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   Chapter 14 THE BROKEN TREATY

A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 34780

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Alec unlocked the door. The laconic Bosko returned his all sufficing "Oui, monsieur," to the request that he would bring Mademoiselle Joan's French maid to Princess Delgrado, since it was in Alec's mind that Pauline might be discreet.

Prince Michael, Beliani, Marulitch, and Nesimir had already formed themselves into a whispering group. Stampoff was seated apart, morose and thoughtful. The old man's elbows rested on his knees and his chin was propped between his bony fists. Princess Delgrado had flung herself forward on the table. Her face was hidden by her outstretched arms. This attitude of abandonment, the clenched hands, the convulsive heaving of her shoulders, were eloquent of tempest tossed emotions. She looked so forlorn that her son was tempted to return to her side without delay; but instead he walked quietly toward the four men clustered in the center of the room. They started apart and faced him nervously. It seemed that even yet they feared lest some uncontrolled gust of anger might lead Alec to fling himself blindly upon them. Had they but known it, he despised them too greatly to think of mauling them.

"Gentlemen," he said, "I have one small request to make. Give me your word of honor-I will take it for what it is worth-that to-night's happenings shall remain unknown to the outer world, and that there will be no interference with my mother or myself before we leave Delgratz."

Prince Michael, who had recovered some of his jauntiness, looked at Alec with the crafty eye of a cowed hyena; but he said coolly, "There is nothing to be gained by publishing our blunders to all the world."

"Have I your promise?" insisted Alec.

"Yes."

"And yours?" he said to Marulitch.

"Of course I agree," came the ready answer. "I, like Prince Michael, feel that it would be folly--"

"Prince Michael!" snarled the royal Delgrado. "You must learn to school your tongue, Julius! From this moment I am King of Kosnovia. Let there be no manner of doubt about that!"

Alec might not have heard the blusterer. His calm glance fell on Beliani. "And what say you?" he asked.

"I agree most fully and unreservedly," murmured the Greek, conveying, with a deep bow, his respectful regret that such an assurance should be necessary. The greatly perturbed President had already quitted the room; so Alec turned to Stampoff. His manner was quite friendly. Well he knew that this fiery soul was not to be judged by the Delgrado standard.

"I will not inflict on you, my trusty comrade," he said, "the indignity of a demand that I felt was imperative in the case of some others present. Let us shake hands and think rather of what we have gone through together when I was King and you were my most loyal supporter, than of the poor climax to my brief reign that reveals me as an impostor."

Those keen eyes were raised in a half-formed resolution. "Is it too late, Alec?" he growled sullenly.

"For what?"

Alec's smile of surprise was the only bit of affectation he had indulged in that night. The fantasy flitting through Stampoff's brain was not hidden from him; but he wanted to dismiss it lightly.

"God's bones! Need you ask? Say but the word, and you will be more firmly established on the throne than ever. Trust me to find means to still those babbling tongues!" and Stampoff flung out an arm in the direction of the uncle and nephew, each manifestly anxious to hurry away, yet each so distrustful of the other that he dared not go.

"Paul, you are incorrigible," said Alec. "You ought to have been a marshal under Napoleon, who would have had no scruples. No, you will not see civil war in the streets of Delgratz as to whether a Delgrado or an American adventurer shall reign in Kosnovia. Yet, I thank you for the thought. It shows that you, at least, do not rate me poorly, and it is not in my heart to be vexed with you, though I owe this night's amazement to your striving."

"Be just, Alec!" whispered the Serb hoarsely. "Condemn me if you will; but be just! While Michael Delgrado lived, your reign would never have been secure. I knew that all along. You will go away now and marry the girl of your choice, and soon the memories of this downtrodden country will be dim in your soul; but think what would have happened to you, to your wife, and perhaps to your children, if Michael one day blurted out the truth in some fit of drunken rage, or if Beliani and that other white faced hound obtained evidence of your birth. That is why I was resolved to force you, if possible, to wed a Serbian Princess. Your marriage to a woman of our own race would have borne down opposition. And now what will happen? The future is black. Michael is unworthy to be a King; Marulitch, at the best, is a poor-spirited wretch; and after them there is no Delgrado."

