You are forgiven," said she with a tender smile at Alec.

Beaumanoir, discreetly peeping through the window over Poluski's shoulder, saw something that perplexed him.

"I say, Alec," he exclaimed, "I thought you told me that Stampoff's man Bosko was a thoroughly reliable sort of chap."

"I have always found him so."

"Well, just at present he looks jolly like a deserter. He is making a speech to the mob and tearing off his uniform obligato. The other joker is scared to death."

"Bosko making a speech! Why, he never says anything but 'Oui, monsieur,' or 'Non, monsieur,' which is all the French he knows. Well, this is a day of wonders, anyhow."

Neglecting the precautions he had insisted on a minute earlier, Alec himself went to the window and drew Joan with him. There were two other windows in the room; but the four clustered in the one deep recess, for the thick walls of this old building were meant to defy extremes of heat and cold. By this time one of the two orderlies had dismounted and was stamping on his smart cavalry jacket and plumed shako, thus announcing by eloquent pantomime, that he was discarding forever the livery of a tyrant.

The mob in the street was now swollen to unrecognizable dimensions, and Alec's charger, which Bosko was holding, resented the uproar by lashing out viciously with his heels. A man who had narrowly escaped being kicked drew a revolver, fired, and the spirited Arab fell with a bullet in its brain. The dastardly act was cheered; for the Seventh Regiment remembered that this same white horse had stumbled and thrown King Theodore on the day of his murder.

"Oh, the coward, the hateful coward!" wailed Joan, and two of the men muttered expressions of opinion that must be passed over in silence.

But Felix happened to be watching Bosko, and noted the black rage that convulsed his face when the Arab dropped dead at his feet. The Albanian's feelings mastered him only for an instant.

He began at once to harangue the crowd again, evidently offering to lead his own horse out of harm's way, and loudly bidding his frightened comrade to do likewise.

A path was being cleared when some one looked up at the window, and a fierce yell proclaimed the King's presence. Bosko was forgotten. Sight of their quarry had frenzied the pack.

"Down everyone!" cried Alec, bending double and dragging Joan with him.

Several panes of glass were starred with little round holes, mortar fell from the ceiling, and the crackle of shots below showed that revolvers were popular in Delgratz. But Felix had seen enough to set his shrewd wits working.

"That man of yours-is Bosko his name?-is no fool," said he, when they had crept from the glass strewn area into the shelter of the stout wall. "He is gulling your beloved subjects, Alec. He realizes that trouble is brewing, and he means to steal off and bring help. Fortunately, my brave Sobieski will be at the President's house by this time, and your guards may arrive before those cutthroats in the street decide to storm the hotel."

"Sobieski-who is he?" asked Alec.

"A waiter in the restaurant. I have pledged you to buy him a café in Warsaw if the troops come speedily."

"Make it a brewery, Alec," said Beaumanoir; "these bounders mean business."

A constant fusillade of bullets was now tearing the windows to atoms, and shattering the ceiling on the other side of the room. Lord Adalbert was justified in offering liberal terms for relief.

The King, standing with one arm thrown round Joan's shoulders, felt the tremors she strove vainly to repress. "Don't be afraid, sweetheart. They cannot reach us here," he said. "I have one unknown protector, it seems, and I feel sure that Felix is right about Bosko. The only drawback is that our friendly waiter may find some difficulty in persuading the officers on duty at Monsieur Nesimir's house that we are in danger. We must risk that."

"Oh, to safeguard against delay, I told him to ask for the Prince," said Felix.

"What Prince?"

"Your father, of course. Ha! Name of a good little gray man! You don't know that Prince Michael and your mother are in Delgratz."

"Mark cock!" cried Beaumanoir, as a bullet flew breast high across the room and imbedded itself in the inner wall. The heroes of the Seventh Regiment were firing from the upper floors of the houses opposite.

Alec did not seem to heed. The look of blank amazement on his face proved that he had ridden straight from the review ground to the university, whereas a call at the President's house would have enlightened him.

"It is true, dear," whispered Joan. "They came with us from Paris; in the same train, that is. We all arrived at Delgratz this morning. Your mother spoke to me on the platform at Vienna."

He smiled with something of the old careless humor of Paris days. "I suppose everything is for the best," he said. "Nothing surprises me now, not even this," and he nodded cheerfully toward the landing and stairs, whence a rush of footsteps and clamor of voices were audible.

