The Puppet Crown by Harold MacGrath
Chapter XVI. What Happened at the Archbishop's Palace and After
Maurice, as he labored before his mirror, wondered why in the world it took him so long to dress. An hour had passed since he began his evening toilet; yet here he was, still tinkering, so to speak, over the last of a dozen cravats. The eleven others lay strewn about, hopelessly crumpled; mute witnesses of angry fingers and impassioned mutterings. Usually he could slip into his evening clothes in less than thirty minutes. Something was wrong. But perhaps this occasion was not usual.
First, the hems of his trousers were insurgent; they persisted in hitching on the tops of his button shoes. Laces were substituted. Then came a desultory period, during which gold buttons were exchanged for pearl and pearl for gold, and two- button shirts for three-button. For Maurice was something of a dandy. He could not imagine what was the matter with his neck, all the collars seemed so small. For once his mishaps did not appeal to his humor. The ascent from his shoes to his collar was as tortuous as that of the alpine Jungfrau.
Ah, Madam, you may smile as much as you please, but it is a terrible thing for a man to dress and at the same time think kindly of his fellow-beings. You set aside three hours for your toilet, and devote two hours to the little curl which droops over the tip of your dainty ear; but with a man who has no curl, who knows nothing of the practice of smiles and side glances, the studied carelessness of a pose, it is a dismal, serious business up to the last moment.
With a final glance into the mirror, and convinced that if he touched himself it would be only to disarrange the perfection which he had striven so hard to attain, Maurice went down stairs. He had still an hour to while away before presenting himself at the archbishop's palace. So he roamed about the verandas, twirled his cane, and smoked like a captain who expects to see his men in active engagement the very next moment. This, together with the bad hour in his room, was an indication that his nerves were finely strung.
He was nervous, not because he was to see strange faces, not because his interest in the kingdom's affairs was both comic and tragic, nor because he was to present himself at the archbishop's in a peculiar capacity, that of a prisoner on parole. No, it was due to none of these. His pulse did not stir at the prospect of meeting the true king. Diplomatic functions were every-day events with him. He had passed several years of his life in the vicinity of emperors, kings, viceroys, and presidents, and their greatness had long ago ceased to interest or even to amuse him. He was conscious only of an agitation which had already passed through the process of analysis. He loved, he loved the impossible and the unattainable, and it was the exhilaration of this thought that agitated him. He never would be the same again-- he would be better. Neither did he regret this love.
Even now he could see himself back in his rooms in Vienna, smoking before the fire, and building castles that tumbled down. It was worth while, if only to have something to dream about. He did not regret the love, he regretted its futility. How could he serve her? What could he do against all these unseen forces which were crumbling her father's throne? So she remembered what he had said to her in the archbishop's garden? He looked at his watch. It was nine.
"Let us be off," he said. He started for the Platz. "How uncertain life is. It seems that I did not come to Bleiberg carelessly in the way of amusement, but to work out a part of my destiny." He arrested his steps at the fountain and listened to the low, musical plash of the water, each drop of which fell with the light of a dazzling jewel. The cold stars shone from above. They were not farther away than she. A princess, a lonely and forlorn princess, hemmed in by the fabric of royal laws; a princess yet possessing less liberty than the meanest of her peasants. Nothing belonged to her, not even her heart, which was merchandise, a commodity of exchange, turned over to the highest bidder. "Royalty," he mused, "is a political slave-dealer; the slaves are those who wear the crowns."
Once inside the palace, he became a man of the world, polished, nonchalant, handsome, and mildly curious. Immediately after the usher announced his name, he crossed the chamber and presented his respects to the prelate, who, he reasoned not unwisely, expected him. The friendly greeting of the archbishop confirmed this reasoning.
"I am delighted to see you, Monsieur," he said, showing his remarkably well preserved teeth in the smile that followed his words. "A service to her Royal Highness is a service to me. Amuse yourself; you will find some fine paintings in the west gallery."
"I trust her Royal Highness is none the worse for the fright," Maurice replied. He also remarked (mentally) that he did not see her Highness anywhere. Several introductions followed, and he found himself chatting with the British minister.
