Beverly of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon - ebook
Kategoria: Obyczajowe i romanse Język: angielski Rok wydania: 1904

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George Barr McCutcheon

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Opis ebooka Beverly of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon

Beverly is a bewitching American girl who has gone to that stirring little principality--Graustark--to visit her friend the princess, and there has a romantic affair of her own.

Opinie o ebooku Beverly of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon

Fragment ebooka Beverly of Graustark - George Barr McCutcheon

About
Chapter 1 - EAST OF THE SETTING SUN
Chapter 2 - BEVERLY CALHOUN
Chapter 3 - ON THE ROAD FROM BALAK

About McCutcheon:

George Barr McCutcheon (July 26, 1866–1928) was an American popular novelist and playwright. His best known works include the series of novels set in Graustark, a fictional East European country, Brewster's Millions, a play and several films. Born in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, McCutcheon's father, despite not receiving formal education, stressed the value of literature and encouraged his sons to write. During McCutcheon's childhood, his father had a number of jobs that required travel around the county in Indiana. McCutcheon studied at Purdue University and was a roommate of future humorist George Ade. During his college years, he was editor of the Lafayette Daily Courier and wrote a serial novel of satire about Wabash River life. Although McCutcheon became famous for the Graustark series (the first novel was published in 1901), he hated the characterization of being a Romantic and preferred to be identified with his playwriting. He was the older brother of noted cartoonist John T. McCutcheon.

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Chapter 1 EAST OF THE SETTING SUN

Far off in the mountain lands, somewhere to the east of the setting sun, lies the principality of Graustark, serene relic of rare old feudal days. The traveler reaches the little domain after an arduous, sometimes perilous journey from the great European capitals, whether they be north or south or west— never east. He crosses great rivers and wide plains; he winds through fertile valleys and over barren plateaus; he twists and turns and climbs among sombre gorges and rugged mountains; he touches the cold clouds in one day and the placid warmth of the valley in the next. One does not go to Graustark for a pleasure jaunt. It is too far from the rest of the world and the ways are often dangerous because of the strife among the tribes of the intervening mountains. If one hungers for excitement and peril he finds it in the journey from the north or the south into the land of the Graustarkians. From Vienna and other places almost directly west the way is not so full of thrills, for the railroad skirts the darkest of the dangerlands.

Once in the heart of Graustark, however, the traveler is charmed into dreams of peace and happiness and— paradise. The peasants and the poets sing in one voice and accord, their psalm being of never-ending love. Down in the lowlands and up in the hills, the simple worker of the soil rejoices that he lives in Graustark; in the towns and villages the humble merchant and his thrifty customer unite to sing the song of peace and contentment; in the palaces of the noble the same patriotism warms its heart with thoughts of Graustark, the ancient. Prince and pauper strike hands for the love of the land, while outside the great, heartless world goes rumbling on without a thought of the rare little principality among the eastern mountains.

In point of area, Graustark is but a mite in the great galaxy of nations. Glancing over the map of the world, one is almost sure to miss the infinitesimal patch of green that marks its location. One could not be blamed if he regarded the spot as a typographical or topographical illusion. Yet the people of this quaint little land hold in their hearts a love and a confidence that is not surpassed by any of the lordly monarchs who measure their patriotism by miles and millions. The Graustarkians are a sturdy, courageous race. From the faraway century when they fought themselves clear of the Tartar yoke, to this very hour, they have been warriors of might and valor. The boundaries of their tiny domain were kept inviolate for hundreds of years, and but one victorious foe had come down to lay siege to Edelweiss, the capital. Axphain, a powerful principality in the north, had conquered Graustark in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but only after a bitter war in which starvation and famine proved far more destructive than the arms of the victors. The treaty of peace and the indemnity that fell to the lot of vanquished Graustark have been discoursed upon at length in at least one history.

Those who have followed that history must know, of course, that the reigning princess, Yetive, was married to a young American at the very tag-end of the nineteenth century. This admirable couple met in quite romantic fashion while the young sovereign was traveling incognito through the United States of America. The American, a splendid fellow named Lorry, was so persistent in the subsequent attack upon her heart, that all ancestral prejudices were swept away and she became his bride with the full consent of her entranced subjects. The manner in which he wooed and won this young and adorable ruler forms a very attractive chapter in romance, although unmentioned in history. This being the tale of another day, it is not timely to dwell upon the interesting events which led up to the marriage of the Princess Yetive to Grenfall Lorry. Suffice it to say that Lorry won his bride against all wishes and odds and at the same time won an endless love and esteem from the people of the little kingdom among the eastern hills Two years have passed since that notable wedding in Edelweiss.

