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Truxton King: A Story of Graustark BY George Barr McCutcheon
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He was a tall, rawboned, rangy young fellow with a face so tanned by wind and sun you had the impression that his skin would feel like leather if you could affect the impertinence to test it by the sense of touch. Not that you would like to encourage this bit of impudence after a look into his devil-may-care eyes; but you might easily imagine something much stronger than brown wrapping paper and not quite so passive as burnt clay. His clothes fit him loosely and yet were graciously devoid of the bagginess which characterises the appearance of extremely young men whose frames are not fully set and whose joints are still parading through the last stages of college development. This fellow, you could tell by looking at him, had been out of college from two to five years; you could also tell, beyond doubt or contradiction, that he had been in college for his full allotted time and had not escaped the usual number of “conditions” that dismay but do not discourage the happy-go-lucky undergraduate who makes two or three teams with comparative ease, but who has a great deal of difficulty with physics or whatever else he actually is supposed to acquire between the close of the football season and the opening of baseball practice.
This tall young man in the panama hat and grey flannels was Truxton King, embryo globe-trotter and searcher after the treasures of Romance. Somewhere up near Central Park, in one of the fashionable cross streets, was the home of his father and his father’s father before him: a home which Truxton had not seen in two years or more. It is worthy of passing notice, and that is all, that his father was a manufacturer; more than that, he was something of a power in the financial world. His mother was not strictly a social queen in the great metropolis, but she was what we might safely call one of the first “ladies in waiting.” Which is quite good enough for the wife of a manufacturer; especially when one records that her husband was a manufacturer of steel. It is also a matter of no little consequence that Truxton’s mother was more or less averse to the steel business as a heritage for her son. Be it understood, here and now, that she intended Truxton for the diplomatic service: as far removed from sordid steel as the New York post office is from the Court of St. James.
But neither Truxton’s father, who wanted him to be a manufacturing Croesus, or Truxton’s mother, who expected him to become a social Solomon, appears to have taken the young man’s private inclinations into consideration. Truxton preferred a life of adventure distinctly separated from steel and velvet; nor was he slow to set his esteemed parents straight in this respect. He had made up his mind to travel, to see the world, to be a part of the big round globe on which we, as ordinary individuals with no personality beyond the next block, are content to sit and encourage the single ambition to go to Europe at least once, so that we may not be left out of the general conversation.
Young Mr. King believed in Romance. He had believed in Santa Claus and the fairies, and he grew up with an ever increasing bump of imagination, contiguous to which, strange to relate, there was a properly developed bump of industry and application. Hence, it is not surprising that he was willing to go far afield in search of the things that seemed more or less worth while to a young gentleman who had suffered the ill-fortune to be born in the nineteenth century instead of the seventeenth. Romance and adventure, politely amorous but vigorously attractive, came up to him from the seventeenth century, perhaps through the blood of some swashbuckling ancestor, and he was held enthralled by the possibilities that lay hidden in some far off or even nearby corner of this hopelessly unromantic world of the twentieth century.
To be sure there was war, but war isn’t Romance. Besides, he was too young to fight against Spain; and, later on, he happened to be more interested in football than he was in the Japs or the Russians. The only thing left for him to do was to set forth in quest of adventure; adventure was not likely to apply to him in Fifth Avenue or at the factory or—still, there was a certain kind of adventure analogous to Broadway, after all. He thought it over and, after trying it for a year or two, decided that Broadway and the Tenderloin did not produce the sort of Romance he could cherish for long as a self-respecting hero, so he put certain small temptations aside, chastened himself as well as he could, and set out for less amiable but more productive by-ways in other sections of the globe.
We come upon him at last—luckily for us we were not actually following him—after two years of wonderful but rather disillusioning adventure in mid-Asia and all Africa. He had seen the Congo and the Euphrates, the Ganges and the Nile, the Yang-tsekiang and the Yenisei; he had climbed mountains in Abyssinia, in Siam, in Thibet and Afghanistan; he had shot big game in more than one jungle, and had been shot at by small brown men in more than one forest, to say nothing of the little encounters he had had in most un-Occidental towns and cities. He had seen women in Morocco and Egypt and Persia and—But it is a waste of time to enumerate. Strange to say, he was now drifting back toward the civilisation which we are pleased to call our own, with a sense of genuine disappointment in his heart. He had found no sign of Romance.Adventure in plenty, but Romance—ah, the fairy princesses were in the story books, after all.
Here he was, twenty-six years old, strong and full of the fire of life, convincing himself that there was nothing for him to do but to drift back to dear old New York and talk to his father about going into the offices; to let his mother tell him over and over again of the nice girls she knew who did not have to be rescued from ogres and all that sort of thing in order to settle down to domestic obsolescence; to tell his sister and all of their mutual friends the whole truth and nothing but the truth concerning his adventures in the wilds, and to feel that the friends, at least, were predestined to look upon him as a fearless liar, nothing more.
For twenty days he had travelled by caravan across the Persian uplands, through Herat, and Meshed and Bokhara, striking off with his guide alone toward the Sea of Aral and the eastern shores of the Caspian, thence through the Ural foothills to the old Roman highway that led down into the sweet green valleys of a land he had thought of as nothing more than the creation of a hairbrained fictionist.
Somewhere out in the shimmering east he had learned, to his honest amazement, that there was such a land as Graustark. At first he would not believe. But the English bank in Meshed assured him that he would come to it if he travelled long enough and far enough into the north and west and if he were not afraid of the hardships that most men abhor. The dying spirit of Romance flamed up in his heart; his blood grew quick again and eager. He would not go home until he had sought out this land of fair women and sweet tradition. And so he traversed the wild and dangerous Tartar roads for days and days, like the knights of Scheherazade in the times of old, and came at last to the gates of Edelweiss.
Not until he sat down to a rare dinner in the historic Hotel Regengetz was he able to realise that he was truly in that fabled, mythical land of Graustark, quaint, grim little principality in the most secret pocket of the earth’s great mantle. This was the land of his dreams, the land of his fancy; he had not even dared to hope that it actually existed.
And now, here he was, pinching himself to prove that he was awake, stretching his world-worn bones under a dainty table to which real food was being brought by—well, he was obliged to pinch himself again. From the broad terrace after dinner he looked out into the streets of the quaint, picture-book town with its mediæval simplicity and ruggedness combined; his eyes tried to keep pace with the things that his fertile brain was seeing beyond the glimmering lights and dancing window panes—for the whole scene danced before him with a persistent unreality that made him feel his own pulse in the fear that some sudden, insidious fever had seized upon him.