"Carewe?" the Englishman repeated thoughtfully. "Are you not Maurice Carewe, of the American Legation in Vienna?"
"May I ask you a few questions?"
"A fellow-countryman of mine has mysteriously disappeared. He left Vienna for Bleiberg, saying that if nothing was heard of him within a week's time, to make inquiries about him. This request was left with the British ambassador, who has just written me, adding that a personal friend of the gentleman in question was in Bleiberg, and that this friend was Maurice Carewe, attache to the American Legation. Are you acquainted with Lord Fitzgerald, son of my late predecessor?"
"I am indeed. I saw him in Vienna," said Maurice; "but he said nothing to me about coming here," which was true enough. "Is there any cause for apprehension?"
"Only his request to be looked up within a certain time. The truth is, he was to have come here on a peculiar errand," with lowered voice. "Did you ever hear of what is called 'Fitzgerald's folly?'"
"Yes; few haven't heard of it." Maurice could never understand why he resisted the impulse to tell the whole affair. A dozen words to the man at his side, and the catastrophes, even embryonic, would be averted. "You must tell me who most of these people are," he said, in order to get around a disagreeable subject. "I am a total stranger."
"With pleasure. That tall, angular old man, in the long, gray frock, with decorations, is Marshal Kampf. You must meet him; he is the wittiest man in Bleiberg. The gentleman with the red beard is Mollendorf of the police. And beside him--yes, the little man with glasses and a loose cravat--is Count von Wallenstein, the minister of finance. That is the chancellor talking to the archbishop. Ah, Mr. Carewe, these receptions are fine comedies. The Marshal, the count and Mollendorf represent what is called the Auersperg faction under the rose. It is a continual battle of eyes and tongues. One smiles at his enemy, knows him to be an enemy, yet dares not touch him.
"Confidentially, this play has never had the like. To convict his enemies of treason has been for ten years the labor of the chancellor; yet, though he knows them to be in correspondence with the duchess, he can find nothing on the strength of which to accuse openly. It is a conspiracy which has no papers. One can not take out a man's brains and say, `Here is proof!' They talk, they walk on thin ice; but so fine is their craft that no incautious word ever falls, nor does any one go through the ice.
"I have watched the play for ten years. I should not speak to you about it, only it is one of those things known to all here. Those gentlemen talking to the chancellor's wife are the ministers from Austria, Prussia, France, and Servia. You will not find it as lively here as it is in Vienna. We meet merely to watch each other," with a short laugh. "Good. The Marshal is approaching."
"Marshal," said the minister, "this is Monsieur Carewe, who rescued her Highness's dog from the students."
"Ah !" replied the Marshal, grimly. "Do not expect me to thank you, Monsieur; only day before yesterday the dog snapped at my legs. I am living out of pure spite, to see that dog die before I do. Peace to his ashes--the sooner the better."
The minister turned to Maurice and laughed.
"Eh!" said the Marshal.
"I prophesied that you would speak disparagingly of the dog."
"What a reputation!" cried the old soldier. "I dare say that you have been telling Monsieur Carewe that I am a wit. Monsieur, never attempt to be witty; they will put you down for a wit, and laugh at anything you say, even when you put yourself out to speak the truth. If I possess any wit it is like young grapes-- sour. You are connected in Vienna?"
"With the American Legation."
"Happy is the country," said the Marshal, "which is so far away that Europe can find no excuse to meddle with it."
"And even then Europe would not dare," Maurice replied, with impertinence aforethought.
"That is not a diplomatic speech."
"It is true."
"I like your frankness."
"Let that go toward making amends for saving the dog."
"Are all American diplomats so frank?" inquired the Marshal, with an air of feigned wonder.
"Indeed, no," answered Maurice. "Just at present I am not in a diplomatic capacity; I need not look askance at truth. And there is no reason why we should not always be truthful."
"You are wrong. It's truth's infrequency which makes her so charming and refreshing. However, I thank you for your services to her Highness; your services to her dog I shall try to forget." And with this the Marshal moved away, shaking his head as if he had inadvertently stumbled on an intricate problem.