"Well, I am sorry, too, in a way," said Alec. "I was beginning to love these Kosnovian folk, and I think I could have made something of them. Good-by, Paul. If we never meet again, at least we part good friends."

Stampoff rose and silently wrung Alec's hand. He walked straight out of the room with bent head and slow uncertain steps. For the hour his fierce spirit was chastened. He had done that which he thought would make for good, and it had turned out ill. His single minded scheming had gone awry. Another man in his position might have sought to curry favor with the new régime, whether of Michael or Julius; but Stampoff was not of that mettle; he wanted Alec to be King, because he believed in him, and now the edifice for which he had labored so ardently had tumbled in pieces about his ears.

Pauline came, and Alec went to his mother. He took her tenderly in his arms.

"Come, dear!" he said. "Joan's maid will help you to reach your room. Our train leaves at midnight, and Bosko and Pauline will give your maid any help she needs in collecting your belongings."

The Princess raised her grief stricken face to his, and it wrung his heart anew to see how that night of misery had aged her.

"Oh, my son, my son!" she murmured. "Will you ever forgive me?"

He kissed her with a hearty and reassuring hug. "Forgive you, mother!" he cried. "It is not I, but you, who have suffered through all these years. Have no fear for the future! Joan and I will make you happy."

"But she, Alec! What will she say when she learns the wrong I have done you?"

"What! Afraid of Joan?" cried he cheerfully. "Why, you dear old mother, Joan is taking all the blame on her own shoulders. You will find she agrees with me that you are the one to be pitied. You made a mistake for which you have paid very dearly; but in no possible way can it affect the remainder of our lives. There now, cheer up and prepare for your journey!"

The Princess left the room leaning on Pauline's arm, nor, in passing, did she bestow a glance on her husband. Prince Michael indulged in an ostentatious shrug, and might have said something had not Alec's gaze dwelt on him steadily. It is to be presumed that, not for the first time, discretion conquered Michael's valor.

"A word with you, Beliani," said Alec, going to the table and unlocking the drawer from which he had taken the money given to Sobieski. "You are now in charge of the State's finances, I presume. I have here a sum, roughly speaking, of one thousand pounds. To some extent, it is my own money; but the greater part consists of instalments of the salary of five thousand dollars a year I allowed myself as King. Do you think I have earned it?"

The Greek could only mutter a surprised, "Yes. Who would deny your right to a far larger amount?"

"Having your sanction, then, I take it," said Alec coolly. "Here too is my passport, issued in Paris, for which I believe I am indebted to you. It will now come in handy. May I ask in whose charge I leave the books and papers on this table? Some of them may be of use to the State."

"I am afraid I cannot answer that question," muttered the Greek, with a stealthy glance in the direction of the rival candidates.

"Well, settle it among yourselves," said Alec dryly. "Now I must be off."

Without another word he passed from the room that had witnessed his triumph and his fall. Yet his face was remarkably cheerful when he asked an attendant if Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir's whereabouts was known. The quiet elation in his manner led the man to believe that some specially pleasing news had transpired during the conclave in the royal bureau.

It appeared that his Excellency, the English milord, had gone to the music hall in the K?nigstrasse with a friend.

"Then send some one to say that he is wanted here at once," said Alec.

"Yes, your Majesty."

"Your Majesty!" How incongruous the two words sounded now in Alec's ears! By a trick of memory his thoughts flew back to the Montmartre review wherein the stage prototypes of the Parisian band of exiled monarchs addressed each other by high sounding titles and incidentally sought to borrow five-franc pieces.

"If I possessed some literary skill, I could write a review that would set the world talking," he mused, smiling to himself as he ascended the stairs to his own suite.

"What is the matter, old chap?" demanded Beaumanoir, strolling into his friend's dressing room a few minutes later. Lord Adalbert never hurried unless he was on horseback. He was in evening dress, and an opera hat was set rakishly on the back of his head. He was smoking, his hands were thrust into his pockets, and the mere sight of him served again to remind Alec of the larger world in whose daily round Kosnovia and its troubles filled so insignificant a part.

In an oddly jubilant mood, Alec took a pencil and wrote in large characters on Beaumanoir's immaculate shirt front, "Paris-with care."

