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A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 35180

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

Joan was standing on the first floor veranda of the President's house early next morning, when her errant thoughts were brought back to earth from wonderland by a stir and clatter of hoofs in the courtyard. She knew, because Alec had told her the previous evening, that he was bound for an experimental farm certain local magnates had established in the rich alluvial plain that forms the right bank of the Danube some few miles from the capital city.

"At present our country exports pigs and little else," he had said. "I mean to change all that. Austria shuts and bolts her doors by hostile tariffs; but Turkey is open to trade with all the world, and who so favorably situated as we, once the barriers of race prejudice are broken down? So, behold in me a patron of agriculture and its allied arts!"

"The Turk is our hereditary enemy," snarled Prince Michael, who was much annoyed by the poor quality of the wine at the royal repast. "Fancy me drinking Carlowitz at my age!" he had growled to Stampoff when he discovered that champagne was not supplied, by the King's order.

"My dear Dad, I am trying hard to erase that word 'hereditary' from the Serbian language," laughed Alec. "It opposes me at every turn; it mocks at my best efforts; it swathes me like the bandages of a mummy,-and I am growing weary of its restraint. This is a question of self interest, too. Perhaps, if I can persuade our good Kosnovians to adopt some more up-to-date fetish, they may drop the hereditary habit of carving their chosen rulers into mincemeat whenever a change of Government seems good to them."

"The King of Kosnovia should never forget that the time may come when he will be crowned Emperor at Constantinople," said Prince Michael with a regal flourish of his plump hand.

"Precisely. The ceremony should provide a picturesque spectacle for the cinematograph. Meanwhile, I want to enter the enemy's territory, and at present my skirmishers are pigs which are difficult to drive. We need stronger forces, such as hardware, agricultural implements, horses, cereals, even textile manufactures."

"In sending your pigs, I hope you also get rid of your bores, Alec," put in Felix, and Nesimir, who knew no English, wondered why so many of his guests laughed.

As for the elder Delgrado, he sulked until the President produced a bottle of imperial tokay, a luxury which the stout Sergius explained away by the statement that his house had never before been honored by so distinguished and brilliant a company.

So Joan was prepared for her lover's departure from Delgratz soon after daybreak. The heat of the noon hours was so excessive that early rising became more of a necessity than a virtue; hence her appearance on the veranda.

Alec had definitely promised his mother before retiring to rest that he would not dispense with an escort until the city was thoroughly quieted down after the day's excitement. The troopers paraded at six o'clock, and he did not keep them waiting a minute. Joan, delighting in the military display, watched him mount and ride off with that half-maternal solicitude which is the true expression of a woman's love. She hoped he would look up ere he quitted the courtyard-and she must have telegraphed her wish; for Alec at once turned in the saddle, almost as though some one had told him she was there.

He waved a hand in gay greeting, and it would appear that a whim seized him at the sight of her, since he gave some instructions to an aid de camp, who came clanking back to the porch, dismounted, and entered the building.

Soon the officer was bowing low to Joan. "The King presents his compliments, Excellency," he said in careful French, "and wishes to know if you will accompany him for an hour's ride before sunset."

Joan laughed at Alec's masterful methods

Page 199

"Please convey my regrets to his Majesty; but I do not possess a riding habit," said Joan.

"The King told me to say that if your Excellency offers no objection, a habit will be brought to the palace at four o'clock."

Joan laughed whole heartedly; for Alec's masterful methods came as a distinct surprise. Yet, despite her independent spirit, she rejoiced in his dominance.

"Tell his Majesty that I have the utmost confidence in his judgment," she said, and her face was still rippling with merriment at the hidden meaning Alec would surely extract from her message when Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir joined her.

"Ah, that is better, Miss Vernon," he cried. "Glad to find you in good spirits,-'Hail, smiling morn,' and that sort of thing, eh, what?"

"Why are you deserting Alec-the King-to-day?" she asked. "I thought you two were inseparable. And please enlighten me, Lord Adalbert, as to the correct way of alluding to royalty. Alec is every inch a King, of course; but I find my tongue tripping every time I use his title."