If any one had told him, six months before, that there was such a land as Graustark and that if he could but keep on travelling in a certain direction he would come to it in time, he would have laughed that person to scorn, no matter how precise a geographer he might have been.
Young Mr. King, notwithstanding his naturally reckless devotion to first impressions, was a much wiser person than when he left his New York home two years before. Roughing it in the wildest parts of the world had taught him that eagerness is the enemy of common sense. Therefore he curbed the thrilling impulse to fare forth in search of diversion on this first night; he conquered himself and went to bed early—and to sleep at once, if that may serve to assist you in getting an idea of what time and circumstances had done for his character.
A certain hard-earned philosophy had convinced him long ago that adventure is quite content to wait over from day to day, but that when a man is tired and worn it isn’t quite sensible to expect sleep to be put off regardless. With a fine sense of sacrifice, therefore, he went to bed, forsaking the desire to tread the dim streets of a city by night in advance of a more cautious survey by daylight. He had come to know that it is best to make sure of your ground, in a measure, at least, before taking too much for granted—to look before you leap, so to speak. And so, his mind tingling with visions of fair ladies and goodly opportunities, he went to sleep—and did not get up to breakfast until noon the next day.
And now it becomes my deplorable duty to divulge the fact that Truxton King, after two full days and nights in the city of Edelweiss, was quite ready to pass on to other fields, completely disillusionised in his own mind, and not a little disgusted with himself for having gone to the trouble to visit the place. To his intense chagrin, he had found the quaint old city very tiresome. True, it was a wonderful old town, rich in tradition, picturesque in character, hoary with age, bulging with the secrets of an active past; but at present, according to the well travelled Truxton, it was a poky old place about which historians either had lied gloriously or had been taken in shamelessly. In either case, Edelweiss was not what he had come to believe it would be. He had travelled overland for nearly a month, out of the heart of Asia, to find himself, after all, in a graveyard of great expectations!
He had explored Edelweiss, the capital. He had ridden about the ramparts; he had taken snapshots of the fortress down the river and had not been molested; he had gone mule-back up the mountain to the snowcapped monastery of St. Valentine, overtopping and overlooking the green valleys below; he had seen the tower in which illustrious prisoners were reported to have been held; he had ridden over the King’s Road to Ganlook and had stood on American bridges at midnight—all the while wondering why he was there. Moreover, he had traversed the narrow, winding streets of the city by day and night; never, in all his travels, had he encountered a more peaceful, less spirit-stirring place or populace.
Everybody was busy, and thrifty, and law abiding. He might just as well have gone to Prague or Nuremburg; either was as old and as quaint and as stupid as this lukewarm city in the hills.
Where were the beautiful women he had read about and dreamed of ever since he left Teheran? On his soul, he had not seen half a dozen women in Edelweiss who were more than passably fair to look upon. True, he had to admit, the people he had seen were of the lower and middle classes—the shopkeepers and the shopgirls, the hucksters and the fruit vendors. What he wanted to know was this: What had become of the royalty and the nobility of Graustark? Where were the princes, the dukes and the barons, to say nothing of the feminine concomitants to these excellent gentlemen?
What irritated him most of all was the amazing discovery that there was a Cook’s tourist office in town and that no end of parties arrived and departed under his very nose, all mildly exhilarated over the fact that they had seen Graustark! The interpreter, with “Cook’s” on his cap, was quite the most important, if quite the least impressive personage in town. It is no wonder that this experienced globetrotter was disgusted!
There was a train to Vienna three times a week. He made up his mind that he would not let the Saturday express go down without him. He had done some emphatic sputtering because he had neglected to take the one on Thursday.
Shunning the newly discovered American club in Castle Avenue as if it were a pest house, he lugubriously wandered the streets alone, painfully conscious that the citizens, instead of staring at him with admiring eyes, were taking but little notice of him. Tall young Americans were quite common in Edelweiss in these days.
One dingy little shop in the square interested him. It was directly opposite the Royal Café (with American bar attached), and the contents of its grimy little windows presented a peculiarly fascinating interest to him. Time and again, he crossed over from the Café garden to look into these windows. They were packed with weapons and firearms of such ancient design that he wondered what they could have been used for, even in the Middle Ages. Once he ventured inside the little shop. Finding no attendant, he put aside his suddenly formed impulse to purchase a mighty broadsword. From somewhere in the rear of the building came the clanging of steel hammers, the ringing of highly tempered metals; but, although he pounded vigorously with his cane, no one came forth to attend him.
On several occasions he had seen a grim, sharp-featured old man in the doorway of the shop, but it was not until after he had missed the Thursday train that he made up his mind to accost him and to have the broadsword at any price. With this object in view, he quickly crossed the square and inserted his tall frame into the narrow doorway, calling out lustily for attention. So loudly did he shout that the multitude of ancient swords and guns along the walls seemed to rattle in terror at this sudden encroachment of the present.
“What is it?” demanded a sharp, angry voice at his elbow. He wheeled and found himself looking into the wizened, parchmentlike face of the little old man, whose black eyes snapped viciously. “Do you think I am deaf?”
“I didn’t know you were here,” gasped Truxton, forgetting to be surprised by the other’s English. “The place looked empty. Excuse me for yelling.”“What do you want?” “That broad—Say, you speak English, don’t you?”
“Certainly,” snapped the old man. “Why shouldn’t I? I can’t afford an interpreter. You’ll find plenty of English used here in Edelweiss since the Americans and British came. They won’t learn our language, so we must learn theirs.”“You speak it quite as well as I do.”
“Better, young man. You are an American.” The sarcasm was not lost on Truxton King, but he was not inclined to resent it. A twinkle had come into the eyes of the ancient; the deep lines about his lips seemed almost ready to crack into a smile.“What’s the price of that old sword you have in the window?” “Do you wish to purchase it?” “Certainly.” “Three hundred gavvos.” “What’s that in dollars?” “Four hundred and twenty.” “Whew!”
“It is genuine, sir, and three hundred years old. Old Prince Boris carried it. It’s most rare. Ten years ago you might have had it for fifty gavvos. But,” with a shrug of his thin shoulders, “the price of antiquities has gone up materially since the Americans began to come. They don’t want a thing if it is cheap.”“I’ll give you a hundred dollars for it, Mr.—er—” he looked at the sign on the open door—”Mr. Spantz.” “Good day, sir.” The old man was bowing him out of the shop. King was amused. “Let’s talk it over. What’s the least you’ll take in real money?” “I don’t want your money. Good day.”