Not long after, Maurice was left to his own devices. He viewed the scene, silent and curious. Conversation was carried on in low tones, and laughter was infrequent and subdued. The women dressed without ostentation. There were no fair arms and necks. Indeed, these belong wholly to youth, and youth was not a factor at the archbishop's receptions. Most of the men were old and bald, and only the wives of the French and British ministers were pretty or young. How different from Vienna, where youth and beauty abound! There were no music, no long tables of refreshments, no sparkling wines, no smoking-room, good stories and better fellowship. There was an absence of the flash of jewels and color which make court life attractive.
There seemed to be hanging in the air some invisible power, the forecast of a tragedy, the beginning of an unknown end. And yet the prelate smiled on enemies and friends alike. As Maurice observed that smile he grew perplexed. It was a smile such as he had seen on the faces of men who, about to die, felt the grim satisfaction of having an enemy for company. The king lay on his death bed, in all probabilities the throne tottered; yet the archbishop smiled.
The princess did not know that her father was dying; this was a secret which had not yet been divulged to her. And this was the only society she knew. Small wonder that she was sad and lonely. To be young, and to find one's self surrounded by the relics of youth; what an existence! She had never known the beauty of a glittering ballroom, felt the music of a waltz mingle with the quick throbs of the heart, the pleasure of bestowing pleasure. She had never read the mute yet intelligent admiration in a young man's eyes. And what young woman does not yearn for the honest adoration of an honest man? Poor, lonely princess indeed. For, loving the world as he himself did, Maurice understood what was slipping past her. Every moment the roots of love were sinking deeper into his heart and twining firmly about, as a vine to a trellis.
Is there a mental telegraphy, an indefinable substance which is affected by the close proximity of a presence, which, while we do not see, we feel? Perhaps; at any rate, Maurice suddenly became aware of that peculiar yet now familiar agitation of his nerves. Instinctively he turned his head. In the doorway which separated the chamber from the conservatory stood her Royal Highness. She was dressed entirely in black, which accentuated the whiteness--the Carrara marble whiteness--of her exquisite skin. In the dark, shining coils swept back from her brow lay the subtle snare of a red rose. There was no other color except on the full lips. She saw Maurice, but she was so far away that the faint reflection of the rose on her cheeks was gone before he reached her side.
"I was afraid," she said, lowering her eyes as she uttered the fib, "that you would not come after all."
"It would have been impossible for me to stay away," he replied, his eyes ardent. The princess looked away. "And may I ask after the health of the dog?"
"Thanks to you, Monsieur; he is getting along finely. Poor dog; he will always limp. What is it that makes men inflict injuries on dumb creatures?"
"It is the beast that is envious of the brute."
"And your hand?" with a glance sympathetic and inquiring.
"Yes; did you not injure it?"
"O!" He laughed and held out two gloved hands for her inspection. "That was only a scratch. In fact, I do not remember which hand it was."
"You are very modest. I should have made much of it."
He could not translate this; so he said: "There was nothing injured but my hat. I seem unfortunate in that direction."
She smiled, recalling the incident in the archbishop's garden.
"I shall keep the hat, however," he said, "as a souvenir."
"Souvenirs, Monsieur," she replied carelessly, "and old age are synonymous. You and I ought not to have any souvenirs. Have you seen the picture gallery? No? Then I shall have the pleasure of showing it to you. Monseigneur is very proud of his gallery. He has a Leonardo, a Botticelli, a Murillo, and a Rembrandt. And they really show better in artificial light, which softens the effect of time."
Half an hour was passed in the gallery. It was very pleasant to listen to her voice as she described this and that painting, and the archbishop's adventures in securing them. It did not seem possible to him that she was a princess, perhaps destined to become a queen, so free was she from the attributes of royalty, so natural and ingenuous. He caught each movement of her delicate head, each gesture of her hand, the countless inflections of her voice, the lights which burned or died away in the dark wine of her eyes.