Lorry and his wife, the princess, made their home in Washington, but spent a few months of each year in Edelweiss. During the periods spent in Washington and in travel, her affairs in Graustark were in the hands of a capable, austere old diplomat— her uncle, Count Caspar Halfont. Princess Volga reigned as regent over the principality of Axphain. To the south lay the principality of Dawsbergen, ruled by young Prince Dantan, whose half brother, the deposed Prince Gabriel, had been for two years a prisoner in Graustark, the convicted assassin of Prince Lorenz, of Axphain, one time suitor for the hand of Yetive.

It was after the second visit of the Lorrys to Edelweiss that a serious turn of affairs presented itself. Gabriel had succeeded in escaping from his dungeon. His friends in Dawsbergen stirred up a revolution and Dantan was driven from the throne at Serros. On the arrival of Gabriel at the capital, the army of Dawsbergen espoused the cause of the Prince it had spurned and, three days after his escape, he was on his throne, defying Yetive and offering a price for the head of the unfortunate Dantan, now a fugitive in the hills along the Graustark frontier.


Chapter 2 BEVERLY CALHOUN

Major George Calhoun was a member of Congress from one of the southern states. His forefathers had represented the same commonwealth, and so, it was likely, would his descendants, if there is virtue in the fitness of things and the heredity of love. While intrepid frontiersmen were opening the trails through the fertile wilds west of the Alleghanies, a strong branch of the Calhoun family followed close in their footsteps. The major’s great-grandfather saw the glories and the possibilities of the new territory. He struck boldly westward from the old revolutionary grounds, abandoning the luxuries and traditions of the Carolinas for a fresh, wild life of promise. His sons and daughters became solid stones in the foundation of a commonwealth, and his grandchildren are still at work on the structure. State and national legislatures had known the Calhouns from the beginning. Battlefields had tested their valor, and drawing-rooms had proved their gentility.

Major Calhoun had fought with Stonewall Jackson and won his spurs— and at the same time the heart and hand of Betty Haswell, the staunchest Confederate who ever made flags, bandages and prayers for the boys in gray. When the reconstruction came he went to Congress and later on became prominent in the United States consular service, for years holding an important European post. Congress claimed him once more in the early ’90s, and there he is at this very time.

Everybody in Washington’s social and diplomatic circles admired the beautiful Beverly Calhoun. According to his own loving term of identification, she was the major’s “youngest.” The fair southerner had seen two seasons in the nation’s capital. Cupid, standing directly in front of her, had shot his darts ruthlessly and resistlessly into the passing hosts, and masculine Washington looked humbly to her for the balm that might soothe its pains. The wily god of love was fair enough to protect the girl whom he forced to be his unwilling, perhaps unconscious, ally. He held his impenetrable shield between her heart and the assaults of a whole army of suitors, high and low, great and small. It was not idle rumor that said she had declined a coronet or two, that the millions of more than one American Midas had been offered to her, and that she had dealt gently but firmly with a score of hearts which had nothing but love, ambition and poverty to support them in the conflict.

The Calhouns lived in a handsome home not far from the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Grenfall Lorry. It seemed but natural that the two beautiful young women should become constant and loyal friends. Women as lovely as they have no reason to be jealous. It is only the woman who does not feel secure of her personal charms that cultivates envy. At the home of Graustark’s princess Beverly met the dukes and barons from the far east; it was in the warmth of the Calhoun hospitality that Yetive formed her dearest love for the American people.

Miss Beverly was neither tall nor short. She was of that divine and indefinite height known as medium; slender but perfectly molded; strong but graceful, an absolutely healthy young person whose beauty knew well how to take care of itself. Being quite heart-whole and fancy-free, she slept well, ate well, and enjoyed every minute of life. In her blood ran the warm, eager impulses of the south; hereditary love of case and luxury displayed itself in every emotion; the perfectly normal demand upon men’s admiration was as characteristic in her as it is in any daughter of the land whose women are born to expect chivalry and homage.

A couple of years in a New York “finishing school” for young ladies had served greatly to modify Miss Calhoun’s colloquial charms. Many of her delightful “way down south” phrases and mannerisms were blighted by the cold, unromantic atmosphere of a seminary conducted by two ladies from Boston who were too old to marry, too penurious to love and too prim to think that other women might care to do both. There were times, however,— if she were excited or enthusiastic,—­when pretty Beverly so far forgot her training as to break forth with a very attractive “yo’ all,” “suah ’nough,” or “go ’long naow.” And when the bands played “Dixie” she was not afraid to stand up and wave her handkerchief. The northerner who happened to be with her on such occasions usually found himself doing likewise before he could escape the infection.