Truxton King felt his chin in perplexity. In all his travels he had found no other merchant whom he could not “beat down” two or three hundred per cent. on an article.“It’s too much. I can’t afford it,” he said, disappointment in his eyes. “I have modern blades of my own make, sir, much cheaper and quite as good,” ventured the excellent Mr. Spantz.
“You make ‘em?” in surprise. The old man straightened his bent figure with sudden pride. “I am armourer to the crown, sir. My blades are used by the nobility—not by the army, I am happy to say. Spantz repairs the swords and guns for the army, but he welds only for the gentlemen at court.”“I see. Tradition, I suppose.”
“My great-grandfather wrought blades for the princes a hundred years ago. My son will make them after I am gone, and his son after him. I, sir, have made the wonderful blade with the golden hilt and scabbard which the little Prince carries on days of state. It was two years in the making. There is no other blade so fine. It is so short that you would laugh at it as a weapon, and yet you could bend it double. Ah, there was a splendid piece of work, sir. You should see the little toy to appreciate it. There are diamonds and rubies worth 50,000 gavvos set in the handle. Ah, it is—”
Truxton’s eyes were sparkling once more. Somehow he was amused by the sudden garrulousness of the old armourer. He held up his hand to check the flow of words.
“I say, Herr Spantz, or Monsieur, perhaps, you are the first man I’ve met who has volunteered to go into rhapsodies for my benefit. I’d like to have a good long chat with you. What do you say to a mug of that excellent beer over in the Café garden? Business seems to be a little dull. Can’t you—er—lock up?”Spantz looked at him keenly under his bushy brows, his little black eyes fairly boring holes into King’s brain, so to speak. “May I ask what brings you to Edelweiss?” he asked abruptly.
“I don’t mind telling you, Mr. Spantz, that I’m here because I’m somewhat of a fool. False hopes led me astray. I thought Graustark was the home, the genesis of Romance, and I’m more or less like that chap we’ve read about, who was always in search of adventure. Somehow, Graustark hasn’t come up to expectations. Up to date, this is the slowest burg I’ve ever seen. I’m leaving next Saturday for Vienna.” “I see,” cackled Spantz, his eyes twinkling with mirth. “You thought you could capture wild and beautiful princesses here just as you pleased, eh? Let me tell you, young man, only one American—only one foreigner, in fact—has accomplished that miracle. Mr. Lorry came here ten years ago and won the fairest flower Graustark ever produced-the beautiful Yetive—but he was the only one. I suppose you are surprised to find Graustark a solid, prosperous, God-fearing little country, whose people are wise and happy and loyal. You have learned, by this time, that we have no princesses for you to protect. It isn’t as it was when Mr. Lorry came and found Her Serene Highness in mediæval difficulties. There is a prince on the throne to-day— you’ve seen him?”“No. I’m not looking for princes. I’ve seen hundreds of ‘em in all parts of the world.” “Well, you should see Prince Robin before you scoff. He’s the most wonderful little man in all the world.”
“I’ve heard of nothing but him, my good Mr. Spantz. He’s seven years old and he looks like his mother and he’s got a jewelled sword and all that sort of thing. I daresay he’s a nice little chap. Got American blood in him, you see.”
“Do not let any one hear you laugh about him, sir. The people worship him. If you laugh too publicly, you may have your hands full of adventures in a very few minutes—and your body full of fine steel blades. We are very proud of our Prince.”
“I beg your pardon, Mr. Spantz. I didn’t mean lesé majesté. I’m bored, that’s all. You wouldn’t blame me for being sore if you’d come as far as I have and got as little for your pains. Why, hang it all, this morning that confounded man from Cook’s had a party of twentytwo American school-teachers and Bible students in the Castle grounds and I had to stand on my toes outside the walls for two hours before I could get a permit to enter. American engineers are building the new railroad; American capital controls the telephone and electric light companies; there are two American moving picture shows in Regengetz Circus and an American rush hand laundry two blocks up. And you can get Bourbon whisky anywhere. It’s sickening.”
“The Americans have done much for Edelweiss, sir. We don’t resent their progressiveness. They have given us modern improvements without overthrowing ancient customs. My dear young sir, we are very old here—and very honest. That reminds me that I should accept your kind invitation to the Café garden. If you will bear with me for just one moment, sir.” With this polite request, the old man retired to the rear of the shop and called out to some one upstairs. A woman’s voice answered. The brief conversation which followed was in a tongue unknown to King.
“My niece will keep shop, sir, while I am out,” Spantz explained, taking his hat from a peg behind the door. Truxton could scarcely restrain a smile as he glanced over his queer little old guest. He looked eighty but was as sprightly as a man of forty. A fine companion for a youth of twenty-six in search of adventure!
They paused near the door until the old man’s niece appeared at the back of the shop. King’s first glance at the girl was merely a casual one. His second was more or less in the nature of a stare of amazement.
A young woman of the most astounding beauty, attired in the black and red of the Graustark middle classes, was slowly approaching from the shadowy recesses at the end of the shop. She gave him but a cursory glance, in which no interest was apparent, and glided quietly into the little nook behind the counter, almost at his elbow. His heart enjoyed a lively thump. Here was the first noticeably goodlooking woman he had seen in Edelweiss, and, by the powers, she was a sword-maker’s niece!
The old man looked sharply at him for an instant, and a quick little smile writhed in and out among the mass of wrinkles. Instead of passing directly out of the shop, Spantz stopped a moment to give the girl some suddenly recalled instruction. Truxton King, you may be sure, did not precede the old man into the street. He deliberately removed his hat and waited most politely for age to go before youth, in the meantime blandly gazing upon the face of this amazing niece. Across the square, at one of the tables, he awaited his chance and a plausible excuse for questioning the old man without giving offence. Somewhere back in his impressionable brain there was growing a distinct hope that this beautiful young creature with the dreamy eyes was something more than a mere shopgirl. It had occurred to him in that one brief moment of contact that she had the air, the poise of a true aristocrat.