Beaumanoir seemed to weigh the point. "You are experiencing the same difficulty as the sailor who acted as billiard marker in the naval mess at Portsmouth," he said. "One evening the Prince of Wales came in to play pool, and Jack whispered to the mess president, 'Beg pardon, sir, but am I to call 'im Yer R'yal 'Ighness or Spot Yaller?'"

Joan shrieked at that, and the sound of her mirth brought Princess Delgrado to them.

"You are cheerful this morning, Joan," she said.

Her ready use of the girl's Christian name would have told Felix, if he had been present, that Alec's mother did not by any means share her husband's views as to the impossibility of a marriage between her son and this bright faced American. At any rate, Joan's cheeks glowed, and there was more than convention in the kiss the two women exchanged, each moved, as it were, by a spontaneous liking for the other.

"It is impossible to be other than cheerful in Lord Adalbert's company," said Joan. "Even yesterday, when bullets were showering in through the windows of that wretched hotel, he made game of them."

"So I did,-shouted 'Mark cock' when the first low one flew across. By gad! that's rather clever of you, Miss Vernon," he grinned.

"I don't know how either of you can find it in your heart to jest about that dreadful adventure," said the Princess. "I lay awake for hours last night thinking of what might have happened if that man Bosko had not managed to get away and warn General Stampoff."

"By the way, what became of the waiter Felix sent here from the hotel?" mused Joan aloud. "I forgot to ask him. Surely the man came and spoke to some one?"

"Oh, yes, Prince Michael met him and questioned him. Then Monsieur Nesimir took him in hand; but long before either of them could make up their minds that he was speaking the truth Bosko was clear of the mob and Stampoff was bringing his hussars from the War Ministry."

The Princess spoke hurriedly, and the younger people were quick to perceive a slight restraint in her words. It was quite natural. A mother, weighing the actions of others in a matter touching the safety of her son, would hardly make allowance for the incredulity such a messenger as Sobieski would inspire, and Beaumanoir tactfully led the talk to a less serious topic.

"You charged me, a little while ago, Miss Vernon, with deserting our sovereign lord the King, whereas the exact opposite is true," he said. "I am here on duty. 'Berty,' said my liege, 'stop at home to-day and amuse my mother and Joan,' his very words. Am I amusing you? No! Then I must go and find that funny little Pole and beseech him to tell us his best before breakfast story. Gad! He has some rippin' after dinner ones. He had us all roaring last night, and the funniest thing was to hear him spinning the same yarn in the local lingo, so that Nesimir and the other Serbs could share in the festivities. Prince Michael and Alec had the pull of me there, because they could laugh twice. By the way, Princess, Monsieur Poluski was well acquainted with your husband a good many years ago. They first met in New York, it seems. Poluski coolly informed us that he was obliged to leave Warsaw about that time because he had invented a new explosive specially adapted for removing crowned heads. Fancy him saying that when a real live King was sitting next to him."

"Alec is very fond of Felix," said Joan. "He knows quite well that our friend talks about things he has never done and never means to do. Why, Felix is the most tender hearted man living. His generosity is proverbial, and he would give away the last franc in his pocket if a starving woman begged of him. His anarchist notions are all nonsense. He has cared little about political affairs during the last ten years, and his only real happiness now is to paint the portrait of a pretty woman and sing at his work. If it was not for the belief that he is mixed up with dynamitards and other weird creatures, he would be one of the best known artists in Paris."

Beaumanoir called to mind the quiet confidence in Poluski's voice when describing the potency of that curious cigar-shaped bomb which so narrowly escaped being hurled at the mutineers during the fight.

"There is a lot more in Poluski's make-up than one would give him credit for at a glance," said he.

"I understand he was really a firebrand in his youth," remarked the Princess. "My husband and he disagreed so strongly at one period that their acquaintance ceased during many years. Indeed, I met him yesterday practically for the first time."

She sighed. Joan realized that Princess Delgrado was perplexed to find her son with so many new interests in life, interests of which she had no cognizance. He might have dwelt in some city a thousand miles removed from Paris, for all she knew of his associates or habits, and this one fact was eloquent of the gulf that yawned between his home and his pursuits.