Miss Calhoun’s face was one that painters coveted deep down in their artistic souls. It never knew a dull instant; there was expression in every lineament, in every look; life, genuine life, dwelt in the mobile countenance that turned the head of every man and woman who looked upon it. Her hair was dark-brown and abundant; her eyes were a deep gray and looked eagerly from between long lashes of black; her lips were red and ever willing to smile or turn plaintive as occasion required; her brow was broad and fair, and her frown was as dangerous as a smile. As to her age, if the major admitted, somewhat indiscreetly, that all his children were old enough to vote, her mother, with the reluctance born in women, confessed that she was past twenty, so a year or two either way will determine Miss Beverly’s age, so far as the telling of this story is concerned. Her eldest brother— Keith Calhoun (the one with the congressional heritage)— thought she was too young to marry, while her second brother, Dan, held that she soon would be too old to attract men with matrimonial intentions. Lucy, the only sister, having been happily wedded for ten years, advised her not to think of marriage until she was old enough to know her own mind.

Toward the close of one of the most brilliant seasons the Capital had ever known, less than a fortnight before Congress was to adjourn, the wife of Grenfall Lorry received the news which spread gloomy disappointment over the entire social realm. A dozen receptions, teas and balls were destined to lose their richest attraction, and hostesses were in despair. The princess had been called to Graustark.

Beverly Calhoun was miserably unhappy. She had heard the story of Gabriel’s escape and the consequent probability of a conflict with Axphain. It did not require a great stretch of imagination to convince her that the Lorrys were hurrying off to scenes of intrigue, strife and bloodshed, and that not only Graustark but its princess was in jeopardy.

Miss Calhoun’s most cherished hopes faded with the announcement that trouble, not pleasure, called Yetive to Edelweiss. It had been their plan that Beverly should spend the delightful summer months in Graustark, a guest at the royal palace. The original arrangements of the Lorrys were hopelessly disturbed by the late news from Count Halfont. They were obliged to leave Washington two months earlier than they intended, and they could not take Beverly Calhoun into danger-ridden Graustark. The contemplated visit to St. Petersburg and other pleasures had to be abandoned, and they were in tears.

Yetive’s maids were packing the trunks, and Lorry’s servants were in a wild state of haste preparing for the departure on Saturday’s ship. On Friday afternoon, Beverly was naturally where she could do the most good and be of the least help— at the Lorrys’. Self-confessedly, she delayed the preparations. Respectful maidservants and respectful menservants came often to the princess’s boudoir to ask questions, and Beverly just as frequently made tearful resolutions to leave the household in peace— if such a hullaballoo could be called peace. Callers came by the dozen, but Yetive would see no one. Letters, telegrams and telephone calls almost swamped her secretary; the footman and the butler fairly gasped under the strain of excitement. Through it all the two friends sat despondent and alone in the drear room that once had been the abode of pure delight. Grenfall Lorry was off in town closing up all matters of business that could be despatched at once. The princess and her industrious retinue were to take the evening express for New York and the next day would find them at sea.

“I know I shall cry all summer,” vowed Miss Calhoun, with conviction in her eyes. “It’s just too awful for anything.” She was lying back among the cushions of the divan and her hat was the picture of cruel neglect. For three solid hours she had stubbornly withstood Yetive’s appeals to remove her hat, insisting that she could not trust herself to stay more than a minute or two.” It seems to me, Yetive, that your jailers must be very incompetent or they wouldn’t have let loose all this trouble upon you,” she complained.

“Prince Gabriel is the very essence of trouble,” confessed Yetive, plaintively.” He was born to annoy people, just like the evil prince in the fairy tales.”

“I wish we had him over here,” the American girl answered stoutly. “He wouldn’t be such a trouble I’m sure. We don’t let small troubles worry us very long, you know.”

“But he’s dreadfully important over there, Beverly; that’s the difficult part of it,” said Yetive, solemnly.” You see, he is a condemned murderer.”

“Then, you ought to hang him or electrocute him or whatever it is that you do to murderers over there,” promptly spoke Beverly.

“But, dear, you don’t understand. He won’t permit us either to hang or to electrocute him, my dear. The situation is precisely the reverse, if he is correctly quoted by my uncle. When Uncle Caspar sent an envoy to inform Dawsbergen respectfully that Graustark would hold it personally responsible if Gabriel were not surrendered, Gabriel himself replied: ‘Graustark be hanged!’”

“How rude of him, especially when your uncle was so courteous about it. He must be a very disagreeable person,” announced Miss Calhoun.