The old man, over his huge mug of beer, was properly grateful. He was willing to repay King for his little attention by giving him a careful history of Graustark, past, present and future, from the time of Tartar rule to the time of the so-called “American invasion.” ills glowing description of the little Prince might have interested Truxton in his Lord Fauntleroy days, but just at present he was more happily engaged in speculating on the true identify of the girl in the gun-shop. He recalled the fact that a former royal princess of Graustark had gone sight-seeing over the world, incognita, as a Miss Guggenslocker, and had been romantically snatched up by a lucky American named Lorry. What if this girl in the gun-shop should turn out to be a—well, he could hardly hope for a princess; but she might be a countess.
The old mart was rambling on. “The young Prince has lived most of his life in Washington and London and Paris, sir. He’s only seven, sir. Of course, you remember the dreadful accident that made him an orphan and put him on the throne with the three ‘wise men of the East’ as regents or governors. The train wreck near Brussels, sir? His mother, the glorious Princess Yetive, was killed and his father, Mr. Lorry, died the next day from his injuries. That, sir, was a most appalling blow to the people of Graustark. We loved the Princess and we admired her fine American husband. There never will be another pair like them, sir. And to think of them being destroyed as they were—in the most dreadful way, sir. Their coach was demolished, you remember. I—I will not go into the details. You know them, of course. God alone preserved the little Prince. He was travelling with them, on the way from London to Edelweiss. By some strange intervention of Providence he had gone with his governess and other members of the party to the luggage van in the fore part of the train, which had stopped on a side track below the station. The collision was from the rear, a broken rail throwing a locomotive into the Princess’s coach. This providential escape of the young Prince preserved the unbroken line of the present royal family. If he had been killed, the dynasty would have come to an end, and, I am telling no secret, sir, when I say that a new form of government would have followed.”“What sort of government?”
“A more modern system, sir. Perhaps socialistic. I can’t say. At all events, a new dynasty could not have been formed. The people would have rejected it. But Prince Robin was spared and, if I do say it, sir, he is the manliest little prince in all the world. You should see him ride and fence and shoot—and he is but seven!”“I say, Mr. Spantz, I don’t believe I’ve told you that your niece is a most remarkably beau—”
“As I was saying, sir,” interrupted Spantz, so pointedly that Truxton flushed, “the little Prince is the idol of all the people. Under the present regency he is obliged to reside in the principality until his fifteenth year, after which he may be permitted to travel abroad. Graustark intends to preserve him to herself if it is in her power to do so. Woe betide the man who thinks or does ill toward little Prince Robin.”
King was suddenly conscious of a strange intentness of gaze on the old man’s part. A peculiar, indescribable chill swept over him; he had a distinct, vivid impression that some subtle power was exercising itself upon him—a power that, for the briefest instant, held him in a grip of iron. What it was, he could not have told; it passed almost immediately. Something in the old man’s eyes, perhaps—or was it something in the queer smile that flickered about his lips?
“My dear Mr. Spantz,” he hastened to say, as if a defence were necessary, “please don’t get it into your head that I’m thinking ill of the Prince. I daresay he’s a fine little chap and I’m sorry he’s—er— lost his parents.” Spantz laughed, a soft, mirthless gurgle that caused Truxton to wonder why he had made the effort at all. “I imagine His Serene Highness has little to fear from any American,” he said quietly. “He has been taught to love and respect the men of his father’s land. He loves America quite as dearly as he loves Graustark.” Despite the seeming sincerity of the remark, Truxton was vaguely conscious that a peculiar harshness had crept into the other’s voice. He glanced sharply at the old man’s face. For the first time he noticed something sinister—yes, evil—in the leathery countenance; a stealthiness in the hard smile that seemed to transform it at once into a pronounced leer. Like a flash there darted into the American’s active brain a conviction that there could be no common relationship between this flinty old man and the delicate, refined girl he had seen in the shop. Now he recalled the fact that her dark eyes had a look of sadness and dejection in their depths, and that her face was peculiarly white and unsmiling.Spantz was eyeing him narrowly. “You do not appear interested in our royal family,” he ventured coldly.
Truxton hastened to assure him that he was keenly interested. Especially so, now that I appreciate that the little Prince is the last of his race.”
“There are three regents, sir, in charge of the affairs of state—Count Halfont, the Duke of Perse and Baron Jasto Dangloss, who is minister of police. Count Halfont is a granduncle of the Prince, by marriage. The Duke of Perse is the father of the unhappy Countess Ingomede, the young and beautiful wife of the exiled “Iron Count” Marlanx. No doubt you’ve heard of him.”
“I’ve read something about him. Sort of a gay old bounder, wasn’t he? Seems to me I recall the stories that were printed about him a few years ago. I remember that he was banished from the principality and his estates seized by the Crown.”
“Quite true, sir. He was banished in 1901 and now resides on his estates in Austria. Three years ago, in Buda Pesth, he was married to Ingomede, the daughter of the Duke. Count Marlanx has great influence at the Austrian court. Despite the fact that he is a despised and discredited man in his own country, he still is a power among people high in the government of more than one empire. The Duke of Perse realised this when he compelled his daughter to accept him as her husband. The fair Ingomede is less than twenty-five years of age; the Iron Count is fully sixty-five.”“She ought to be rescued,” was King’s only comment, but there was no mistaking the gleam of interest in his steady grey eyes.
“Rescued?” repeated the old man, with a broad grin. “And why? She is mistress of one of the finest old castles in Austria, Schloss Marlanx, and she is quite beautiful enough to have lovers by the score when the Count grows a little blinder and less jealous. She is in Edelweiss at present, visiting her father. The Count never comes here.”
“I’d like to see her if she’s really beautiful. I’ve seen but one pretty woman in this whole blamed town—your niece, Herr Spantz. I’ve looked ‘em over pretty carefully, too. She is exceedingly attract—”
“Pardon me, sir, but it is not the custom in Graustark to discuss our women in the public drinking places.” King felt as if he had received a slap in the face. He turned a fiery red under his tan and mumbled some sort of an apology. “The Countess is a public personage, however, and we may speak of her,” went on the old man quickly, as the American, in his confusion, called a waiter to replenish the tankards. The steely glitter that leaped into the armourer’s eyes at this second reference to his niece disappeared as quickly as it came; somehow it left behind the impression that he knew how to wield the deadly blades he wrought.