After breakfast, Joan insisted on beginning work in the Cathedral. Felix and Beaumanoir accompanied her there in a closed carriage, and the cool interior of the heavy, ugly structure was not ungrateful in the midday heat.

At four o'clock Joan was ready to don a riding-habit that fitted marvelously well considering that the maker had never set eyes on the wearer till he brought the costume to the palace. At five she and Alec and Beaumanoir went for a ride on the outskirts of the town. The men took her to a very fine turfed avenue that wound through three miles of woodland. At the close of a glorious canter a turn in the path revealed a rather pretty chateau situated on a gentle slope of lawns and gardens rising from the northern shore of a large lake.

"Do you like it?" asked Alec.

"It is a perfectly charming place," she said enthusiastically.

"I am glad you think so," said he. "It is called the New Konak, in contradistinction to the old one, the Schwarzburg. It will be our summer residence. I propose to occupy it as soon as it is properly furnished."

He spoke lightly; but a quiet glance conveyed far more than the words. This, then, was their destined nest, their very own house, and for their first ramble he had brought her there. Its seclusion gave a sense of secure peace that was absent from the President's gloomy palace. The lovely park and its belt of forest shut out the noise and glare of the streets. Joan sat on her horse and surveyed the scene with glistening eyes. Her future home lay there, and the belief thrilled her strangely. If she could have peered into the future, how much more deeply would she have been stirred; for if ever she was fated to be happy in the companionship of the gallant youth by her side, assuredly that happiness was not so near or so easily attained as it seemed to be in that sylvan hour.

Beaumanoir broke in on her reverie in his usual happy-go-lucky style. "Not a bad looking crib, is it, Miss Joan?" said he. "I have promised Alec to remain in Delgratz until you are all settled down in it, nice and comfy. Then I wend my lonely way back to Paris. By Jove! I shall be something of a hero there-shine with reflected glory-eh, what?"

"I can't spare you for many a day yet, Berty," said Alec. "You can hardly realize how good he has been, Joan," he continued. "I had a fearfully hard time during the first week. More than once I wanted to cut and run; but he kept me to it, chaffing me out of the dumps when everything seemed to be going wrong."

Beaumanoir winked brazenly at her. "He talks that way now," he grinned. "It's the kingly habit, I understand. Alec has got it down to a fine point. Make every fellow believe that he is It, and there you are, you know."

There was some substratum of sense in Beaumanoir's chaffing. Alec was taking his kingship very seriously, and Joan was hard pressed to bridge the gulf that lay between Paris and Delgratz.

At first she found it almost impossible to realize that Alec had been in harness little more than a month. His talk was replete with local knowledge; he seemed to understand the people and their ways so thoroughly. He was versed even in the peculiarities of their methods of tillage, was able to explain distinctions of costume and racial appearance, and might have spent his life in studying all their customs and folklore.

Fortunately, Joan herself was gifted with quick perception and a retentive memory. After a few days' residence in the White City she began to assimilate the rills of information that trickled in upon her from so many sources, and the feeling of bewildered surprise with which she regarded her lover's attainments during the first hours of real intimacy was soon replaced by an active sympathy and fuller understanding. She was helped in this by the King's mother, since there could be no doubt that Princess Delgrado took her absolutely to her heart.

Prince Michael, who was completely eclipsed not only by his son's extraordinary versatility in all public affairs but by lack of that opulent setting for his peculiar qualities which Paris alone could supply, seemed to accept the inevitable. He tolerated Joan, openly praised her beauty, and became resigned in a more or less patronizing way to the minor distractions of local life.

Felix and Joan gave up their mornings to art. The Pole discovered some quaint old frescoes in the cathedral which attracted him by their remarkable freedom of design and simplicity of color. He valiantly essayed their reproduction; but Joan suspected in her deepest heart that Poluski's sudden conversion to Byzantine ideals was due far more to the fact that the lofty dome of the building produced musical effects of the most gratifying nature than to any real appreciation of the quaint contours and glaring tints of a series of wall pictures that set forth some long forgotten Bulgar artist's conception of the life and history of John the Baptist.