“I am sure you wouldn’t like him,” said the princess. “His brother, who has been driven from the throne— and from the capital, in fact— is quite different. I have not seen him, but my ministers regard him as a splendid young man.”

“Oh, how I hope he may go back with his army and annihilate that old Gabriel!” cried Beverly, frowning fiercely.

“Alas,” sighed the princess, “he hasn’t an army, and besides he is finding it extremely difficult to keep from being annihilated himself. The army has gone over to Prince Gabriel.”

“Pooh!” scoffed Miss Calhoun, who was thinking of the enormous armies the United States can produce at a day’s notice. “What good is a ridiculous little army like his, anyway? A battalion from Fort Thomas could beat it to— ”

“Don’t boast, dear,” interrupted Yetive, with a wan smile. “Dawsbergen has a standing army of ten thousand excellent soldiers. With the war reserves she has twice the available force I can produce.”

“But your men are so brave,” cried Beverly, who had heard their praises sung.

“True, God bless them; but you forget that we must attack Gabriel in his own territory. To recapture him means a perilous expedition into the mountains of Dawsbergen, and I am sorely afraid. Oh, dear, I hope he’ll surrender peaceably!”

“And go back to jail for life?” cried Miss Calhoun. “It’s a good deal to expect of him, dear. I fancy it’s much better fun kicking up a rumpus on the outside than it is kicking one’s toes off against an obdurate stone wall from the inside. You can’t blame him for fighting a bit.”

“No— I suppose not,” agreed the princess, miserably. “Gren is actually happy over the miserable affair, Beverly. He is full of enthusiasm and positively aching to be in Graustark— right in the thick of it all. To hear him talk, one would think that Prince Gabriel has no show at all. He kept me up till four o’clock this morning telling me that Dawsbergen didn’t know what kind of a snag it was going up against. I have a vague idea what he means by that; his manner did not leave much room for doubt. He also said that we would jolt Dawsbergen off the map. It sounds encouraging, at least, doesn’t it?”

“It sounds very funny for you to say those things,” admitted Beverly, “even though they come secondhand. You were not cut out for slang.”

“Why, I’m sure they are all good English words,” remonstrated Yetive. “Oh, dear, I wonder what they are doing in Graustark this very instant. Are they fighting or— ”

“No; they are merely talking. Don’t you know, dear, that there is never a fight until both sides have talked themselves out of breath? We shall have six months of talk and a week or two of fight, just as they always do nowadays.”

“Oh, you Americans have such a comfortable way of looking at things,” cried the princess. “Don’t you ever see the serious side of life?”

“My dear, the American always lets the other fellow see the serious side of life,” said Beverly.

“You wouldn’t be so optimistic if a country much bigger and more powerful than America happened to be the other fellow.”

“It did sound frightfully boastful, didn’t it? It’s the way we’ve been brought up, I reckon,— even we southerners who know what it is to be whipped. The idea of a girl like me talking about war and trouble and all that! It’s absurd, isn’t it?”

“Nevertheless, I wish I could see things through those dear gray eyes of yours. Oh, how I’d like to have you with me through all the months that are to come. You would be such a help to me— such a joy. Nothing would seem so hard if you were there to make me see things through your brave American eyes.” The princess put her arms about Beverly’s neck and drew her close.

“But Mr. Lorry possesses an excellent pair of American eyes,” protested Miss Beverly, loyally and very happily.

“I know, dear, but they are a man’s eyes. Somehow, there is a difference, you know. I wouldn’t dare cry when he was looking, but I could boo-hoo all day if you were there to comfort me. He thinks I am very brave— and I’m not,” she confessed, dismally.

“Oh, I’m an awful coward,” explained Beverly, consolingly. “I think you are the bravest girl in all the world,” she added. “Don’t you remember what you did at— ” and then she recalled the stories that had come from Graustark ahead of the bridal party two years before. Yetive was finally obliged to place her hand on the enthusiastic visitor’s lips.

“Peace,” she cried, blushing. “You make me feel like a— a— what is it you call her— a dime-novel heroine?”

“A yellow-back girl? Never!” exclaimed Beverly, severely.

Visitors of importance in administration circles came at this moment and the princess could not refuse to see them. Beverly Calhoun reluctantly departed, but not until after giving a promise to accompany the Lorrys to the railway station.

* * * * *

The trunks had gone to be checked, and the household was quieter than it had been in many days. There was an air of depression about the place that had its inception in the room upstairs where sober-faced Halkins served dinner for a not over-talkative young couple.