The handle of the door was wrenched violently, and shots were fired into the lock and at the panels; but the wood was seasoned and stanch, and nothing short of a rifle would drive a bullet through. The door creaked and strained under the pressure of the mutineers' shoulders. Had it not been reinforced by the solid sideboard and equally heavy table, it must have given way. As it was, no four men in Delgratz could hope to force an entrance, and no more than four could attack it simultaneously.

It was noteworthy that no one called on the King to come out. These hirelings, enraged against a ruler who had brought to the Danube a new evangel of justice and uprightness, of honest government and clean handed service to the State, made no pretense of requesting a hearing for their grievances. They had planned to shoot him in cold blood while he and his three companions were momentarily delayed by the barrier of the bullock cart in front of the corner café. Balked of this easy means of attaining their end, they were still sure of success. But their cries and curses were intended only for self encouragement. Not even the bloodstained Seventh Regiment had the effrontery to ask their victim to admit them.

There was a momentary quieting of their wild beast fury when the door resisted their utmost efforts. Joan tried to persuade her tortured mind that the conspiracy had failed.

"They will not dare to remain," she whispered. "They know that assistance may arrive at any moment. Listen, they are going now!"

"Are you gentlemen armed?" asked Felix, grimly.

"Yes, with riding whips," said Alec. "For my part, I have refused to carry any more dangerous weapon; though it is true that I entered Delgratz with a sword in my hand," he added, remembering with a twinge his imagining of Joan's ready laugh when she heard of Prince Michael's brown paper parcel.

"Pity you don't possess a revolver apiece. They would prove useful when the panels are broken, which will happen just as soon as these high spirited politicians on the landing secure axes," went on Felix remorselessly.

He wanted Joan to realize the certain fate that awaited her once the door gave way. Concealment was useless, and he hoped she would faint before the end came.

"What price the leg of a chair?" asked Beaumanoir.

The Pole bent his gleaming gray eyes on the Briton with a curious underlook of inquiry. "No, no. We can do better than that. You would be shot before you could strike a blow. Joan, please crawl past the window and stand upright in the corner close to the wall. You follow, Alec. I go next, and this young gentleman, who must be Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir, since he has all the outward signs of the British aristocracy, will place himself near the door. If he does exactly what I tell him, we still have a fighting chance."

The change of position advised by Poluski rendered them safe from their assailants' bullets until the door was actually off its hinges and the furniture thrust aside. In the last resort, Alec meant to show himself at a window and offer a fair target to the men in the houses across the street. When he fell the shooting from that quarter would cease. Then, acting on his precise instructions, Beaumanoir and Felix must lift Joan through another window and allow her to drop to the pavement. It was not far. She might escape uninjured, and there was a possibility that the mob would spare a woman who was an utter stranger, one in no way mixed up in Kosnovian affairs.

Time enough to take this final step when their defense was forced, and that would be soon. In all likelihood, he had not much more than a minute to live, and he devoted that minute to Joan.

"Sweetheart," he murmured tenderly, "you saw the beginning of my career as a King, and it seems that you are fated to see its end. Have you forgotten what Pallas Athene said to Perseus? It is not so long ago, that morning in the Louvre. But why did you run away from Paris? Why have you not written? If you knew how I hoped for a word from you! My heart told me you loved me; but even one's heart likes to be assured that it is not mistaken."

He was looking into her eyes. The fantasy seized her that he was able to read her secret soul, and she swept aside any thought of concealment. "Alec," she said, "tell me truly, are we in danger of death?"

"I am," he replied simply. It was better so, he thought.

"Then I thank God that I am here to die with you."

He dared not hint that she might escape. "We still have a remote chance," he went on. "Let us talk of ourselves, not of death."

"But I don't want to die, Alec," she whispered brokenly. "I want to live, dear. I want to live and be your wife. Oh, Alec, let us ask Heaven for one year of happiness, one short year--" She choked, and the tears so bravely repressed hitherto dimmed her glorious eyes. Her piteous appeal increased the torment of his impotence. His face grew marble white beneath the bronze, and he bent in mute agony over her bowed head.

Felix, crouching behind Beaumanoir, assured himself that the King and his chosen lady were momentarily deaf to all else than the one supreme fact that each loved the other. He sighed, and touched the stalwart Beaumanoir's shoulder, which he was just able to reach with uplifted hand.