There was naturally a good deal of inquiry and speculation as to the identity of the unknown connoisseur who had commissioned Joan to copy the Saint Peter. Felix resolutely declined to satisfy any one's questioning on that topic. He had given his word, he said, not to betray the confidence reposed in him; but he allayed Alec's professed jealousy by declaring that to the best of his knowledge the man who had sent Joan on this mysterious quest had never even seen her. Still, it was impossible to avoid a certain amount of interested speculation among members of the small circle which was aware of the reason that lay behind Joan's visit to Delgratz. Both Alec and Joan believed that Count Julius Marulitch was in some way responsible, and their chief difficulty was to analyze the motive of such unlooked-for generosity on his part.

The slight mystery underlying the incident was not cleared up until Beliani reached the capital two or three days after Julius himself. The latter cleared the air by expressing his unbounded amazement at finding his cousin engaged to a young American woman of whose existence he had not even heard before he was introduced to her. Under the conditions it seemed to savor of the ridiculous to ask if he was the hidden agent in the matter of the picture. But Beliani was candor itself; not for a moment did he endeavor to conceal his responsibility. When Alec welcomed him on the evening of his arrival, he drew the King aside and said, with all the friendliness of one apparently devoted to the Kosnovian cause:

"I am glad to see that my little scheme has worked well. Of course you guessed who it was that despatched Miss Vernon from Paris?"

"No," said Alec, scanning the Greek's smiling yet subtle face with those frank eyes of his that had so quickly learned the secret of looking beneath the veneer of men's words to discover their motives. "No, I never associated you with her appearance here. What inspired you to it? I may say at once that I regard it as the most friendly act you could possibly have performed so far as I am concerned; but I know you well enough to be a little dubious."

Beliani smiled and spread wide his hands with the deprecatory gesture of the Levantine. Long years of residence in the capitals of Europe had not wholly effaced the servile mannerisms of the Eastern money-lender.

"That is because you know I am a Greek, your Majesty," he said. "It is the misfortune of my countrymen that we are seldom given credit for disinterested motives. Well, I will be honest, quite frank in this, for the excellent reason that if I was to endeavor to hoodwink you I think I should fail. I make it my business to know everything-I repeat, everything-about Kosnovian affairs, and when the rumor reached Paris that you were to marry

a Montenegrin Princess--"

Alec laughed so cheerily that Prince Michael, who happened to be in the room, turned and looked at the two, wondering what Beliani could have said that so amused his son.

"My dear fellow," he broke in, "I have never set eyes on the lady. My time has been far too occupied in learning my business to permit of visits to neighboring States. Moreover, as it happened, I had chosen my wife some days before I hit upon a career."

"Exactly, your Majesty. I knew that also."

"But how could you know?"

"I mean that I learned it afterward. An art student of the type of Miss Vernon, and a young gentleman so popular in Parisian society as Alexis Delgrado, could not meet day after day in the Louvre to conduct a class composed solely of two members without exciting a certain amount of comment."

"But that doesn't explain why you should have decided upon the extraordinary step of sending her to Delgratz."

"No, it shows only how readily I availed myself of existing circumstances. You see, sitting there in Paris and reading of your phenomenal progress, I pictured to myself the isolation, the lack of sympathetic companionship, that you must be suffering here despite all the brave fireworks of your achievements. We Greeks are poets and philosophers as well as financiers, and I gratified those higher instincts of my race by rendering possible a visit to Delgratz of the lady whom you had chosen as a bride, while at the same time I hope to do myself a good turn in winning your favor; for I have money at stake on your success. Please do not forget that, your Majesty. I supported the Delgrado cause when it was at the lowest ebb of failure, and I naturally look forward now to recoup myself."

"All this is new to me," said Alec, "new and somewhat puzzling. In what way are you bound up with the fortunes of my house, Monsieur Beliani?"