Poor devil! he mused, himself in mind; poor fool! He forgot the world, he forgot that he was a prisoner on parole, he forgot the strife between the kingdom and the duchy, he forgot everything but the wild impossible love which filled his senses. He forgot even Prince Frederick of Carnavia.
In truth, the world was "a sorry scheme of things." It was grotesque with inequalities. He had no right to love her; it was wrong to give in to the impulses of the heart, the natural, human impulses. A man can beat down the stone walls of a fort, scale the impregnable heights of a citadel, master the earth and the seas, but he can not surmount the invisible barriers which he himself erected in the past ages--the quality of birth. Ah! if only she had been a peasant, unlettered and unknown, and free to be won! The tasks of Hercules were then but play to him!
Next she led him through the aisles of potted plants in the conservatory. She was very learned. She explained the origin of each flower, its native soil, the time and manner of its transportation. Perhaps she was surprised at his lack of botanical knowledge, he asked so many questions. But it was not the flowers, it was her voice, which urged him to these interrogations.
They were on the point of re-entering the reception chamber, when the jingle of a spur on the mosaic floor caused them to turn. Maurice could not control the start; he had forgotten all about Beauvais. The soldier wore the regulation full dress of the cuirassiers, white trousers, tucked into patent leather half- boots, a gray jacket with gold lace and decorations, red saber straps and a gray pelisse hanging from the left shoulder. A splendid soldier, Maurice grudgingly admitted. What would the Colonel say? The situation was humorous rather than otherwise, and Maurice smiled.
"I was looking for your Highness," said Beauvais, as he came up, "to pay my respects. I am leaving." His glance at Maurice was one of polite curiosity.
"Colonel Beauvais," said the princess, coldly, "Monsieur Carewe, of the American Legation in Vienna."
She was not looking at the Colonel, but Maurice was, and the Colonel's total lack of surprise astonished him. The gaze of the two men plunged into each other's eyes like flashes of lightning, but that was all.
"I am charmed," said the Colonel, a half-ironical smile under his mustache. "Your name is not unfamiliar to me."
"No?" said Maurice, with studied politeness.
"No. It is connected with an exploit. Was it not you who faced the students this afternoon and rescued her Highness's dog?"
"Ah!" said Maurice, in a tone which implied that exploits were every day events with him; "it was but a simple thing to do. The students were like so many sheep."
The princess elevated her brows; she felt an undercurrent of something which she did not understand. Indeed, she did not like the manner in which the two men eyed each other. Her glance passed from the stalwart soldier to the slim, athletic form of the civilian.
Conversation drifted aimlessly. Maurice had the malice to cast the brunt of it on the Colonel's shoulders. The princess, like a rose coming in contact with a chill air, drew within herself. She was cold, brief, and serenely indifferent. It was evident to Maurice that she had resumed her royal mantle, and that she had shown him unusual consideration.
Presently she raised her hand to her head, as sometimes one will do unconsciously, and the rose slipped from her hair and dropped to the floor. Both men stooped. Maurice was quickest. With a bow he offered to return it.
"You may keep it, Monsieur;" and she laughed.
They joined her. Maurice knew why the Colonel laughed, and the Colonel knew why Maurice laughed; but neither could account for the laughter of the princess. That was her secret.
All things come to an end, even diplomatic receptions. Soon the guests began to leave.
Said the princess to Maurice: "Your invitation is a standing one, Monsieur. To our friends there are no formalities. Good night; ah, yes, the English fashion," extending her hand, which Maurice barely touched. "Good night, Monsieur," to Beauvais, with one of those nods which wither as effectually as frost.
The Colonel bent gracefully.
"Decidedly the Colonel is not in high favor tonight," thought Maurice; "a fact which is eminently satisfactory to me. Ah; he looks as if he had something to say to me. Let us wait."
"Monsieur, have you any other engagement this evening?" asked Beauvais, swinging his pelisse over both shoulders. "If not, my rooms are quite handy. I have capital cigars and cognacs. Will you do me the honor? I should like to have you regale me with some Vienna gossip; it is so long since I was there."