“I’d like to hear more about her,” murmured Mr. King. “Anything to pass the time away, Mr. Spantz. As I said before, I journeyed far to reach this land of fair women and if there’s one to be seen, I’m properly eager to jump at the chance. I’ve been here two days and I’ve seen nothing that could start up the faintest flutter around my heart. I’m sorry to say, my good friend, that the women I’ve seen in the streets of Edelweiss are not beauties. I won’t say that they’d stop a clock, but they’d cause it to lose two or three hours a day, all right enough.” “You will not find the beautiful women of Edelweiss in the streets, sir.”“Don’t they ever go out shopping?”
“Hardly. The merchants, if you will but notice, carry their wares to the houses of the noble and the rich. Graustark ladies of quality would no more think of setting foot in a shop or bazaar than they would think of entering a third class carriage. Believe me, there are many beautiful women in the homes along Castle Avenue. Noblemen come hundreds of miles to pay court to them.”“Just the same, I’m disgusted with the place. It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Saturday will see me on my way.”
“To-morrow the garrison at the fortress marches in review before the Prince. If you should happen to be on the avenue near the Castle gate at twelve o’clock, you will see the beauty and chivalry of Graustark. The soldiers are not the only ones who are on parade.” There was an unmistakable sneer in his tone.“You don’t care much for society, I’d say,” observed Truxton, with a smile.
Spantz’s eyes flamed for an instant and then subtly resumed their most ingratiating twinkle. “We cannot all be peacocks,” he said quietly. “You will see the Prince, his court and all the distinguished men of the city and the army. You will also see that the man who rides beside the Prince’s carriage wheel is an American, while Graustark nobles take less exalted places.”“An American, eh?” “Yes. Have you not heard of John Tullis, the Prince’s friend?” “Another seven-year-old?”
“Not at all. A grown man, sir. He, your countryman, is the real power behind our throne. On his deathbed, the Prince’s father placed his son in this American’s charge and begged him to stand by him through thick and thin until the lad is able to take care of himself. As if there were not loyal men in Graustark who might have done as much for their Prince!”King looked interested. “I see. The people, no doubt, resent this espionage. Is that it?”
Spantz gave him a withering look, as much as to say that he was a fool to ask such a question in a place so public. Without replying, he got to his feet and made ready to leave the little garden.“I must return. I have been away too long. Thank you, sir, for your kindness to an old man. Good day, sir, and—” “Hold on! I think I’ll walk over with you and have another look at that broadsword. I’m—” “To-morrow, sir. It is past time to close the shop for to-day. Come tomorrow. Good day.”
He was crossing the sidewalk nimbly before King could offer a word of remonstrance. With a disappointed sigh, the American sank back in his chair, and watched his odd companion scurry across the square. Suddenly he became conscious of a disquieting feeling that some one was looking at him intently from behind. He turned in his chair and found himself meeting the gaze of a ferocious looking, military appearing little man at a table near by. To his surprise, the little man’s fierce stare maintained its peculiarly personal intentness until he, himself, was compelled to withdraw his own gaze in some little confusion and displeasure. His waiter appeared at his elbow with the change.“Who the devil is that old man at the table there?” demanded young Mr. King loudly. The waiter assumed a look of extreme insolence. “That is Baron Dangloss, Minister of Police. Anything more, sir?” “Yes. What’s he looking so hard at me for? Does he think I’m a pickpocket?” “You know as much as I, sir,” was all that the waiter said in reply.
King pocketed the coin he had intended for the fellow, and deliberately left the place. He could not put off the feeling, however, that the intense stare of Baron Dangloss, the watch-dog of the land, followed him until the corner of the wall intervened. The now incensed American glanced involuntarily across the square in the direction of Spantz’s shop. He saw three mounted soldiers ride up to the curb and hail the armourer as he started to close his doors. As he sauntered across the little square his gaze suddenly shifted to a second-story window above the gun-shop.
The interesting young woman had cautiously pushed open one of the shutters and was peering down upon the trio of red-coated guardsmen. Almost at the same instant her quick, eager gaze fell upon the tall American, now quite close to the horsemen. He saw her dark eyes expand as if with surprise. The next instant he caught his breath and almost stopped in his tracks.
A shy, impulsive smile played about her red lips for a second, lighting up the delicate face with a radiance that amazed him. Then the shutter was closed gently, quickly. His first feeling of elation was followed instantly by the disquieting impression that it was a mocking smile of amusement and not one of inviting friendliness. He felt his ears burn as he abruptly turned off to the right, for, somehow, he knew that she was peeping at him through the blinds and that something about his tall, rangy figure was appealing to her sense of the ridiculous.
You will see at once that Truxton King, imaginative chap that he was, had pounced upon this slim, attractive young woman as the only plausible heroine for his prospective romance, and, as such, she could not be guilty of forwardness or lack or dignity. Besides, first impressions are always good ones: she had struck him at the outset as being a girl of rare delicacy and refinement.In the meantime, Baron Dangloss was watching him covertly from the edge of the Café garden across the square. CHAPTER II A MEETING OF THE CABINET
At this time, the principality of Graustark was in a most prosperous condition. Its affairs were under the control of an able ministry, headed by the venerable Count Halfont. The Duke of Perse, for years a resident of St. Petersburg, and a financier of high standing, had returned to Edelweiss soon after the distressing death of the late Princess Yetive and her American husband, and to him was entrusted the treasury portfolio. He at once proceeded to endear himself to the common people by the advocacy of a lower rate of taxation; this meant the reduction of the standing army. He secured new and advantageous treaties with old and historic foes, putting Graustark’s financial credit upon a high footing in the European capitals. The people smugly regarded themselves as safe in the hands of the miserly but honest old financier. If he accomplished many things by way of office to enhance his own particular fortune, no one looked askance, for he made no effort to blind or deceive his people. Of his honesty there could be no question; of his financial operations, it is enough to say that the people were satisfied to have their affairs linked with his.
The financing of the great railroad project by which Edelweiss was to be connected with the Siberian line in the north, fell to his lot at a time when no one else could have saved the little government from heavy losses or even bankruptcy. The new line traversed the country from Serros, capital of Dawsbergen, through the mountains and canyons of Graustark, across Axphain’s broad steppes and lowlands, to a point at which Russia stood ready to begin a connecting branch for junction with her great line to the Pacific. All told, it was a stupendous undertaking for a small government to finance; it is well known that Graustark owns and controls her public utility institutions. The road, now about half completed, was to be nearly two hundred miles in length, fully two-thirds of which was on Graustark territory. The preponderance of cost of construction fell upon that principality, Dawsbergen and Axphain escaping with comparatively small obligations owing to the fact that they had few mountains to contend with. As a matter of fact, the Dawsbergen and Axphain ends of the railroad were now virtually built and waiting for the completion of the extensive work in the Graustark highlands.