The Greek shrugged his shoulders expressively. "There are so many ways in which interest in a fallen monarchy can be kept alive," he said. "Monseigneur your father is well acquainted with the turns and twists of events ever since he was driven forth from Kosnovia as a young man. For many years I remained here, working steadily and hopefully in his behalf, and you yourself are aware that when you were a boy of fourteen, Stampoff and I escaped death only by the skin of our teeth because of an abortive attempt to place your father on the throne."

"Of course," said Alec thoughtfully, "you must be repaid with interest the sums you have expended in our behalf; but I warn you that a new era of economy has been established here. My father and I have already agreed to differ on that point. He seemed to think that the chief business of a King was to exploit his subjects, whereas my theory is that the King should set an example of quiet living and industry. Don't forget that I have seen some of my brother potentates stranded in Paris, mostly because they were so ready to gratify their own appetites at the expense of their people. I need hardly tell you, Beliani, that Kosnovia is a poverty stricken State. We have suffered from three generations of self seeking and rapacious rulers. That is all ended. I mean to render my people happy and contented. It shall be the one care of my life to make them so, and if it is the will of Providence that a Delgrado should reign in the next generation, my legacy to him will be, not millions of pounds invested in foreign securities, but a nation strong, self contained, and prosperous."

Beliani listened with a rapt attention. "I agree most fully with every word that has fallen from your lips," he said; "but your Majesty cannot achieve these splendid aims single handed. You must be surrounded by able men; you need officials of ripe experience in every department. Now, the first consideration of a small State like this, hemmed in as it is by powerful Kingdoms which the least change in the political barometer may convert into active enemies, is a strong and progressive system of finance. I am vain enough to think that you may find my services useful in that direction. There is no man in Delgratz who has had my training, and so assured am I of the success that will attend your Majesty's reign that I purposely delayed my arrival here so that I might not come empty handed. I passed a week in Vienna, working and thinking twenty hours out of each twenty-four. I felt my way cautiously with the leading financial houses there. Of course, I could not say much, because I was unauthorized; but I have obtained guarantees that will command the certain issue of a loan sufficient to give a start to some, at least, of the many projects you have already foreshadowed in your public speeches. Without a shadow of doubt I declare that as soon as I am able to open negotiations with your approval, a loan of several millions will be at your service."

Though the Greek was putting forward an obvious bait, it was evident that the King was astonished by his outspoken declaration. "Do I understand that you are applying for the post of Minister of Finance?" he said in his straightforward way.

"Yes, your Majesty," replied Beliani.

"You appreciate, of course, that I occupy a somewhat peculiar position here," said Alec. "I am a constitutional monarch backed by a constitution that is little more than a name. This country really demands an autocracy, whereas I have sworn to govern only by the will of the people. In those circumstances I do not feel myself at liberty to appoint or dismiss Ministers at my own sweet will. I assure you that I am grateful for the offer of help you bring; but I cannot give you the appointment you seek until, in the first place, I have consulted my council and obtained its sanction."

Beliani bowed. "I will leave the matter entirely in your Majesty's hands," he said, and by no sign did his well governed face betray his satisfaction; for, with the King on his side, the astute Greek well knew that he could pull the strings of the puppets in the Assembly to suit his own ends.

"May I venture to suggest to your Majesty," he went on, "that there is one thing that demands immediate attention? Your position cannot be regarded as assured until you have received the recognition of the chief European States. Has Austria made any move in that direction? Have you been approached by Russia? One of those two will take the initiative, and the others will follow."

"So far," said Alec, smiling, "I have been favored with a telegram from the German Emperor, which his chargé d'affaires tried to explain away next day. It was followed by a protest from Turkey on account of an alleged disrespectful remark of mine about her position in the cosmogony of Europe, and I have drawn a polite refusal from Austria to modify passport regulations, which, by the way, I suggested should be altogether done away with. Other Kings and Principalities have left me severely alone."

"But it would be a grave error to drop the passport system," said Beliani earnestly. "It is most important that your Majesty's police should be acquainted with the identity of all strangers; otherwise you would never know what secret agents of your enemies you might be harboring here."