“It will be all right, dearest,” said Lorry, divining his wife’s thoughts as she sat staring rather soberly straight ahead of her, “Just as soon as we get to Edelweiss, the whole affair will look so simple that we can laugh at the fears of to-day. You see, we are a long way off just now.”

“I am only afraid of what may happen before we get there, Gren,” she said, simply. He leaned over and kissed her hand, smiling at the emphasis she unconsciously placed on the pronoun.

Beverly Calhoun was announced just before coffee was served, and a moment later was in the room. She stopped just inside the door, clicked her little heels together and gravely brought her hand to “salute.” Her eyes were sparkling and her lips trembled with suppressed excitement.

“I think I can report to you in Edelweiss next month, general,” she announced, with soldierly dignity. Her hearers stared at the picturesque recruit, and Halkins so far forgot himself as to drop Mr. Lorry’s lump of sugar upon the table instead of into the cup.

“Explain yourself, sergeant!” finally fell from Lorry’s lips. The eyes of the princess were beginning to take on a rapturous glow.

“May I have a cup of coffee, please, sir? I’ve been so excited I couldn’t eat a mouthful at home.” She gracefully slid into the chair Halkins offered, and broke into an ecstatic giggle that would have resulted in a court-martial had she been serving any commander but Love.

With a plenteous supply of Southern idioms she succeeded in making them understand that the major had promised to let her visit friends in the legation at St. Petersburg in April a month or so after the departure of the Lorrys.

“He wanted to know where I’d rather spend the Spring— Washin’ton or Lexin’ton, and I told him St. Petersburg. We had a terrific discussion and neither of us ate a speck at dinner. Mamma said it would be all right for me to go to St. Petersburg if Aunt Josephine was still of a mind to go, too. You see, Auntie was scared almost out of her boots when she heard there was prospect of war in Graustark, just as though a tiny little war like that could make any difference away up in Russia— hundreds of thousands of miles away— ” (with a scornful wave of the hand)— “and then I just made Auntie say she’d go to St. Petersburg in April— a whole month sooner than she expected to go in the first place— and— ”

“You dear, dear Beverly!” cried Yetive, rushing joyously around the table to clasp her in her arms.

“And St. Petersburg really isn’t a hundred thousand miles from Edelweiss,” cried Beverly, gaily.

“It’s much less than that,” said Lorry, smiling, “But you surely don’t expect to come to Edelweiss if we are fighting. We couldn’t think of letting you do that, you know. Your mother would never— ”

“My mother wasn’t afraid of a much bigger war than yours can ever hope to be,” cried Beverly, resentfully. “You can’t stop me if I choose to visit Graustark.”

“Does your father know that you contemplate such a trip?” asked Lorry, returning her handclasp and looking doubtfully into the swimming blue eyes of his wife.

“No, he doesn’t,” admitted Beverly, a trifle aggressively.

“He could stop you, you know,” he suggested. Yetive was discreetly silent.

“But he won’t know anything about it,” cried Beverly triumphantly.

“I could tell him, you know,” said Lorry.

“No, you couldn’t do anything so mean as that,” announced Beverly. “You’re not that sort.”


Chapter 3 ON THE ROAD FROM BALAK

A ponderous coach lumbered slowly, almost painfully, along the narrow road that skirted the base of a mountain. It was drawn by four horses, and upon the seat sat two rough, unkempt Russians, one holding the reins, the other lying back in a lazy doze. The month was June and all the world seemed soft and sweet and joyous. To the right flowed a turbulent mountain stream, boiling savagely with the alien waters of the flood season. Ahead of the creaking coach rode four horsemen, all heavily armed; another quartette followed some distance in the rear. At the side of the coach an officer of the Russian mounted police was riding easily, jangling his accoutrements with a vigor that disheartened at least one occupant of the vehicle. The windows of the coach doors were lowered, permitting the fresh mountain air to caress fondly the face of the young woman who tried to find comfort in one of the broad seats. Since early morn she had struggled with the hardships of that seat, and the late afternoon found her very much out of patience. The opposite seat was the resting place of a substantial colored woman and a stupendous pile of bags and boxes. The boxes were continually toppling over and the bags were forever getting under the feet of the once placid servant, whose face, quite luckily, was much too black to reflect the anger she was able, otherwise, through years of practice, to conceal.

“How much farther have we to go, lieutenant?” asked the girl on the rear seat, plaintively, even humbly. The man was very deliberate with his English. He had been recommended to her as the best linguist in the service at Radovitch, and he had a reputation to sustain.

“It another hour is but yet,” he managed to inform her, with a confident smile.

“Oh, dear,” she sighed, “a whole hour of this!”