"Drop on your knees," he said. "I want to tell you something."

"You think it is high time I said my prayers-eh, what?"

Yet the younger man obeyed, since there was a calm authority in the pinched and wrinkled face raised to his that seemed to despise the uproar of the mob. Felix was singularly unmoved by the bestial din. He evidently cared naught for the continuous shooting from street and houses, or the renewed outburst on the stairs that welcomed the arrival of axes and sledge hammers rifled from a neighboring shop.

"Pay heed to what I

am going to say," he muttered, bringing his mouth close to Beaumanoir's ear, "I don't wish Joan or the King to know what we are doing. They will be wise after the event, not before, which is often the better part of wisdom. Have you a steady hand? Will you flinch if I ask you to destroy every man on the other side of that door?"

Beaumanoir twisted his head round and grinned. "If asking will do the trick, try me!" said he.

Felix took from an inner pocket of his coat a gunmetal cigarcase. He pressed a spring, and the lid flew open. Inside were four cigar shaped cylinders, each studded with a number of tiny knobs. He withdrew a cylinder, and from a small cup in its base obtained six percussion caps, which he proceeded to adjust on the iron nipples.

"My own patent!" he exclaimed, with an air of pride that was grotesque under the conditions. "Each cigar is a bomb, warranted to clear any ordinary room of its occupants. It does not discriminate. It will dismember the most exalted personages."

"By gad!" ejaculated Beaumanoir, shrinking away slightly.

Felix pressed closer in his enthusiasm. "The point carrying the detonators is loaded with lead. If properly handled, it is sure to fly with that end in front. You take it between your thumb and second finger, thus, and poise it by placing the tip of the first finger behind it, thus; but you must throw hard, and wait until the upper part of the door is smashed, and you can fling it clear, or three ounces of dynamite will explode in front of your nose, with disastrous effect. I will have a second bomb ready if the first one fails; but it will not."

"By gad!" said Beaumanoir again, gazing at the deadly contrivance as if fascinated by it. He could retreat no farther, being jammed against the sideboard.

"Do you understand?" demanded Felix coolly.

"Perfectly. Is it-er-Russian or Spanish?"

"Neither. I call it the International. Are you ready?"

A thunderous blow shook the door. Another and another fell on lock and hinges.

"Felix!" said Alec, turning from Joan and stooping over the hunchback.

"Don't bother me, I am busy," growled the Pole.

"But we must act. We are done for now, and Joan must be saved. I mean to draw the enemy's fire. When I am hit, you and Beaumanoir must take Joan to the third window over there-take her by force if necessary--"

"My good Alec, at present you are a King without power. Please don't talk nonsense. Keep in your corner, pacify Joan, and leave the rest to me."

"Felix," and Alec's tone grew curt and sharp, "this is no time for jest! Look, you madman, the door is splitting! Is Joan to die, then, to please your whim? Either attend to me or stand aside!"

Poluski groaned. He was such an amalgam of contrarieties that he hated the notion of explaining to a monarch the subtle means he had devised for ridding the world of its unpopular rulers. Where Alec was concerned, the bomb ought to remain a trade secret, so to speak. He would not have trusted even Beaumanoir with its properties had he not known that his own nerve would fail at the critical moment. For that was Felix Poluski's weakness. He could not use his diabolical invention-an anarchist in theory, in practice he would not harm a fly.

"I think just as much of Joan as you!" he blazed back at the pallid man whose next step promised to lead to the grave. "I am King here, not you! Keep yourself and Joan out of harm's way, and don't interfere! Stand flat against the wall, both of you! Back, I say! There is the first axhead! Now you, who were born a lord, be ready to lord it over these groundlings!"

He whirled round on Beaumanoir, and Alec saw in his friend's hand some object, what he could not guess, while Felix carried a similar article in reserve, as it were. The little man's earnestness was so convincing that the King could not choose but believe that some scheme that offered salvation was in train. But it might fail! The door might be forced before his own desperate alternative could be adopted, and the consequences to Joan of failure were too horrible to be risked. A panel shivered into splinters and the muzzles of two revolvers frowned through the aperture.

"Wait!" bellowed Poluski; for Beaumanoir's hand was raised.