His chum read. "The answer is?" he asked.

"We are leaving Delgratz to-night, Berty. That is all."

"You don't say!" He glanced down at the label. "Is this the address?"

"Yes."

Beaumanoir screwed his cigar firmly into the corner of his mouth. "I am pretty rapid myself, Alec," he grinned; "but you are too sudden altogether. Tell me just what you mean, there's a dear fellow."

"I take it you don't want to remain here without me, Berty," said Alec cheerily, "and I am off. I chucked up my job half an hour ago. Joan and Felix started by the mail train that left here at half-past five. We follow at midnight. My mother goes with us. As Bosko is giving her maid a hand in the packing, I must look after my own traps. Nesimir's servants would talk, which is just what I want to avoid. The two days in the train will give you plenty of time to learn the harrowing details. I have a pretty story for you; but it must wait. I am not cracked, nor sprung, nor trying to be funny; so you need not look at me in that way. I am out of business as a King, for good and all, and the sooner I cross the frontier, the better it will be for my health."

"Honor bright, Alec?"

"Every syllable. Now, get a hustle on!"

There was a tap at the door, and a servant entered with a note for the King. It was from Constantine Beliani, and written in French.

Prince Michael and Count Julius Marulitch have decided that, in the interests of the State, you ought to make a formal abdication of the throne, appointing the former as your successor, with special remainder to Count Julius.

I agree with them that this offers the best way out of an unfortunate situation, and I would respectfully point out the urgency that is attached to the proposal if you still contemplate leaving Delgratz to-night.

Alec bent his brows over this curt missive, which was not couched precisely in the suave words that might be expected from the Greek. Read between the lines, its meaning was significant. Michael and his nephew, hungering for the spoils, had patched up a truce. They were already contemplating another military pronunciamento, and Beliani, having made his own terms, was lending his influence.

If their demands were refused, Alec might find himself a prisoner, and the country would be plunged into a revolution. Under different conditions, he would gladly have measured his wits and his popularity against the triumvirate. A call to arms would win him the support of the great majority of the troops and of nearly all the younger officers. But a fight for a throne to which he had no claim was not to be thought of; yet he was adamant in his resolve not to advance the schemes of these rogues by any written statement.

He handed the note to Beaumanoir with a quiet laugh. "There you have the story in a nutshell," he said. "A few minutes ago I became aware that I am not Prince Michael's son. Although I strove to act fairly, my worthy stepfather is not content. He thinks to force my hand, because he fears the republican idea; but I may best him yet.

"Where is Monsieur Nesimir?" he said to the servant, to whom the English conversation was a sealed book.

"In his apartments, I believe, your Majesty."

"Have instructions been given for mounted orderlies to be in readiness?"

"I heard his Excellency Prince Michael say something of the sort to the officer of the guard, your Majesty."

The random shot had told. Alec felt that he was spinning a coin with fortune.

"That is right," he said coolly. "Give my compliments to Monsieur Beliani, and ask him to oblige me by coming here for a moment; Prince Michael and Count Marulitch, too. Tell all three that I am ready to attend at once to the matter mentioned in Monsieur Beliani's note."

The servant disappeared. Beaumanoir, who, of course, did not understand the instructions given to the man, was fumigating Beliani's letter with rapid puffs of smoke, and incidentally scratching the back of his right ear.

"Rum go this, Alec!" he began.

"Not a word now. You'll stand by me, Berty, I know. Go to my mother's suite and tell Bosko I want him instantly. Bid him bring a brace of revolvers, and see that they are loaded. Come here yourself with some ropes, leather straps, anything that will serve to truss a man securely, as soon as you are sure that Michael, Julius, and the Greek are safely in the room."

Beaumanoir scented a row. Lest any words of his might stop it, he vanished. He must have hurried, too, since Bosko had joined his master before Beliani's messenger reached the anxious conspirators with Alec's answer. There was no need to ask if the Albanian had brought the weapons. They were tucked ostentatiously in his belt. Alec looked him squarely in the eyes.

"I think I can depend on you, Bosko," said he.

"Oui, monsieur."