“We soon be dar, Miss Bev’ly; jes’ yo’ mak’ up yo’ mine to res’ easy-like, an’ we— ” but the faithful old colored woman’s advice was lost in the wrathful exclamation that accompanied another dislodgment of bags and boxes. The wheels of the coach had dropped suddenly into a deep rut. Aunt Fanny’s growls were scarcely more potent than poor Miss Beverly’s moans.

“It is getting worse and worse,” exclaimed Aunt Fanny’s mistress, petulantly. “I’m black and blue from head to foot, aren’t you, Aunt Fanny?”

“Ah cain’ say as to de blue, Miss Bev’ly. Hit’s a mos’ monstrous bad road, sho ’nough. Stay up dar, will yo’!” she concluded, jamming a bag into an upper corner.

Miss Calhoun, tourist extraordinary, again consulted the linguist in the saddle. She knew at the outset that the quest would be hopeless, but she could think of no better way to pass the next hour then to extract a mite of information from the officer.

“Now for a good old chat,” she said, beaming a smile upon the grizzled Russian. “Is there a decent hotel in the village?” she asked.

They were on the edge of the village before she succeeded in finding out all that she could, and it was not a great deal, either. She learned that the town of Balak was in Axphain, scarcely a mile from the Graustark line. There was an eating and sleeping house on the main street, and the population of the place did not exceed three hundred.

When Miss Beverly awoke the next morning, sore and distressed, she looked back upon the night with a horror that sleep had been kind enough to interrupt only at intervals. The wretched hostelry lived long in her secret catalogue of terrors. Her bed was not a bed; it was a torture. The room, the table, the— but it was all too odious for description. Fatigue was her only friend in that miserable hole. Aunt Fanny had slept on the floor near her mistress’s cot, and it was the good old colored woman’s grumbling that awoke Beverly. The sun was climbing up the mountains in the east, and there was an air of general activity about the place. Beverly’s watch told her that it was past eight o’clock.

“Good gracious!” she exclaimed. “It’s nearly noon, Aunt Fanny. Hurry along here and get me up. We must leave this abominable place in ten minutes.” She was up and racing about excitedly.

“Befo’ breakfas’?” demanded Aunt Fanny weakly.

“Goodness, Aunt Fanny, is that all you think about?”

“Well, honey, yo’ all be thinkin’ moughty serious ‘bout breakfas’ ’long to’ahds ‘leben o’clock. Dat li’l tummy o’ yourn ’ll be pow’ful mad ‘cause yo’ didn’— ”

“Very well, Aunt Fanny, you can run along and have the woman put up a breakfast for us and we’ll eat it on the road. I positively refuse to eat another mouthful in that awful dining-room. I’ll be down in ten minutes.”

She was down in less. Sleep, no matter how hard-earned, had revived her spirits materially. She pronounced herself ready for anything; there was a wholesome disdain for the rigors of the coming ride through the mountains in the way she gave orders for the start. The Russian officer met her just outside the entrance to the inn. He was less English than ever, but he eventually gave her to understand that he had secured permission to escort her as far as Ganlook, a town in Graustark not more than fifteen miles from Edelweiss and at least two days from Balak. Two competent Axphainian guides had been retained, and the party was quite ready to start. He had been warned of the presence of brigands in the wild mountainous passes north of Ganlook. The Russians could go no farther than Ganlook because of a royal edict from Edelweiss forbidding the nearer approach of armed forces. At that town, however, he was sure she easily could obtain an escort of Graustarkian soldiers. As the big coach crawled up the mountain road and further into the oppressive solitudes, Beverly Calhoun drew from the difficult lieutenant considerable information concerning the state of affairs in Graustark. She had been eagerly awaiting the time when something definite could be learned. Before leaving St. Petersburg early in the week she was assured that a state of war did not exist. The Princess Yetive had been in Edelweiss for six weeks. A formal demand was framed soon after her return from America, requiring Dawsbergen to surrender the person of Prince Gabriel to the authorities of Graustark. To this demand there was no definite response, Dawsbergen insolently requesting time in which to consider the proposition. Axphain immediately sent an envoy to Edelweiss to say that all friendly relations between the two governments would cease unless Graustark took vigorous steps to recapture the royal assassin. On one side of the unhappy principality a strong, overbearing princess was egging Graustark on to fight, while on the other side an equally aggressive people defied Yetive to come and take the fugitive if she could. The poor princess was between two ugly alternatives, and a struggle seemed inevitable. At Balak it was learned that Axphain had recently sent a final appeal to the government of Graustark, and it was no secret that something like a threat accompanied the message.