Lord Adalbert did more than wait. With the quickness born of many a hard won victory on the polo ground, his free left hand flew out and grasped the wrist behind one of the pistols. He pulled fiercely and irresistibly. An arm appeared, and a yell of pain signalized a dislocated shoulder.

The weapon exploded harmlessly and fell to the floor. A living stop gap now plugged the first hole made by the ax wielders, while the writhing body of their comrade interfered with further operations.

Beaumanoir gave an extra wrench, and his victim howled most dolorously. He slipped the bomb into his coat pocket.

"Pick up that revolver, Alec," he cried. "If it is still loaded it will help us to hold the fort."

The King rushed forward, and butted against Beaumanoir in his haste. Felix, whose skin was always sallow, became livid; but nothing happened, and he snatched the bomb from its dangerous resting place. Then he burst into a paroxysm of hysterical laughter which drowned for an instant a new hubbub in the street.

Alec, hastily examining his prize, found that three chambers were loaded. He was about to search for a crack in the door through which he could fire at least one telling shot, when his ear caught the prancing of horses on the paving stones.

Joan, thoroughly enlightened now as to their common peril, had behaved with admirable coolness since Alec implored her not to stir from the corner between door and window. She was sure they would all be killed, and her lips moved in fervent prayer that death might be merciful in its haste; but she was not afraid; that storm of tears had been succeeded by a spiritual exaltation that rescued her from any ignoble panic. Yet her senses were strained to a tension far more exhausting than the display of emotion natural to one plunged without warning into the most horrible of the many horrors of civil war, and she had heard, long before the others, the onrush of cavalry and the stampede of the mob.

So, when her eyes met Alec's, and she saw that questioning look in his face, she smiled at him with a radiant confidence that was astounding at such a moment.

"Heaven has been good to us, dear," she said. "Your soldiers are here. Your enemies are running away. Listen! they are fighting now on the stairs. The unhappy men who raved for our lives will lose their own. Can nothing be done to save them?"

He ran to the window. Those leaden blasts that had swept the room from the first floors of the opposite houses had ceased, and not one potvaliant marksman of them all was to be seen; but the street was full of hussars, and directly beneath, mounted on an excited horse, Stampoff was giving furious orders which evidently demanded an energetic storming of the hotel entrance.

Alec threw open the window and leaned out. "Just in time, old friend!" he cried.

Stampoff heard him and looked up. "God's bones!" he roared. "Here is the King safe and sound. At them, my children! Dig them out with your sabers! Don't leave a man alive!"

"Stop!" shouted Alec. "No more slaughter! I forbid it!"

Stampoff wheeled round on his charger and addressed the press of soldiers who had been unable to take any part in the street clearing, since the mob broke and fled when the first rank of plumed caps and flashing swords became visible.

"You hear, my children," he vociferated. "Don't harm anybody who does not resist. The King's commands must be obeyed."

Joan, of course, could only guess what was being said; but she could not fail to recognize the sounds of conflict on the stairs. Men are strangely akin to tigers when they see red, and the tiger's roar when he pounces on a victim differs greatly from his own death scream. Alec, powerless to move Stampoff, who believed, rightly, as it transpired, that the ringleaders were foremost in the attack, turned to Beaumanoir.

"Release that fellow," he said. "If I am able to make my voice heard through the racket, I can put an end to this butchery."

Beaumanoir let go the arm, and a body fell on the other side of the door.

"You are too late, I hope," he said quietly. "My prisoner took the knock just before you spoke. I felt it run through him. He shook like a pony under the spur. And you're wrong, you know. This gang must be cleared out." He peered through the broken panel. "It's all over," he added. "No flowers, by request."

Felix was peering up at them with his bright crafty eyes. "Queer thing!" he growled. "In my first honest fight I have been on the side of tyranny. If you young gentlemen will be good enough to remove the barricade and give orders to have the passage cleared, I can go back to the cup of coffee I left in the restaurant. Meanwhile, Joan must be taken to her room. She is going to faint, and the Lord only knows what has become of her maid!"

Alec was at Joan's side before Felix had made an end. "You will not break down now, sweetheart," he cried. "All danger is over, and, with God's help, you will never witness such a scene in Delgratz again!"