"I trouble my head very little about the secret agents of enemies that do not exist," said Alec lightly. "You are probably thinking of the revolt of the Seventh Regiment; but that is a domestic quarrel, a local phase of the war waged by all criminals against representatives of law and order. To be sure, I shall devote every effort to keeping Kosnovia free of external troubles; yet passports are useless there. I find that a stupid dream of a Slav Empire has drugged the best intellects of Kosnovia for half a century. That sort of political hashish must cease to control our actions. It has served only to cripple our commercial expansion, and I have declined resolutely to countenance its continuance either in public or private. Let us first develop the land we own. Believe me, Monsieur Beliani, if our people are worthy of extending their sway, no power on earth can stop them; but they must first learn to till the field with implements other than swords or bayonets, which are quite out of date, either as plows or as reaping-hooks."

Prince Michael, watching them furtively, and wondering much what topic was engaging them so deeply, could no longer restrain his impatience. He joined them, saying with his jaunty, self confident air: "What new surprise are you two plotting? You ought to make a rare combination,-Alec with his democratic pose of taking the wide world into his confidence, and you, Beliani, burrowing underground like a mole whose existence is suspected only when one sees the outcome of his labors."

"Just what I was suggesting to his Majesty," laughed Beliani, cursing Prince Michael under his breath for interfering at that moment. "I will say, though, from what I have managed to glean of his projects, that the humble r?le you have been good enough to assign to me will be utterly out of place in his nobler schemes. Nevertheless, I hope to make myself useful."

"Something to do with money, of course?" guffawed the Prince.

"It is the only commodity I really understand," was the suave answer.

"That is why you refused me a loan a fortnight ago in Paris, I suppose?"

"A loan!" interposed Alec. "Were you hard up, father?"

"I have been telling you so without avail ever since I arrived in Delgratz," said the Prince bruskly.

"Ah, you have been asking me to impose on an empty exchequer an annual payment that Kosnovia certainly cannot afford; but I certainly was not under the impression that you had found it necessary to apply to Monsieur Beliani for help. Why should such a step be necessary? I have always understood--"

"Oh, we need not discuss the thing now," said Prince Michael offhandedly; for he dreaded a too close inquiry into his wife's financial resources in the presence of the Greek. Princess Delgrado was reputedly a rich woman, and her husband had explained his shortness of cash during recent years by the convenient theory of monetary tightness in America, whence, it was well understood, her income was derived.

"Have you seen your mother recently?" he went on, striving to appear at his ease. "I was looking for her half an hour ago. Some letters that reached me from Paris to-day ought to be answered by to-night's post, and I wish to consult her before dealing with them."

"Joan will know where she is, I expect," said Alec; but, seeing that Prince Michael did not avail himself of Joan's presence to seek the desired information, he strolled over to the corner of the room where Joan was chatting with Beaumanoir and one of the Serbian officers attached to the royal suite.

"Do you know where my mother is?" he asked.

"Yes," she said. "General Stampoff took her for a drive nearly an hour ago. I offered to go with them; but the General explained that his victoria would hold only two."

"Stampoff driving with my mother!" cried Alec with a laugh, "I must look into this. Stampoff is no lady's man as a rule. Now, what in the world does he want my mother to do for him?"

Certainly there must have been some quality in the air of Delgratz that produced strange happenings. Stampoff could scarcely speak civilly to a woman, ever since a faithless member of the fair sex brought about his downfall in Delgratz a decade earlier. Small wonder, then, that Alec should express surprise at such display of gallantry on his part!

And, indeed, the unprecedented action of the gruff old Serbian General in taking Princess Delgrado for a drive that evening was destined to have consequences not to be foreseen by any person, least of all the young couple whose contemplated marriage was then in the mouths of all men. It was the first step in the new march of events. Stampoff meant to prove to the King's mother that her son would be ruined in the eyes of his people if he married a foreigner, ruined instantly and irretrievably, no matter how gracious and pleasing Joan might seem to be in their eyes, and, true to his military caste, he wasted no time in making the Princess aware of his motive in seeking this tête-à-tête conversation.

"I think I am right in assuming that you approve of the young American lady as your son's wife," said he when the carriage was clear of the paved streets and bowling smoothly along the south bank of the Danube on the only good driving road outside the city.