Prince Gabriel was in complete control at Serros and was disposed to laugh at the demands of his late captors. His half-brother, the dethroned Prince Dantan, was still hiding in the fastnesses of the hills, protected by a small company of nobles, and there was no hope that he ever could regain his crown. Gabriel’s power over the army was supreme. The general public admired Dantan, but it was helpless in the face of circumstances.

“But why should Axphain seek to harass Graustark at this time?” demanded Beverly Calhoun, in perplexity and wrath. “I should think the brutes would try to help her.”

“There is an element of opposition to the course the government is taking,” the officer informed her in his own way, “but it is greatly in the minority. The Axphainians have hated Graustark since the last war, and the princess despises this American. It is an open fact that the Duke of Mizrox leads the opposition to Princess Volga, and she is sure to have him beheaded if the chance affords. He is friendly to Graustark and has been against the policy of his princess from the start.”

“I’d like to hug the Duke of Mizrox,” cried Beverly, warmly. The officer did not understand her, but Aunt Fanny was scandalized.

“Good Lawd!” she muttered to the boxes and bags.

As the coach rolled deeper and deeper into the rock-shadowed wilderness, Beverly Calhoun felt an undeniable sensation of awe creeping over her. The brave, impetuous girl had plunged gaily into the project which now led her into the deadliest of uncertainties, with but little thought of the consequences.

The first stage of the journey by coach had been good fun. They had passed along pleasant roads, through quaint villages and among interesting people, and progress had been rapid. The second stage had presented rather terrifying prospects, and the third day promised even greater vicissitudes. Looking from the coach windows out upon the quiet, desolate grandeur of her surroundings, poor Beverly began to appreciate how abjectly helpless and alone she was. Her companions were ugly, vicious-looking men, any one of whom could inspire terror by a look. She had entrusted herself to the care of these strange creatures in the moment of inspired courage and now she was constrained to regret her action. True, they had proved worthy protectors as far as they had gone, but the very possibilities that lay in their power were appalling, now that she had time to consider the situation.

The officer in charge had been recommended as a trusted servant of the Czar; an American consul had secured the escort for her direct from the frontier patrol authorities. Men high in power had vouched for the integrity of the detachment, but all this was forgotten in the mighty solitude of the mountains. She was beginning to fear her escort more than she feared the brigands of the hills.

Treachery seemed printed on their backs as they rode ahead of her. The big officer was ever polite and alert, but she was ready to distrust him on the slightest excuse. These men could not help knowing that she was rich, and it was reasonable for them to suspect that she carried money and jewels with her. In her mind’s eye she could picture these traitors rifling her bags and boxes in some dark pass, and then there were other horrors that almost petrified her when she allowed herself to think of them.

Here and there the travelers passed by rude cots where dwelt woodmen and mountaineers, and at long intervals a solitary but picturesque horseman stood aside and gave them the road. As the coach penetrated deeper into the gorge, signs of human life and activity became fewer. The sun could not send his light into this shadowy tomb of granite. The rattle of the wheels and the clatter of the horses’ hoofs sounded like a constant crash of thunder in the ears of the tender traveler, a dainty morsel among hawks and wolves.

There was an unmistakable tremor in her voice when she at last found heart to ask the officer where they were to spend the night. It was far past noon and Aunt Fanny had suggested opening the lunch-baskets. One of the guides was called back, the leader being as much in the dark as his charge.

“There is no village within twenty miles,” he said, “and we must sleep in the pass.”

Beverly’s voice faltered. “Out here in all this awful— ” Then she caught herself quickly. It came to her suddenly that she must not let these men see that she was apprehensive. Her voice was a trifle shrill and her eyes glistened with a strange new light as she went on, changing her tack completely: “How romantic! I’ve often wanted to do something like this.”

The officer looked bewildered, and said nothing. Aunt Fanny was speechless. Later on, when the lieutenant had gone ahead to confer with the guides about the suspicious actions of a small troop of horsemen they had seen, Beverly confided to the old negress that she was frightened almost out of her boots, but that she’d die before the men should see a sign of cowardice in a Calhoun. Aunt Fanny was not so proud and imperious. It was with difficulty that her high-strung young mistress suppressed the wails that long had been under restraint in Aunt Fanny’s huge and turbulent bosom.

“Good Lawd, Miss Bev’ly, dey’ll chop us all to pieces an’ take ouah jewl’ry an’ money an’ clo’es and ev’ything else we done got about us. Good Lawd, le’s tu’n back, Miss Bev’ly. We ain’ got no mo’ show out heah in dese mountings dan a— ”

“Be still, Aunt Fanny!” commanded Beverly, with a fine show of courage. “You must be brave. Don’t you see we can’t turn back? It’s just as dangerous and a heap sight more so. If we let on we’re not one bit afraid they’ll respect us, don’t you see, and men never harm women whom they respect.”