"Understand, then, that I am no longer King of Kosnovia. I am not Prince Michael's son. I mean to leave Delgratz to-night, and there is a plot on foot to prevent my departure except on terms to which I shall not agree. Will you help me to defeat it?"

"Oui, monsieur."

"Within the next minute I shall probably have visitors. They may show fight, though I doubt it, I want you to place those two pistols among the clothes in that portmanteau, and be busy, apparently, in arranging its contents. When I close the door, you must spring up and cover them with both revolvers. Do not shoot without my command; but make it clear by your manner that their lives are at your mercy. Will you do this?"

"Oui, monsieur," said Bosko.

"Here they are, then. Be ready!"

The door was ajar, and footsteps sounded on the stairs. Some one knocked.

"Come in," said Alec cordially.

Beliani was the first to enter. He pushed the door wide open to assure himself that he was not walking into a trap. He saw Bosko on his knees, rummaging in a trunk, and Alec standing in the middle of the room, lighting a cigarette.

"Come in," said Alec again. "My departure is rather hurried, as you know, and I have not a minute to spare. Have you brought the necessary documents?"

"It is a simple matter," said the Greek, advancing confidently. "Half a sheet of notepaper with your signature and our indorsement as witnesses will suffice."

Prince Michael and Julius, reassured by Alec's manner, and thanking the propitious stars that had rendered unnecessary the dangerous step they were contemplating, entered the room with as businesslike an air as they could assume at a crisis so fraught with import to their own future.

"We ought to be alone," said Beliani in English, with a wary glance at Bosko.

"Oh, for goodness' sake don't disturb my man! I have so little time and so much to do! Tell me exactly what you want me to sign," and he strode to the door and closed it behind Marulitch.

The eyes of the three were on him and not on the harmless looking attendant. During those few seconds they were completely deceived.

Prince Michael, finding the path so easy, took the lead. "Just a formal renunciation of the crown," he said. "Give as your reason, if you choose, your inability to fall in with the expressed desire of the Cabinet that you should marry a Serbian lady. It is essential that you should name me--"

The door opened and Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir came in leisurely. He carried an assortment of straps, rifled from leather trunks and hatboxes. He saw the three men facing Alec, and behind them Bosko's leveled revolvers.

"Not a bally rope to be had, dear boy; but here's leather enough to go round," he grinned. "By gad! what a tableau! I suppose you mean t

o gag 'em and then tie 'em back to back, eh, what?"

Alec picked up a chair. "Yes," he said. "Begin with his Excellency Prince Michael."

Julius Marulitch's right hand sought the pocket of the dinner jacket he was wearing.

"No, Julius," said Alec pleasantly, "move an inch and you are a dead man. Bosko has my orders, and he will obey them. You may look at him if you doubt my word."

Marulitch's well poised head had never before turned so quickly; but he shrank from a wicked looking muzzle pointed straight between his eyes. In such circumstances, the caliber of a revolver seems to become magnified to absurdly large proportions, and behind the fearsome weapon Bosko's immovable face was that of an automaton.

Beliani's olive complexion assumed a sickly green tint for the second time that evening. "I was right," he muttered; "but you would not listen."

"It is a common delusion of the thief that an honest man has no brains," said Alec coolly. "Now, Beaumanoir, get busy. Time is flying, and we have little more than an hour to spare."

Prince Michael, never noted for his courage, began to whimper some words of expostulation; but Beaumanoir's strong hands soon silenced him with an improvised gag, for the effeminate little rascal realized that his jaw might be broken if he resisted the stuffing of a towel into his mouth. In a few minutes the three were seated on the floor, securely bound, and unable to utter more than a gurgling cry, which would certainly not be heard by any one passing along the outer corridor.

Alec's cheerful explanation of his action must have been particularly galling. "You will remain here until such time as Stampoff decides that you may safely be set at liberty," he said. "Not you, but he, must provide for the future good government in Kosnovia."

"Thanks, Beaumanoir," he added, turning from the discomfited trio with a carelessness that showed they gave him no further concern. "Better be off now and get ready. Bosko, mount guard outside the door! Allow no one to enter on any pretext whatsoever!"