"Thanks," said Maurice. "I shall be happy to smoke your cigars and drink your cognacs." He was in the mood for any adventure, comic or serious. He had an idea what the Colonel wanted to say to him, and he was not unwilling to listen. Besides, he had no fear; he now wore an amulet close to his heart.
"Come, then," said Beauvais, gaily; and the two made off. "It is a wonderful game of chess, this world of ours."
"Yes," said Maurice, "we do keep moving."
"And every now and then one or the other of us steps out into the dark."
"So we do." Maurice glanced from the corner of his eye and calculated his chances in a physical contest with the Colonel. The soldier was taller and broader, but it was possible for him to make good this deficiency with quickness. But, above all, where and under what circumstances had he met this man before?
"Here we are!" cried the Colonel, presently.
He led Maurice into one of the handsome dwellings which faced the palace confines from the east. They passed up the stairs into a large room, Oriental in its appointments, and evidently the living room. The walls were hung with the paraphernalia of a soldier, together with portraits of opera singers, horses and celebrities of all classes. On the mantel Maurice saw, among other things, the glint of a revolver barrel. He thought nothing of it then. It occurred to him as singular, however, that the room was free from central obstruction. Had the Colonel expected to meet him at the archbishop's and anticipated his acceptance of a possible invitation?
Two chairs stood on either side of the grate. Between them was an octagon on which were cigars, glasses and two cognac bottles. The Colonel's valet came in and lit the tapers in the chandelier and woke up the fire. . . . Maurice was convinced that the Colonel had arranged the room thus for his especial benefit, and he regretted his eagerness for adventure.
"Francois," said Beauvais, throwing his shako and pelisse on the lounge and motioning to Maurice to do likewise, "let no one disturb us."
The valet bowed and noiselessly retired. The two men sat down without speaking. Beauvais passed the cigars. Maurice selected one, lit it, and blew rings at the Chinese mandarin which leered down at him from the mantel.
Several minutes marched into the past.
"Maurice Carewe," said the Colonel, as one who mused.
"It is very droll," said Maurice.
"I can not say that it strikes me as droll, though I am not deficient in the sense of humor."
"'Twould be a pity if you were; you would miss so much. Through humor philosophy reaches its culmination; humor is the foundation upon which the palace of reason erects itself. The two are inseparable."
"How came you to be mixed up in this affair, which is no concern of yours?"
"That question is respectfully referred to Madame the duchess. I was thrown into it, head foremost, bound hand and foot. It was a clever stroke, though eventually it will embarrass her."
"You may give me the certificates," said Beauvais.
Maurice contemplated him serenely. "Impossible," with a fillip at the end of his cigar.
"You refuse?" coldly.
"I do not refuse. Simply, I haven't got them."
"What!" The Colonel half sprang from his chair.
His astonishment was genuine; Maurice saw that it was, and he reflected. Madame nor Fitzgerald had been dishonest with him.
"No. Some one has forestalled me."
"Are you lying to me?" menacingly.
"And if I were?" coolly.
Beauvais measured his antagonist, his eyes hard and contemptuous.
"I repeat," said Maurice, "the situation is exceedingly droll. I am not afraid of you, not a bit. I am not a man to be intimidated. You might have inferred as much by my willingness to accompany you here. I am alone with you."
"It is true that you are alone with me," in a voice, which, though it did not alarm Maurice, caused him to rest less comfortably in his chair. "In the first place, you know too much."
"The knowledge was not of my own seeking. You will agree with me in that." He took a swallow of the cognac. "However, since I am in the affair--"
"I'll see it to its end."
"Perhaps. We shall not cross purposes. When men plot as I do, they stop at nothing, not even at that infinitesimal minutiae called the spark of life. It becomes a matter of self- preservation. I am in too deep water; I must keep on. I can not now turn back; the first shore is too far away."
"Even villainy has its inconveniences," Maurice observed.
"What do you call villainy?"
"An act in which a man accepts pay from one to ruin him for another. That is villainy, without a single saving grace, for you are a native neither of the kingdom nor the duchy."