“Umph!” grunted Aunt Fanny, with exaggerated irony.

“Well, they never do!” maintained Beverly, who was not at all sure about it. “And they look like real nice men— honest men, even though they have such awful whiskers.”

“Dey’s de wüst trash Ah eveh did see,” exploded Aunt Fanny.

“Sh! Don’t let them hear you,” whispered Beverly.

In spite of her terror and perplexity, she was compelled to smile. It was all so like the farce comedies one sees at the theatre.

As the officer rode up, his face was pale in the shadowy light of the afternoon and he was plainly nervous.

“What is the latest news from the front?” she inquired cheerfully.

“The men refuse to ride on,” he exclaimed, speaking rapidly, making it still harder for her to understand. “Our advance guard has met a party of hunters from Axphain. They insist that you— ’the fine lady in the coach’— are the Princess Yetive, returning from a secret visit to St. Petersburg, where you went to plead for assistance from the Czar.”

Beverly Calhoun gasped in astonishment. It was too incredible to believe. It was actually ludicrous. She laughed heartily. “How perfectly absurd.”

“I am well aware that you are not the Princess Yetive,” he continued emphatically; “but what can I do; the men won’t believe me. They swear they have been tricked and are panic-stricken over the situation. The hunters tell them that the Axphain authorities, fully aware of the hurried flight of the Princess through these wilds, are preparing to intercept her. A large detachment of soldiers are already across the Graustark frontier. It is only a question of time before the ‘red legs’ will be upon them. I have assured them that their beautiful charge is not the Princess, but an American girl, and that there is no mystery about the coach and escort. All in vain. The Axphain guides already feel that their heads are on the block; while as for the Cossacks, not even my dire threats of the awful anger of the White Czar, when he finds they have disobeyed his commands, will move them.”

“Speak to your men once more, sir, and promise them big purses of gold when we reach Ganlook. I have no money or valuables with me; but there I can obtain plenty,” said Beverly, shrewdly thinking it better that they should believe her to be without funds.

The cavalcade had halted during this colloquy. All the men were ahead conversing sullenly and excitedly with much gesticulation. The driver, a stolid creature, seemingly indifferent to all that was going on, alone remained at his post. The situation, apparently dangerous, was certainly most annoying. But if Beverly could have read the mind of that silent figure on the box, she would have felt slightly relieved, for he was infinitely more anxious to proceed than even she; but from far different reasons. He was a Russian convict, who had escaped on the way to Siberia. Disguised as a coachman he was seeking life and safety in Graustark, or any out-of-the-way place. It mattered little to him where the escort concluded to go. He was going ahead. He dared not go back— he must go on.

At the end of half an hour, the officer returned; all hope had gone from his face. “It is useless!” he cried out. “The guides refuse to proceed. See! They are going off with their countrymen! We are lost without them. I do not know what to do. We cannot get to Ganlook; I do not know the way, and the danger is great. Ah! Madam! Here they come! The Cossacks are going back.”

As he spoke, the surly mutineers were riding slowly towards the coach. Every man had his pistol on the high pommel of the saddle. Their faces wore an ugly look. As they passed the officer, one of them, pointing ahead of him with his sword, shouted savagely, “Balak!”

It was conclusive and convincing. They were deserting her.

“Oh, oh, oh! The cowards!” sobbed Beverly in rage and despair. “I must go on! Is it possible that even such men would leave— ”

She was interrupted by the voice of the officer, who, raising his cap to her, commanded at the same time the driver to turn his horses and follow the escort to Balak.

“What is that?” demanded Beverly in alarm.

From far off came the sound of firearms. A dozen shots were fired, and reverberated down through the gloomy pass ahead of the coach.

“They are fighting somewhere in the hills in front of us,” answered the now frightened officer. Turning quickly, he saw the deserting horsemen halt, listen a minute, and then spur their horses. He cried out sharply to the driver, “Come, there! Turn round! We have no time to lose!”

With a savage grin, the hitherto motionless driver hurled some insulting remark at the officer, who was already following his men, now in full flight down the road, and settling himself firmly on the seat, taking a fresh grip of the reins, he yelled to his horses, at the same time lashing them furiously with his whip, and started the coach ahead at a fearful pace. His only thought was to get away as far as possible from the Russian officer, then deliberately desert the coach and its occupants and take to the hills.