In a few minutes the three were securely bound

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Then he busied himself about the room, followed by vengeful eyes. He had brought little into Kosnovia, and he took little away. The extraordinary simplicity of his life had rendered unnecessary the usual trappings of a King. He had worn no uniform save the plainest of field service garments. He possessed no State attire. His clothes were mostly those which came from Paris, and it amused him now to change rapidly into the very suit in which he had entered Delgratz, an unknown claimant of the Kosnovian throne. Bundling his trunks out into the corridor, he closed and locked the door, and the click of the moving bolt must have sent a tremor through the stiff limbs of the three worthies who lay huddled together inside.

Bidding Bosko hurry over his own preparations, he descended to the courtyard. A number of troopers, standing by their horses' heads, sprang to attention when he appeared.

"You can dismiss your men," he said to the officer in charge. "They will not be needed to-night."

Then he told an attendant to order a couple of carriages for half-past eleven. In the reception room he wrote a hasty note to Stampoff:

My Dear Paul:-The legitimate King of Kosnovia and his heir apparent, not contented with the arrangement entered into in your presence, planned with Beliani a coup d'état. I defeated it. You will find all three in my bedroom, the key of which I inclose. They are alive and well, and will stop there until it pleases you to release them. Perhaps you would like to consult with Sergius Nesimir, who by the time you receive this may have recovered the composure so rudely disturbed to-night. At any rate, the next move rests with you. Farewell and good luck.

Yours,

Alec.

Outside his mother's apartments he came upon Prince Michael's valet in whispered consultation with Pauline and Princess Delgrado's maid. In the rush of events he had forgotten the two domestics from the Rue Boissière.

"His Excellency will not need your services to-night," he said to the man, "and it will meet his wishes in every respect if nothing is said to the other servants as to the departure of the Princess for Paris."

"Precisely, your Majesty," smirked the Frenchman.

"You, of course," he went on, addressing the maid, "will accompany your mistress."

"Yes, your Majesty," she said, quite reassured by Alec's matter of fact manner.

A glance at Pauline's honest face showed that nothing had been said of the curious scene witnessed in the bureau. To a certain extent, Joan's humble friend shared his confidence, and it was evident that she had not betrayed it.

The departure of such a large party probably created some speculation among the palace servants; but Nesimir did not put in an appearance, and no one dared to question the King's movements. Alec had purposely allowed the barest time for the drive to the station. The midnight train, not being an important express, carried few passengers, mostly traders returning to neighboring towns in Austria after conducting the day's business in Delgratz. The King and his companions, of course, were recognized; but again it was not to be expected that any official would trouble them with inquiries.

Having secured a compartment for his mother and Beaumanoir, Alec made for the station master's office, meaning to obtain a messenger who might be trusted to deliver Stampoff's letter, and he happened to notice a policeman standing near a carriage door.

A white face peered out through the window. It was Sobieski. The King and the waiter were quitting Delgratz by the same train!

Alec laughed, and the policeman saluted. "When the train has gone," said Alec, "I want you to deliver this letter to General Stampoff."

"Yes, your Majesty," replied the man.

"It is important, remember. Here are ten rubles, and ask General Stampoff, with my compliments, for the like amount. Take no denial from his servants. If he is in bed, he must be awaked. Say that I sent you, and there should be no difficulty."

Precisely at midnight the train started. Quickly gathering speed, it ran through the tumbledown suburbs of the city and rumbled across the iron bridge that spans the Tave River. In twenty minutes it was at Semlin, and Austrian officials were examining passports. It was almost ludicrous to find that they gave Alec and his mother a perfunctory glance; but Lord Adalbert Beaumanoir excited their lively suspicion. One man, in particular, mounted guard outside the carriage, and did not budge till the train moved on again.

"That chap remembers me," said Beaumanoir. "Did you notice how he glared? He was the johnny I slung through the window."

At an early hour in the morning Joan was peering disconsolately through the window of a railway carriage at the life and bustle of Budapest station. Felix had gone to purchase some newspapers, and the girl was absorbed in gray thought when an official thrust head and shoulders into the compartment and asked if the Fr?ulein Vernon, passenger from Delgratz to Paris, was within.

"Yes," gasped Joan, all the slight color flying from her cheeks and leaving her wan indeed.

