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   Chapter 15 THE ENVOY

A Son of the Immortals By Louis Tracy Characters: 13465

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


In the autumn of the following year, Joan was seated one day in the garden of her pretty suburban house at Denver. Not far away glittered a silvery lake; beyond a densely wooded plain rose the blue amphitheater of the Rocky Mountains; the distant clang of a gong told of street cars and the busy life of one of America's most thriving and picturesque cities.

She was somewhat more fragile than when she crossed the Pont Neuf on that fine morning in May eighteen months ago; but she looked and felt supremely happy, for Alec would soon be home from his office, where already he was proving that the qualities which made him a good King were now in a fair way toward establishing his position as a leading citizen of his native State. By her side in a dainty cot reposed another Alec, whose age might not yet be measured by many weeks, but whose size and lustiness proclaimed him-in his own special circle, at any rate-the most remarkable baby that ever "occurred" in Colorado.

Mrs. Talbot, Senior, tired of reading, was now dozing peacefully in an easy chair on the other side of the cot. The day had been warm; but the evening air brought with it the crisp touch of autumn, and Joan was about to summon Pauline, who-with honorable mention of the unchanging Bosko-had solved for the young couple the most perplexing problem of American life,-when the click of the garden gate caught her ear and she heard her husband's firm step. He stooped and kissed her.

"I hope you have passed the whole day in the garden, sweetheart," he said.

"Yes," she replied, "I was just going to send baby indoors. Will you tell Pauline it is time he was in bed; but do not disturb your mother. She's asleep."

"Baby can wait one minute," he said. "He looks quite contented where he is. There is news from Delgratz," he added in a lower voice. "King Michael is dead."

An expression of real sympathy swept across Joan's beautiful face. "I am sorry to hear that," she said. Then, with the innate desire of every high-minded woman to find good where there seems to be naught but evil, she added, "Perhaps, when he reached the throne, he may have mended his ways and striven to be a better man. Did he die suddenly?"

"Yes," and a curious inflection in Alec's voice caused his wife to glance anxiously toward the sleeping woman.

"Was there a tragedy?" she whispered.

"Something of the sort. The details are hardly known yet, and the telegrams published in our Denver newspapers are not quite explicit. There is an allusion to a disturbance in a local theater, during which the heir apparent, Count Julius Marulitch, was fatally stabbed."

"Oh!" gasped Joan.

"It would seem that this incident took place several days ago, but escaped notice in the American press at the time. Attention is drawn to it now by the fact that King Michael was found dead in his apartments at an early hour yesterday morning, and it is rumored that he was poisoned."

"How dreadful!" she gasped. "It will shock your mother terribly when she hears of it."

"It is an odd feature of the affair," went on Alec, "that the telegram describes the King as residing in the New Konak. I suppose he passed the summer months there, and had not yet returned to Delgratz. Delightful as the place was, I am glad now we never lived there, Joan."

She rose and caught him by the arm. "Alec," she murmured, "Heaven was very good to us in sending us away from that Inferno! You never regret those days, do you? You never think, deep down in your heart, that if it had not been for me you would still be a King?"

He laughed so cheerfully that the sound of his mirth woke both his mother and the baby.

"What is it?" asked Mrs. Talbot, scanning the faces of her son and his wife with a whole world of affection in her kindly eyes.

"Well, nothing to laugh about, mother," said he, "since I was just telling Joan that the end has come for some one in Kosnovia; but--"

"Is Michael dead?" interrupted his mother, paling a little.

"Yes, mother, he is."

She bent her head in brief reverie, and when she looked up again she seemed to be gazing at the smiling landscape. But they knew better. Her thoughts had flown many a mile from Colorado.

"May Heaven be more merciful to him than he was to me!" she said at last, and that was her requiem for the man to whom she had given her best days. She forgave him; but she could not find it in her heart to regret his loss.