"The notion startled me at first," confessed the Princess; "but the more I see of Joan the more I like her. Alec and she are devoted to each other, and I am sure she will be popular, for she is the type of woman who will take her position as Queen seriously."

"She is admirable in every respect," interrupted Stampoff; "but she suffers from one defect that outweighs all her virtues,-she is not a Serb."

"Nor am I," said the Princess quickly; "yet no one seems to find fault with the King on that ground."

"One cannot judge the conditions that hold good to-day by those which existed twenty-five years ago," said Stampoff gravely. "When Prince Michael married you, madame, he was an exile; but Alexis is the reigning King, and he will offend his people mortally if he brings in a foreigner to share his throne."

Princess Delgrado was bewildered by this sudden attack. She turned and scanned the old man's impressive features with feverish anxiety. "What do you mean?" she asked quickly. "Are you trying to enlist my aid in a campaign against my son's chosen wife? If so, you will fail, General. I am weary to death of political intrigues and the never ceasing tactics of wirepullers. I have been surrounded by them all my life, and I thanked Providence in my heart when I saw that my son began his reign by sweeping aside the whole network of lies and artifice. He has not imposed himself on his people. He is here by their own free will, and if they are ready to accept him so thoroughly they will surely not think of interfering in such a personal matter as his marriage."

"But they are thinking of it," said Stampoff doggedly. "That is why you are here now with me. I felt that I must warn you of the trouble ahead. Alec, I admit, would be an ideal King in an ideal State; but he has failed absolutely to appreciate the racial prejudices that exist here. They are the growth of centuries; they cannot be uprooted merely because a King is in love with an eminently desirable young woman. Among the ten millions of our people, Princess, there are hardly ten thousand who have any settled notions of government, whether good or bad, and those ten thousand think they have a prior right to control the destinies of the remainder of the nation. With the exception of a few of the younger officers, there is not a man among the governing class who doesn't harbor more or less resentment against your son. He is putting down with a ruthless hand the petty corruption on which they thrived, and at the same time reducing their recognized salaries. In season and out of season he preaches the duties of good citizenship, but these men have too long been considering self to yield without a struggle the positions attained under a less scrupulous régime.

"I speak of what I know when I tell you that, placid and contented as Delgratz looks, it is really a seething volcano of hate and discontent. Repressed for the hour, kept in check, perhaps, by the undoubted loyalty of the masses, it is ready to spout devastating fire and ashes at the least provocation, and that will be found in a marriage which seems to shut out all hope of realizing the long looked-for joining of Montenegro and Kosnovia. I have a bitter acquaintance with our history, madame, and am persuaded that if Alec is to remain King he must abandon forever this notion of marrying an alien. The Greek church would oppose it tooth and nail, and the people would soon follow the lead of their Popes. This young lady's appearance in Delgratz has come at a singularly inopportune moment. She was brought here by some one hostile to your son. If she came in obedience to Alec's wishes, he is his own worst enemy."

The distressed Princess could hardly falter a question in response to Stampoff's vehement outburst. "Why do you tell me these things?" she said brokenly. "I-I dare not interfere, even though I approved of what you say, which I do not."

"Some one must act, and speedily too, or the resultant mischief cannot be undone. I appeal to you because you are a woman, and we men are prone to bungle in these matters."

"But what do you want of me?" wailed the tortured Princess. "Michael protested against the marriage--"

"I am thinking of Alec's welfare now," said Stampoff gruffly. "You are his mother, and you and I can save him. In a word, that girl must go, to-night if possible, to-morrow without fail. The talk of marriage must be dropped, and revived only when a Serb is the prospective bride."

"You say she must go. What does that imply? It is not in my power to send her away, even if I would."

"It is, Princess," was the grim answer. "If she loves Alec, she will save him by leaving him. I am told women do these things occasionally. Perhaps she is one of the self sacrificing sort. At any rate, she must be given the chance, and by you. She must go away, and, in going, tell the King she will never marry him. It is hard. Both will suffer; but, in the long run Alec will come to see that by no other means can he retain his Kingdom."

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