"Here is a telegram for you, fr?ulein," said the man politely, and his civil tone, at least, assured her that she was not to be dragged from the train and subjected to some mysterious inquisition by Austrian police. "Sent care of the station master," he explained, "and we were urgently requested to find you. Kindly sign this receipt."

She scribbled her name on a form, and the man carefully compared it with the superscription on the telegram.

"Yes, that is right," he said, and at last the agitated girl was free to open this message from the skies. It was written in German, probably to insure accurate transmission, and it read:

My mother and I, together with Beaumanoir, left Delgratz seven hours later than you. Pauline accompanies us. We are returning to Paris after having settled affairs satisfactorily in Kosnovia. Please await our arrival in Budapest, and accept the statement without any qualification that there is no reason whatever why you should not do this.

Alec.

The amazing words were still dancing before her eyes when Felix came running along the platform. He too had been identified by an official, and in his hand was another telegraphic slip.

"We need have no secrets between us now, my belle," he cried excitedly. "You guess what has happened."

"Alec has left Delgratz-he and his mother-Oh, Felix! if he really sent this telegram, why did he not explain things?"

"The explanation would be rather ticklish, when you come to think of it," said Felix dryly. "The Austrian Government might take too keen an interest in it. Don't you understand, girl? He has wrung the truth from some one. He is no longer a King, but a very devoted lover. Come, we can pass the day pleasantly in Budapest. There is nothing else to be done. No sense in running away merely for the fun of the thing. If Alec is not a King, there is no immediate probability of your becoming a Queen. You will be plain Mrs. Somebody or other. Now I wonder what in the world his new name is. The son of an American father would hardly be called Alexis. Horrible thought! You may have to learn to love him all over again as Chauncey, or Hiram, or Phineas. Tell me, mignonne, could you take him back to your heart as Phineas?"

Joan rose and stepped out on the platform. Poluski's chaffing outburst failed in its intent, though, to his great relief, she did not break down as he feared. "Perhaps he will not want me now, Felix," she said, and her eyes were shining.

"Oh, fiddlesticks!" cried the hunchback. "Why did he telegraph from the first wayside station after leaving Semlin? Alec not want you! At this moment he is more proud that he is a free born American than if a miracle almost beyond the powers of Heaven had made him a Delgrado."

Felix, cynic that he was, was secretly delighted when Joan discovered after breakfast that a blouse which caught her eye in one of the Budapest shops was much more suitable for traveling than that which she happened to be wearing. It was also significant that the dust which had gathered in her hair during the long journey from Delgratz required a visit to a coiffeur. These straws showed how the wind blew, he fancied.

And it was good to see the way Joan's face kindled when Alec clasped her in his arms. They said little then. The why and the wherefore of events they left to another hour; but when Joan extricated herself from her lover's embrace she turned to Princess Delgrado. The two women exchanged an affectionate kiss; each looked at the other through a mist of tears. Words were not needed. They understood, and that sufficed.

In a calmer moment Alec told Joan what had happened. He laid special stress on the fact that his mother was quite determined to renounce her title and revert to the name she bore during her first marriage.

"I never realized the tenth part of her suffering in Paris," he said, "though I knew far more about Prince Michael's conduct than he guessed. We must make it our business, Joan, to bring some brightness into her declining years. I have been planning our future all day in the train. Shall I become the fortune teller this time?"

"Yes," she murmured, "and perhaps I may forget that I have cost you a Kingdom."

He laughed gayly, just as he used to laugh on those bright May mornings when he waited on the Pont Neuf in the hope that he might be permitted to escort her to the Louvre.

"Never dream that I shall bring that up against you, dear heart," he said. "Delgratz ought to advertise itself as a sure cure for ambition. I liked the people; but I hated the job, and Kosnovia is already becoming a myth in my mind. I am rejoicing in my new name, Alexander Talbot. I hope you like it. My mother tells me that my father was one of the strong men of the West. I am called after him, it seems, and although my own name sounds strange to me I like the purposeful ring in it."

Joan laughed merrily. "Felix was teasing me this morning by suggesting that you might have been christened Phineas," she said.

"The wretch! And what if I was?"

She looked at him with a delightful shyness. "No matter what name you bore, you would always be my Alec," she whispered.