The opening of this narrative finds the ministry preparing to float a new five million gavvo issue of bonds for construction and equipment purposes. Agents of the government were ready to depart for London and Paris to take up the matter with the great banking houses. St. Petersburg and Berlin were not to be given the opportunity to gobble up these extremely fine securities. This seemingly extraordinary exclusion of Russian and German bidders was the result of vigorous objections raised by an utter outsider, the American, John Tullis, long time friend and companion of Grenfall Lorry, consort to the late Princess.
Tullis was a strange man in many particulars. He was under forty years of age, but even at that rather immature time of life he had come to be recognised as a shrewd, successful financial power in his home city, New York. At the very zenith of his power he suddenly and with Quixotic disregard for consequences gave up his own business and came to Graustark for residence, following a promise made to Grenfall Lorry when the latter lay dying in a little inn near Brussels.
They had been lifelong friends. Tullis jestingly called himself the little Prince’s “morganatic godfather.” For two years he had been a constant resident of Graustark, living contentedly, even indolently, in the picturesque old Castle, his rooms just across the corridor from those occupied by the little Prince. To this small but important bit of royalty he was “Uncle Jack”; in that capacity he was the most beloved and at the same time the most abused gentleman in all Graustark. As many as ten times a week he was signally banished from the domain by the loving, headstrong little ruler, only to be recalled with grave dignity and a few tears when he went so far as to talk of packing his “duds” in obedience to the edict.
John Tullis, strong character though he was, found this lazy, dolce far niente life much to his liking. He was devoted to the boy; he was interested in the life at this tiny court. The days of public and court mourning for the lamented Princess and her husband wearing away after an established period, he found himself eagerly delving into the gaieties that followed. Life at the Castle and in the homes of the nobility provided a new and sharp contrast to the busy, sordid existence he had known at home. It was like a fine, wholesome, endless dream to him. He drifted on the joyous, smiling tide of pleasure that swept Edelweiss with its careless waves night and day. Clever, handsome, sincere in his attitude of loyalty toward these people of the topmost east, he was not long in becoming a popular idol.
His wide-awake, resourceful brain, attuned by nature to the difficulties of administration, lent itself capably to the solving of many knotty financial puzzles; the ministry was never loth to call on him for advice and seldom disposed to disregard it. An outsider, he never offered a suggestion or plan unasked; to this single qualification he owed much of the popularity and esteem in which he was held by the classes and the masses. Socially, he was a great favourite. He enjoyed the freedom of the most exclusive homes in Edelweiss. He had enjoyed the distinction of more than one informal visit to old Princess Volga of Axphain, just across the border, to say nothing of shooting expeditions with young Prince Dantan of Dawsbergen, whose American wife, formerly Miss Calhoun of Washington, was a friend of long standing.
John Tullis was, beyond question, the most conspicuous and the most admired man in Edelweiss in these serene days of mentorship to the adored Prince Robin.
There was but one man connected with the government to whom his popularity and his influence proved distasteful. That man was the Duke of Perse. On more than one occasion the cabinet had chosen to be guided by the sagacity of John Tullis in preference to following the lines laid down by the astute minister of finance. The decision to offer the new bond issue in London and Paris was due to the earnest, forceful argument of John Tullis—outside the cabinet chamber, to be sure. This was but one instance in which the plan of the treasurer was overridden. He resented the plain though delicate influence of the former Wall Street man. Tullis had made it plain to the ministry that Graustark could not afford to place itself in debt to the Russians, into whose hands, sooner or later, the destinies of the railroad might be expected to fall. The wise men of Graustark saw his point without force of argument, and voted down, in the parliament, the Duke’s proposition to place the loan in St. Petersburg and Berlin. For this particular act of trespass upon the Duke’s official preserves he won the hatred of the worthy treasurer and his no inconsiderable following among the deputies.
But John Tullis was not in Edelweiss for the purpose of meddling with state affairs. He was there because he elected to stand mentor to the son of his life-long friend, even though that son was a prince of the blood and controlled by the will of three regents chosen by his own subjects. He was there to watch over the doughty little chap, who one day would be ruler unrestrained, but who now was a boy to be loved and coddled and reprimanded in the general process of man-making.
To say that the tiny Prince loved his big, adoring mentor would be putting it too gently: he idolised him. Tullis was father, mother and big brother to the little fellow in knickers.
The American was a big, broad shouldered man, reddish haired and ruddy cheeked, with cool grey eyes; his sandy mustache was closely cropped and turned up ever so slightly at the corners of his mouth. Despite his colouring, his face was somewhat sombre—even stern— when in repose. It was his fine, enveloping smile that made friends for him wherever he listed, with men and with women. More frequently than otherwise it made more than friends of the latter.
One woman in Graustark was the source of never-ending and constantly increasing interest to this stalwart companion to the Prince. That woman was, alas! the wife of another man. Moreover, she was the daughter of the Duke of Perse.
The young and witty Countess of Marlanx came often to Edelweiss. She was a favourite at the Castle, notwithstanding the unhealthy record of her ancient and discredited husband, the Iron Count. Tullis had not seen the Count, but he had heard such tales of him that he could not but pity this glorious young creature who called him husband. There is an old saying about the kinship of pity. Not that John Tullis was actually in love with the charming Countess. He was, to be perfectly candid, very much interested in her and very much distressed by the fact that she was bound to a venerable reprobate who dared not put his foot on Graustark soil because once he had defiled it atrociously.But of the Countess and her visits to Edelweiss, more anon—with the indulgence of the reader.
At present we are permitted to attend a meeting of the cabinet, which sits occasionally in solemn collectiveness just off the throne room within the tapestried walls of a dark little antechamber, known to the outside world as the “Room of Wrangles.” It is ten o’clock of the morning on which the Prince is to review the troops from the fortress. The question under discussion relates to the loan of 5,000,000 gavvos, before mentioned. At the head of the long table, perched upon an augmentary pile of law books surmounted by a little red cushion, sits the Prince, almost lost in the hugh old walnut chair of his forefathers. Down the table sit the ten ministers of the departments of state, all of them loving the handsome little fellow on the necessary pile of statutes, but all of them more or less indifferent to his significant yawns and perplexed frowns.