"That is plain language. You do not take into consideration the villain's motives. There may be certain ends necessary as his life's blood, which may be gained only by villainy, which, after all, is a hard name for political conspiracy."
"Oh, I do not suppose you are worse than the majority. But it appeals to me as rather a small, unmanly game when your victims are a man who is dying and a girl who knows nothing of the world nor its treachery."
An almost imperceptible smile passed over Beauvais's countenance. "So her Highness has captured your sympathies?" with a shade of banter.
"I admit that; she would capture the sympathies of any man who has a good pair of eyes in his head. But you do not seem to be in favor just at present," banter for banter.
The Colonel studied the end of his cigar. "What is to be your stand in this affair?"
"Neutral as possible, for the simple reason that I have passed my word to Madame; compulsorily, it is true; I shall abide by it. That is not to say that my sympathies are not wholly with the Osians. Madame is a brilliant woman, resourceful, initiative; she has as many sides as a cut diamond; moreover, her cause is just. But I do not like the way she has gone about the recovery of her throne. She has broken, or will break, a fine honest heart; she tried to break another, but, not being above the pantry maid, the subject of her attention failed to appreciate the consideration."
Beauvais laughed at this. "You are very good company. Let me advise you to remain neutral. I wish you no harm. But if you change your mind and stand in my path--"
"Well, and if I stood in your path?"
"Pouf! you would vanish. O, I should not stoop to murder; that is a vulgar word and practice. I should place a sword in your hand and give you the preference of a gentleman's death. I see nothing to prevent me from carrying out that this very night," with a nod toward the rapiers which hung from the opposite wall.
"You might be surprised at the result," said Maurice, stretching his legs. "But at present I have no desire to quarrel with you, or to put your skill to a test. Once Madame gives me back my word, why, I do not say." He dipped his hand toward the ash-pan. "Human nature is full of freaks. A man will commit all sorts of crimes, yet stand by his word. Not that I have committed any crimes against the ten commandments."
And so they fenced.
"You picked up a rose to-night," said the Colonel.
"So I did." Maurice blew a puff of smoke into the chimneyplace and watched it sail upward and vanish. "Moreover, I propose to keep it. Have you any objections?"
"Only this: her Highness intended the rose for me."
"No, no, my friend," easily. "She would not have laughed had you picked it up."
"That is to say I lie?"
"It is," laconically.
There was no eluding a statement so bald as this. Beauvais sat upright. "To call me a liar is a privilege which I extend to no man."
"I did not call you a liar," undisturbed. "You wrote it down yourself, and I simply agreed to it. A duel? Well, I shall not fight you. Dueling is obsolete, and it never demonstrated the right or wrong of a cause. Since my part in this affair is one of neutrality, and since to gain that knowledge was the object of your invitation, I will take my leave of you."
He rose and looked at the porcelain clock. As he did so his gaze rested on a small photograph standing at the side of it. He scanned it eagerly. It was a face of dark Castilian beauty. He turned and looked at Beauvais long and earnestly. There was an answering gaze, an immobility of countenance. Maurice experienced a slight shock. The haze over his memory was dispersed. The whole scene, in which this man loomed in the foreground, came back vividly.
"Your stare, Monsieur, is annoying."
"I shouldn't wonder," replied Maurice, leaning against the mantel.
"Do me the honor to explain it."
Maurice, never dreaming of the trap, fell head foremost into it. "I have traveled a good deal," he began. "I have been--even to South America."
"Ah!" This ejaculation expressed nothing. In fact, Beavais was smiling. There was a sinister something behind that smile, but Maurice was unobservant.
He went on. "Yes, to South America. I was there in a diplomatic capacity, during one of the many revolutions. This country was the paradise of adventurers, the riff-raff of continental social outcasts. I distinctly remember the leader of this revolution. Up to the very last day, Captain Urquijo was the confidential friend of the president whom he was about to ruin. Through the president's beautiful daughter Urquijo picked up his threads and laid his powder train. The woman loved him as women sometimes love rascals. The president was to be assassinated and his rival installed. Captain Urquijo was to be made General of the armies.