When the New York papers reached Denver, the small household-whose interest in the affairs of far off Kosnovia was little dreamed of by their neighbors-gleaned fuller details of the tragedy that had again overwhelmed the Delgrados. Many times did the conversation turn to the tiny Kingdom with which their own lives had been so intimately bound up. So far as the American press was concerned, the topic was soon forgotten; but Alec, having obtained a Budapest journal, found that Stampoff, Beliani, and Sergius Nesimir were taking steps to form a Republic.

"Sometimes," said Alec during their talk that evening, "it is the expected that happens."

"I suppose," said Joan musingly, "that the unlucky little Principality ought to prosper under a popular Government-unless--" She paused, and her husband was quick to interpret her thought.

"Unless they obtain the right sort of King," he cried.

"Perhaps that is impossible since you are here, dear," she said softly.

"Is that bee still buzzing in your bonnet?" he laughed. "I agree with you, Joan; it was a pity I let go so promptly."

She lifted her startled eyes to his. "Oh, Alec!" she cried, "you don't mean it!"

"I do, sweetheart," he said with a marked seriousness that puzzled her. "It was sheer selfishness that drove me from Kosnovia. I honestly believe I should have cracked up under the weight of empire; but just fancy what a wonderful Queen you would have made!"

"Oh, don't be stupid," she cried. "You almost frightened me."

Alec's mother put in a gentle word. "If ever either of you is tempted to regret the loss of a throne, you ought to devote half an hour to reading the history of Kosnovia," she said. "You are happy, and that is what you would never have been in the Balkans. A curse rests on that unlucky land. Never a Delgrado or Obrenovitch has reigned a decade in peace and security. It was a red letter day for Alec when you brought him away from Delgratz, my dear," she continued, with a fond pressure of her hand on Joan's brown hair. "None of us knew it at the time; but there are events in life that, like certain short and sharp diseases, leave us all the better when they have passed, though their severity may try us cruelly at the time."

The Indian summer day was drawing to a c

lose, and Bosko entered to close the windows and pull down the blinds. The sight of him moved Alec to speak in that sonorous Serbian tongue which was already foreign to his own ears.

"Do you like America, Bosko?" he said.

The imperturbable one almost started; for it was long since he had heard any words in his own language.

"Oui, monsieur," he said.

"And would you go back to Delgratz if you had the opportunity?"

"Non, monsieur." For a wonder, he broke into an explanation. "I can go out here without expecting to be fired at from some hedge or ditch around the next corner, monsieur. You did not know those rascals as I knew them. They nearly got you once; but they tried a dozen times, and would have succeeded too, if Stampoff had not been too sharp for them."

"Good gracious, Bosko!" said his master. "This is news, indeed. Why was I not told?"

"There was no need, monsieur. Each time we discovered a plot we put every man in jail who might be suspected of the least connection with it. Moreover, had you heard of these things you would have interfered."

"Then, in the name of goodness, why didn't my protectors find out about the attack made by the Seventh Regiment? Surely there were enough concerned in that to supply at least one spy?"

Bosko hesitated. He glanced surreptitiously at Alec's mother. "Things went wrong that day, monsieur," he said. "Information that ought to have reached the General was withheld."

And Alec left it at that; for the man who might reasonably be suspected of offsetting Stampoff's vigilance was dead, and no good purpose could be served by adding one more to his mother's host of bitter memories.

A bell sounded, and Bosko went to the front door. He returned, his stolid features exhibiting the closest approach to excitement that they were capable of. Evidently he meant to announce a visitor; but before he could open his mouth a high and singularly musical voice came from the entrance hall in the exquisite opening bars of the "Salve Dimora."

With one amazed cry of "Felix!" Joan and Alec rushed to the door. Yes, there stood Felix, thinner, more wizened, more shrunken, than when last they saw him on the quay at Southampton. Joan, impulsive as ever, welcomed him with a hearty kiss.

"You dear creature!" she said. "Why did you not tell us you were in America?"