The Prince was a sturdy, curly-haired lad, with big brown eyes and a lamentably noticeable scratch on his nose—acquired in less stately but more profitable pursuits. (It seems that he had peeled his nose while sliding to second base in a certain American game that he was teaching the juvenile aristocracy how to play.) His wavy hair was brown and rebellious. No end of royal nursing could keep it looking sleek and proper. He had the merit of being a very bad little boy at times; that is why he was loved by every one. Although it was considered next to high treason to strike a prince of the royal blood, I could, if I had the space, recount the details of numerous fisticuffs behind the state stables in which, sad to relate, the Prince just as often as not came off with a battered dignity and a chastened opinion of certain small fry who could not have been more than dukes or barons at best. But he took his defeats manfully: he did not whimper lesé majesté. John Tullis, his “Uncle Jack,” had proclaimed his scorn for a boy who could not “take his medicine.” And so Prince Robin took it gracefully because he was prince.
To-day he was—for him—rather oppressively dignified and imperial. He may have blinked his weary eyes a time or two, but in the main he was very attentive, very circumspect and very much puzzled. Custom required that the ruling prince or princess should preside over the meetings of the cabinet. It is needless to observe that the present ruler’s duty ended when he repeated (after Count Halfont): “My lords, we are now in session.” The school-room, he confessed, was a “picnic” compared to the “Room of Wrangles”: a fellow got a recess once in a while there, but here—well, the only recess he got was when he fell asleep. To-day he was determined to maintain a very dignified mien. It appears that at the last meeting he had created considerable havoc by upsetting the ink well while trying to fill his fountain pen without an injector. Moreover, nearly half a pint of the fluid had splashed upon the Duke of Perse’s trousers—and they were grey, at that. Whereupon the Duke announced in open conclave that His Highness needed a rattling good spanking—a remark which distinctly hurt the young ruler’s pride and made him wish that there had been enough ink to drown the Duke instead of merely wetting him.
About the table sat the three regents and the other men high in the administration of affairs, among them General Braze of the Army, Baron Pultz of the Mines, Roslon of Agriculture. The Duke of Perse was discussing the great loan question. The Prince was watching his gaunt, saturnine face with more than usual interest.
“Of course, it is not too late to rescind the order promulgated at our last sitting. There are five bankers in St. Petersburg who will finance the loan without delay. We need not delay the interminable length of time necessary to secure the attention and co-operation of bankers in France and England. It is all nonsense to say that Russia has sinister motives in the matter. It is a business proposition—not an affair of state. We need the money before the winter opens. The railroad is now within fifteen miles of Edelweiss. The bridges and tunnels are well along toward completion. Our funds are diminishing, simply because we have delayed so long in preparing for this loan. There has been too much bickering and too much inane politics. I still maintain that we have made a mistake in refusing to take up the matter with St. Petersburg or Berlin. Why should we prefer England? Why France?”
For some unaccountable reason he struck the table violently with his fist and directed his glare upon the astonished Prince. The explosive demand caught the ruler by surprise. He gasped and his lips fell apart. Then it must have occurred to him that the question could be answered by no one save the person to whom it was so plainly addressed. He lifted his chin and piped up shrilly, and with a fervour that startled even the intense Perse:“Because Uncle Jack said we should, that’s why.”
We have no record of what immediately followed this abrupt declaration; there are some things that never leak out, no matter how prying the chronicler may be. When one stops to consider that this was the first time a question had been put directly to the Prince— and one that he could understand, at that—we may be inclined to overlook his reply, but we cannot answer for certain members of the cabinet. Unconsciously, the boy in knickers had uttered a truth that no one else had dared to voice. John Tullis was the joint steppingstone and stumbling-block in the deliberations of the cabinet.
It goes without saying that the innocent rejoinder opened the way to an acrid discussion of John Tullis. If that gentleman’s ears burned in response to the sarcastic comments of the Duke of Perse and Baron Pultz, they probably tingled pleasantly as the result of the stout defence put up by Halfont, Dangloss and others. Moreover, his most devoted friend, the Prince, whose lips were sullenly closed after his unlucky maiden effort, was finding it exceedingly difficult to hold his tongue and his tears at the same time. The lad’s lip trembled but his brown eyes glowered; he sat abashed and heard the no uncertain arraignment of his dearest friend, feeling all the while that the manly thing for him to do would be to go over and kick the Duke of Perse, miserably conscious that such an act was impossible. His little body trembled with childish rage; he never took his gaze from the face of the gaunt traducer. How he hated the Duke of Perse! The Duke’s impassioned plea was of no avail. His confrères saw the wisdom of keeping Russia’s greedy hand out of the country’s affairs—at least for the present—and reiterated their decision to seek the loans in England and France. The question, therefore, would not be taken to Parliament for reconsideration. The Duke sat down, pale in defeat; his heart was more bitter than ever against the shrewd American who had induced all these men to see through his eyes.
“I suppose there is no use in kicking against the pricks,” he said sourly as he resumed his seat. “I shall send our representatives to London and Paris next month. I trust, my lords, that we may have no trouble in placing the loans there.” There was a deep significance the dry tone which he assumed.
“I do not apprehend trouble,” said Count Halfont. “Our credit is still good, your Grace. Russia is not the only country that is ready to trust us for a few millions. Have no fear, your Grace.”“It is the delay that I am apprehensive of, your Excellency.”
At this juncture the Prince, gathering from the manner of his ministers that the question was settled to his liking, leaned forward and announced to his uncle, the premier:“I’m tired, Uncle Caspar. How much longer is it?” Count Halfont coughed. “Ahem! Just a few minutes, your Highness. Pray be patient—er—my little man.” Prince Bobby flushed. He always knew that he was being patronised when any one addressed him as “my little man.” “I have an engagement,” he said, with a stiffening of his back. “Indeed?” said the Duke dryly. “Yes, your Grace—a very important one. Of course, I’ll stay if I have to, but—what time is it, Uncle Caspar?”
“It is half past eleven, your Highness.” “Goodness, I had a date for eleven. I mean a engagement—an engagement.” He glanced helplessly, appealingly from Count Halfont to Baron Dangloss, his known allies.