"One fine day the troops lined both sides of the plaza, the square also about which lay the government buildings. It was the event of some celebration; I believe the throwning off of the yoke of Spain. The city flocked into the plaza. Strangely enough, those who were disaffected--the soldiers under Urquijo--faced the loyal troops. By a preconceived plan, the artillery was under the command of Urquijo. Suddenly this Captain's murderous and traitorous guns swept the plaza, mangling women and children. There was a flaw, however, in the stroke. Urquijo fled, a reward posted for his head--mind you, his head; they did not want him alive.
"The daughter expiates her foolish love in a convent. Her disgraces proved too much for her father, who blew out his brains. The successor secured extradition papers in all the leading capitals of the world. The story was the sensation of the day; the newspapers made much of it. All governments offered to assist the republic in hounding down this rascal. To whatever country he belonged, that country promised to disown him."
Maurice took the photograph. and cast it into Beauvais's lap. "Do you recognize that face? Is it not a mute accusation to your warped conscience?" The voice, changing from the monotone of narrative, grew strong and contemptuous. "I know you. I recognizcd you the moment I laid eyes on you, only I could not place you. Perhaps it was because it did not seem possible that you would dare show your face to civilized people. That photograph has done its work. By the Lord, but you're a fine rascal! Not a bit changed. Have you forgotten your Spanish? As God hears me, I shall hold you up."
"You are a very young man," said Beauvais, rising. He was still smiling. "Do you know why I asked you here? For this very reason. Madame divined you well. She said that you had a dash of what romanticists call valor, but that you never saw an inch before your nose. I knew that you would be at the archbishop's; I knew that you would follow me to this room. Indeed, you might have suspected as much by the unusual arrangement of the fixtures of the room. I placed that photograph there, trusting to your rather acute eyesight.
"My memory seems to be better than yours. I knew you the first time I saw you in Bleiborg. I was waiting only to see how much you had remembered. I am not Colonel Beauvais; I am not Urquijo; I am the last of a noble Austrian house, in exile, but on the eve of recall. Your knowledge would, of course, be disastrous to my ambitions. That is why I wanted to find out how much you know. You know too much, too much by half; and since you have walked into the lion's den, you shall never leave it alive." With this he sprang to the wall and tore down the rapiers, one of which he flung at Maurice's feet.
Maurice felt the hand of paralysis on his nerves. He looked at the rapier, then at Beauvais, dazed and incapable of movement. It had been so sudden.
"And when they find you in some alley in the lower town they will put it down to thieves. You are young and thoughtless," Beauvais went on banteringly. "A little discretion and you might have gone with a whole skin. We never forget a woman's face, and I knew that you would not forget hers. Don't trouble yourself about leaping through the windows; the fall will kill you less effectually than I shall."
Maurice pulled himself together. The prospect of death brought back lucidity of mind. He at once saw the hopelessness of his position. He cursed his lack of forethought. He became pale and furious, but his head cleared. His life hung in the balance. He now translated Beauvais's smile.
"So you wish to add another to the list?" he said.
"To shield one crime, a man must commit many others. O, this will not be murder. It will be a duel, in which you will have no chance. Pick up the sword, if only for form's sake." Beauvais caught the wrist thong of the rapier between his teeth and rapidly divested himself of his jacket and saber straps. With his back toward the door, he rolled up his sleeve and discovered a formidable forearm. He tried the blade and thrust several times into the air.
"What promise have I," said Maurice, "that you will not run me through when I stoop for the sword?" This question did not serve.
Beauvais laughed. "I never get angry in moments like these. I am giving you a sword to ease my conscience. I do not assassinate boys."
"But supposing I should kill you by chance?"
Beauvais laughed again. "That is not possible."
Maurice had faced death before, but with more confidence. The thought that he had poked his head into a trap stirred him disagreeably. He saw that Beauvais possessed a superabundance of confidence, and confidence is half of any battle. He picked up the sword and held it between his knees, while he threw off his coat and vest, and unbuttoned his collar and cuffs. What he had to sell would be sold as dearly as possible. He tested the blade, took in a deep breath, fell easily into position--and waited.