"An envoy always delivers his message in person, my belle. I am here on affairs of state. The telegraph is but a crude herald, and I was forbidden to write."

Alec dragged him into the room. "Business first, Felix," he said. "That is the motto of strenuous America. Now, what is it?"

"Beliani came to me in Paris," said the hunchback, affecting the weighty delivery of one charged with matters of imperial import. "He brought with him letters from Stampoff and Nesimir, which I shall deliver. He also intrusted me with a copy of a unanimous resolution of the Kosnovian Assembly, passed in secret session."

Joan's face suddenly paled, Mrs. Talbot's hands clenched the arms of the chair in which she was sitting, and the two women exchanged glances. None of this escaped Alec, who was seemingly unmoved.

"Behold in me, then," continued Poluski, "the Ambassador of Kosnovia. Delgratz wants again to see its Alexis, who is invited to reoccupy the throne on his own terms,-wife, infant, mother, Bosko, Pauline, even myself and the domestic cat, all are welcome. There are no restrictions. At a word from the King even the Assembly itself will dissolve."

Somehow, Poluski's manner conveyed that this was no elaborate jest, and Joan's lips trembled pitifully when, after one look at the youthful Alec, who was lying on a cushion and saying "Coo-coo" to a rattle, she awaited her husband's reply. He too looked at her in silence, and even Joan became dematerialized for one fateful moment. In his mind's eye he saw the sunlit domes and minarets of the White City. The blue Danube sparkled as of yore beneath its ancient walls. Through the peaceful air of that quiet Denver suburb he caught the sound of cheering crowds, the crashing of bells, the booming of cannon, that would welcome his return.

But he thought, too, of the fret and fume of Kingship, of the brave men and gracious women who had occupied an unstable throne and were now crumbling to dust in the vaults of that gloomy cathedral. He smiled tenderly at his wife, and his hand stole out to meet hers.

"I refuse, Felix!" he said quietly.

Poluski's piercing gray eyes peered at him under the shaggy eyebrows. "Is that final?"

"Absolutely final!"

Felix broke into a hearty laugh. "I warned Beliani," he chuckled. "No one could have written to me as Joan has done and yet want to return to that whited sepulcher down there in the Balkans. Well, here are my credentials," and he threw a bundle of papers on the table. "I have done what I was asked to do, and thus earned my passage money; and now, when I have kissed the baby and shaken hands all round, I will bring in my wedding present."

A minute later he danced out into the hall and returned with a huge roll of canvas. "I unpacked it at the station," he said; "so it is ready for inspection," and he spread out on the table a replica of the famous Murillo. "There," he cried, "since Joan would not come to the Louvre, I am bringing the Louvre's chief treasure to her. As it is the last, so is it the best of my copies. My hand was losing its cunning, I felt myself growing old, so I prayed to that sweet Madonna to give me one last flicker of the immortal fire ere it left me a dry cinder. Well, she listened, I think. Ave Maria! the great Spaniard himself would rub his eyes if he could see this. Now, I shall go back contented, and dream of the days that are gone."

His voice broke. He was gazing at Joan, at the glory of maternity in her face.

"You are not going back, Felix," said Alec. "Kosnovia has now lost both its King and its Ambassador. You are here, and here you shall stay."

"Yes, dear Felix," whispered Joan, "we have found our Kingdom. Our court is small; but there is always room in it for you."

So Denver heard wild snatches of song, and listened, and marveled, and a baby cultivated a strange taste in lullabies, and Pallas Athene forgot that one of her chosen sons dwelt in Colorado, or, if she remembered, her heart was softened and she forbore.

THE END

TRANSCRIBER'S NOTES:

1. Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters errors and omissions, and to regularize usage of hyphens and other punctuation.

2. The original book opened with an ornamental drop cap on the first sentence; the transcriber has added similar drop caps at the commencement of each chapter to make presentation consistent.

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