The Duke of Perse smiled grimly. In his most polite manner he arose to address the now harassed Princeling, who shifted uneasily on the pile of law books.“May your most humble subject presume to inquire into the nature of your Highness’s engagement?” “You may, your Grace,” said the Prince. The Duke waited. A smile crept into the eyes of the others. “Well, what is the engagement?” “I had a date to ride with Uncle Jack at eleven.”
“And you imagine that ‘Uncle Jack’ will be annoyed if he is kept waiting by such a trivial matter as a cabinet meeting, unfortunately prolonged?”
“I don’t know just what that means,” murmured the Prince. Then his face brightened. “But I don’t think he’ll be sore after I tell him how busy we’ve been.”The Duke put his hand over his mouth. “I don’t think he’ll mind half an hour’s wait, do you?” “He likes me to be very prompt.”
Count Halfont interposed, good-humouredly. “There is nothing more to come before us to-day, your Grace, so I fancy we may as well close the meeting. To my mind, it is rather a silly custom which compels us to keep the Prince with us—er—after the opening of the session. Of course, your Highness, we don’t mean to say that you are not interested in our grave deliberations.”
Prince Bobby broke in eagerly: “Uncle Jack says I’ve just got to be interested in ‘em, whether I want to or not. He says it’s the only way to catch onto things and become a regular prince. You see, Uncle Caspar, I’ve got a lot to learn.” “Yes, your Highness, you have,” solemnly admitted the premier. “But I am sure you will learn.”“Under such an able instructor as Uncle Jack you may soon know more than the wisest man in the realm,” added the Duke of Perse.
“Thank you, your Grace,” said the Prince, so politely that the Duke was confounded; “I know Uncle Jack will be glad to hear that. He’s—he’s afraid people may think he’s butting in too much.”“Butting in?” gasped the premier.
At this the Duke of Perse came to his feet again, an angry gleam in his eyes. “My lords,” he began hastily, “it must certainly have occurred to you before this that our beloved Prince’s English, which seems after all to be his mother tongue, is not what it should be. Butting in! Yesterday I overheard him advising your son, Pultz, to ‘go chase’ himself. And when your boy tried to chase himself—’pon my word, he did—what did our Prince say? What did you say, Prince Robin?”“I—I forget,” stammered Prince Bobby. “You said ‘Mice!’ Or was it—er—” “No, your Grace. Rats. I remember. That’s what I said. That’s what all of us boys used to say in Washington.”
“God deliver us! Has it come to this, that a Prince of Graustark should grow up with such language on his lips? I fancy, my lords, you will all agree that something should be done about it. It is too serious a matter. We are all more or less responsible to the people he is to govern. We cannot, in justice to them, allow him to continue under the—er—influences that now seem to surround him. He’ll— he’ll grow up to be a barbarian. For Heaven’s sake, my lords, let us consider the Prince’s future—let us deal promptly with the situation.”“What’s he saying, Uncle Caspar?” whispered the Prince fiercely.
“Sh!” cautioned Count Halfont. “I won’t sh! I am the Prince. And I’ll say ‘chase yourself’ whenever I please. It’s good English. I’ll pronounce it for you in our own language, so’s you can see how it works that way. It goes like—”
“You need not illustrate, your Highness,” the Premier hastened to say. Turning to the Duke, he said coldly: “I acknowledge the wisdom in your remarks, your Grace, but—you will pardon me, I am sure— would it not be better to discuss the conditions privately among ourselves before taking them up officially?”
“That confounded American has every one hypnotised,” exploded the Duke. “His influence over this boy is a menace to our country. He is making on oaf of him—a slangy, impudent little—”“Your Grace!” interrupted Baron Dangloss sharply. “Uncle Jack’s all right,” declared the Prince, vaguely realising that a defence should be forthcoming. “He is, eh?” rasped the exasperated Duke, mopping his brow.
“He sure is,” pronounced the Prince with a finality that left no room for doubt. They say that fierce little Baron Dangloss, in striving to suppress a guffaw, choked so impressively that there was a momentary doubt as to his ever getting over it alive.
“He is a mountebank—a meddler, that’s what he is. The sooner we come to realise it, the better,” exclaimed the over-heated Duke. “He has greater influence over our beloved Prince than any one else in the royal household. He has no business here—none whatsoever. His presence and his meddling is an affront to the intelligence of—”
But the Prince had slid down from his pile of books and planted himself beside him so suddenly that the bitter words died away on the old man’s lips. Robin’s face was white with rage, his little fists were clenched in desperate anger, his voice was half choked with the tears of indignation.
“You awful old man!” he cried, trembling all over, his eyes blazing. “Don’t you say anything against Uncle Jack. I’ll—I’ll banish you— yes, sir—banish you like my mother fired Count Marlanx out of the country. I won’t let you come back here ever—never. And before you go I’ll have Uncle Jack give you a good licking. Oh, he can do it all right. I—I hate you!”
The Duke looked down in amazement into the flushed, writhing face of his little master. For a moment he was stunned by the vigorous outburst. Then the hard lines in his face relaxed and a softer expression came into his eyes—there was something like pride in them, too. The Duke, be it said, was an honest fighter and a loyal Graustarkian; he loved his Prince and, therefore, he gloried in his courage. His own smile of amusement, which broke in spite of his inordinate vanity, was the sign that brought relief to the hearts of his scandalised confrères.
“Your Highness does well in defending a friend and counsellor,” he said gently. “I am sorry to have forgotten myself in your presence. It shall not occur again. Pray forgive me.”Prince Bobby was still unappeased. “I could have you beheaded,” he said stubbornly. “Couldn’t I, Uncle Caspar?”
Count Halfont gravely informed him that it was not customary to behead gentlemen except for the most heinous offences against the Crown.
The Duke of Perse suddenly bent forward and placed his bony hand upon the unshrinking shoulder of the Prince, his eyes gleaming kindly, his voice strangely free from its usual harshness. “You are a splendid little man, Prince Robin,” he said. “I glory in you. I shall not forget the lesson in loyalty that you have taught me.”Bobby’s eyes filled with tears. The genuine humility of the hard old man touched his tempestuous little heart. “It’s—it’s all right, Du—your Grace. I’m sorry I spoke that way, too.”
Baron Dangloss twisted his imperial vigorously. “My lords, I suggest that we adjourn. The Prince must have his ride and return in time for the review at one o’clock.” As the Prince strode soberly from the Room of Wrangles, every eye was upon his sturdy little back and there was a kindly light in each of them, bar none. The Duke, following close behind with Halfont, said quietly:
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