They were leaning over the balcony of an open air restaurant at the moment; so Alec perforce contented himself with clasping her hand.

"And now for my scheme, little girl," he said. "We will get married at once, of course."

She made no reply; but he felt the thrill that ran through her veins.

"Then," he went on, so gravely that she raised her eyes to his, seeking to catch his slightest shade of meaning; for her heart was still troubled by the fear that she had wrought him evil, "I will take you to America, my home. There is surely a nest for us out there. I have never understood it before; but often, as a boy, I felt the call of the West. It was natural, I suppose. We had many American friends in Paris, and my blood tingled when they spoke of the great rivers, the prairies, the ocean lakes, the giant mountain ranges, and the far flung plains of that wondrous continent which they describe with a reverent humor as God's own country. I feel that I shall win a place for myself in the land of my birth, and my poor mother is aching to go back there again."

He paused, and perhaps he hardly realized why Joan sighed with happiness; for she could believe, at last, that he had never a pang for his lost kingship.

"It is my home, too, Alec," she cooed. "I was born in Vermont. We are going home together."

He felt the thrill that ran through her veins

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"Yes, dear, no more partings. We shall not be wealthy, Joan. It seems that the miserable little humbug whom I have regarded as my father has wasted the whole of my mother's fortune by his extravagance. The only scrap left is a small farm near Denver, and even that would have been sold had not the crisis in Delgratz offered a wider scope for Michael's plundering instincts. It is a strange thing, sweetheart, but on the day we parted in Paris-the day the news came of the murder of Theodore and his wife-Prince Michael quarreled with my mother because she refused to sanction the sale of that last shred of her inheritance. In order to vent his spite, he had actually decided to tell me the secret of my birth in the very hour that Julius Marulitch announced the disappearance of the Obrenovitch dynasty."

"And the goddess sent you east instead of west," she said softly.

"Yes, my trial has been short and sharp; but she must have found me worthy, since she has given me-you."

They reached Paris next evening; but by that time the newspapers were hot on the scent of the missing King. So far as could be judged from the reports telegraphed by French correspondents in Delgratz, Stampoff had remained true to his dream of a monarchy. For lack of a better, Michael was King. Some one, Beliani probably, had issued a statement that the infatuation of Alexis III. for a pretty Parisian artist had led him to abdicate, and as soon as it was discovered that the Delgrado flat in the Rue Boissière was again occupied by Alec and his mother, they were besieged by reporters anxious to glean details of a royal romance.

They decided, therefore, to leave Paris for London, where, under the name of Talbot, they might hope to escape such unwelcome attentions. It was no easy matter to shake off the horde of eager pressmen; but they succeeded at last, and when Alec and Joan were quietly married in a West End church, no one, except the officiating minister, had the least knowledge of their identity.

After a brief honeymoon in Devon they rejoined Mrs. Talbot, and the three sailed from Southampton, whither came Felix and Beaumanoir to bid them farewell. Bosko and Pauline were on the same ship. The taciturn Serb had positively refused to leave his master, though Alec pointed out that his fallen fortunes hardly warranted him in retaining a valet, while Pauline, whom recent circumstances had thrown a good deal in Bosko's company, declared that Paris no longer had any attractions for her. Without consulting any one the two got married, and astounded Mrs. Talbot one fine morning by announcing the fact.

At the last moment Joan almost persuaded Felix to go with her and her husband; but he tore himself away.

"I peeped into the Grande Galerie the other morning," he said, with a real sob in his voice, "and my poor Madonna looked so lonely! There was no one with her; just a few painted angels and a couple of gaping tourists. I must go back. Some day you will come to the Louvre, and you will find me there, le pauvre Bourdon, still singing and painting."

He began to hum furiously. When the gangway was lowered, and the great ship sidled slowly but relentlessly away from the quay, he struck the tremendous opening note of "Ernani."

Beaumanoir grabbed him by the collar. "Shut up, you idiot!" he said, not smiling at all, for he loved Alec. "This is England. If you sing here, a bobby will run you in. An', anyhow, blank it! why do you want to sing? This isn't a smoking concert. It's more like a bally funeral!"

* * *

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