"I feel tired," she sighed. "I know quite well I am safe, Alec. Somehow, I hardly thought you and I should die to-day. We have things to do in the world, you and I; but those horrid men frightened me by their shrieks. It must be awful to pass into the unknown-like that!"

She sighed again. To her strained vision Alec suddenly assumed the aspect of Henri Quatre's gilded statue on the Pont Neuf. It did not seem to be in the least remarkable that the statue should leap from his horse and take her in his arms. She was absolutely happy and content. She felt she could rest there awhile in safety.

So, when the door was opened, the King experienced no difficulty in carrying Joan through a scene of bloodshed that would certainly never have been blotted from her mind had she remained conscious. Stampoff's commands had been obeyed, and the place reeked of the shambles; but the girl was happily as heedless of its nightmare horrors as the thirty-one men who lay there dead or dying.

Alec bore her out into the street. The sight of him was greeted by a sustained cheer from the troops and the loyal citizens who were now threatening a riot of curiosity and alarm, since the news had gone round that the King was being done to death by a rebellious soldiery in the Fürst Michaelstrasse, and Delgratz was hurrying to the rescue.

Joan, revived a little by the fresh air and bewildered by the shouting throng that pressed around the King, opened her eyes. "Where am I?" she whispered, delightfully ignorant of the fact that she was nestling in Alec's arms under the gaze of many hundreds of his subjects.

"I am sending you to my mother, dear," he replied. "Felix and your maid will be here in a moment, and they will take you to her in a carriage. You cannot remain at the hotel, and you will be well cared for in Monsieur Nesimir's house."

"Are you coming, Alec?" she asked, scanning his face like a timid child.

"Soon, quite soon."

"Then I am content," she said, and the cloud descended again for a brief space.

Pauline, unfortunately, happened to be in the kitchen when the fray began. She was nearly incoherent with fright; but Felix managed to reassure her, and piloted her skilfully out of the hotel by an exit that concealed the gruesome staircase.

The glittering escort of soldiers surrounding the carriage pressed into the King's service served to complete the illusion insisted on by Poluski, and Pauline rejoined her mistress, firm in the conviction that the tumult was an outlandish Serbian method of merrymaking.

Alec, having seen the carriage started on its short journey, approached Stampoff and wrung his hand. "It was a near thing, General," he said. "Five minutes later and we should have been in another world."

He spoke in French, and Beaumanoir heard him.

"Not a bit of it," said he. "That anarchist johnny carries about with him the finest assortment of bombs.-By the way, where is the bally thing? I'll swear I put it in my pocket when I grabbed that joker through the door."

His hurried search was not rewarded, and Alec, scarcely understanding him, asked Stampoff who had given the alarm.

"Bosko, of course. He came tearing up to the War Office like a madman. Had any other brought the same message I really should not have believed it."

"Then you heard nothing of a waiter from this hotel, a waiter named Sobieski?"

"Nothing, your Majesty. Bosko was undoubtedly the first to arrive with the news, and all was quiet at the President's as I rode past. I noted that especially. By the way, Prince Michael is here; came this morning, I am told. The Princess accompanied him. Does your Majesty intend going to them at once? I have already sent an orderly to announce your safety."

Alec looked at his watch. "Five minutes past four," he said. "No, General, I am due at the university. I like to be punctual; but this slight delay was unavoidable. I shall see you at dinner to-night, and I suppose you will clear the city of these idiots of the Seventh Regiment before sunset. By the way, a word before we part. You saw the lady whom I brought from the hotel and placed in the carriage?"

"Saw her, your Majesty? Judas! Thirty years ago I should have striven to rescue her myself."

"It was she who rescued me, General, she and the little humpbacked man. Exactly how they managed it I do not know as yet; but to-night you shall hear the whole story. At present, it is enough that you should be told the one really important fact. She is my promised wife."

With a smile and a farewell hand-wave, Alec mounted a troop horse and rode away with Beaumanoir in the direction of the university.

Stampoff looked after him with an expression of utmost dismay on his weatherbeaten face. "Gods!" he muttered. "A wife, and a pretty foreigner too, that is a bird of another color! What will Prince and Princess Delgrado say now, I wonder? What will Kosnovia say, when it is in every man's mind that you should marry a Serb? And what mad prank of fortune sent her here to-day? By thunder! I thought things were quieting down in Delgratz; but I was wrong-they are just beginning to wake up!"

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