BEVERLY OF GRAUSTARK
BY GEORGE BARR McCUTCHEON
I East of the Setting Sun II Beverly Calhoun III On the Road from Balak IV The Ragged Retinue V The Inn of the Hawk and Raven VI The Home of the Lion VII Some Facts and Fancies VIII Through the Ganlook Gates IX The Redoutable Dangloss X Inside the Castle Walls XI The Royal Coach of Graustark XII In Service XIII The Three Princes XIV A Visit and Its Consequences XV The Testing of Baldos XVI On the Way to St. Valentine's XVII A Note Translated XVIII Confessions and Concessions XIX The Night Fires XX Gossip of Some Consequence XXI The Rose XXII A Proposal XXIII A Shot in the Darkness XXIV Beneath the Ground XXV The Valor of the South XXVI The Degradation of Marlanx XXVII The Prince of Dawsbergen XXVIII A Boy Disappears XXIX The Capture of Gabriel XXX In the Grotto XXXI Clear Skies
BEVERLY OF GRAUSTARK
EAST OF THE SETTING SUN
Far off in the mountain lands, somewhere to the east of the setting sun, lies the principality of Graustark, serene relic of rare old feudal days. The traveler reaches the little domain after an arduous, sometimes perilous journey from the great European capitals, whether they be north or south or west—never east. He crosses great rivers and wide plains; he winds through fertile valleys and over barren plateaus; he twists and turns and climbs among sombre gorges and rugged mountains; he touches the cold clouds in one day and the placid warmth of the valley in the next. One does not go to Graustark for a pleasure jaunt. It is too far from the rest of the world and the ways are often dangerous because of the strife among the tribes of the intervening mountains. If one hungers for excitement and peril he finds it in the journey from the north or the south into the land of the Graustarkians. From Vienna and other places almost directly west the way is not so full of thrills, for the railroad skirts the darkest of the dangerlands.
Once in the heart of Graustark, however, the traveler is charmed into dreams of peace and happiness and—paradise. The peasants and the poets sing in one voice and accord, their psalm being of never-ending love. Down in the lowlands and up in the hills, the simple worker of the soil rejoices that he lives in Graustark; in the towns and villages the humble merchant and his thrifty customer unite to sing the song of peace and contentment; in the palaces of the noble the same patriotism warms its heart with thoughts of Graustark, the ancient. Prince and pauper strike hands for the love of the land, while outside the great, heartless world goes rumbling on without a thought of the rare little principality among the eastern mountains.
In point of area, Graustark is but a mite in the great galaxy of nations. Glancing over the map of the world, one is almost sure to miss the infinitesimal patch of green that marks its location. One could not be blamed if he regarded the spot as a typographical or topographical illusion. Yet the people of this quaint little land hold in their hearts a love and a confidence that is not surpassed by any of the lordly monarchs who measure their patriotism by miles and millions. The Graustarkians are a sturdy, courageous race. From the faraway century when they fought themselves clear of the Tartar yoke, to this very hour, they have been warriors of might and valor. The boundaries of their tiny domain were kept inviolate for hundreds of years, and but one victorious foe had come down to lay siege to Edelweiss, the capital. Axphain, a powerful principality in the north, had conquered Graustark in the latter part of the nineteenth century, but only after a bitter war in which starvation and famine proved far more destructive than the arms of the victors. The treaty of peace and the indemnity that fell to the lot of vanquished Graustark have been discoursed upon at length in at least one history.
Those who have followed that history must know, of course, that the reigning princess, Yetive, was married to a young American at the very tag-end of the nineteenth century. This admirable couple met in quite romantic fashion while the young sovereign was traveling incognito through the United States of America. The American, a splendid fellow named Lorry, was so persistent in the subsequent attack upon her heart, that all ancestral prejudices were swept away and she became his bride with the full consent of her entranced subjects. The manner in which he wooed and won this young and adorable ruler forms a very attractive chapter in romance, although unmentioned in history. This being the tale of another day, it is not timely to dwell upon the interesting events which led up to the marriage of the Princess Yetive to Grenfall Lorry. Suffice it to say that Lorry won his bride against all wishes and odds and at the same time won an endless love and esteem from the people of the little kingdom among the eastern hills Two years have passed since that notable wedding in Edelweiss.
Lorry and his wife, the princess, made their home in Washington, but spent a few months of each year in Edelweiss. During the periods spent in Washington and in travel, her affairs in Graustark were in the hands of a capable, austere old diplomat—her uncle, Count Caspar Halfont. Princess Volga reigned as regent over the principality of Axphain. To the south lay the principality of Dawsbergen, ruled by young Prince Dantan, whose half brother, the deposed Prince Gabriel, had been for two years a prisoner in Graustark, the convicted assassin of Prince Lorenz, of Axphain, one time suitor for the hand of Yetive.
It was after the second visit of the Lorrys to Edelweiss that a serious turn of affairs presented itself. Gabriel had succeeded in escaping from his dungeon. His friends in Dawsbergen stirred up a revolution and Dantan was driven from the throne at Serros. On the arrival of Gabriel at the capital, the army of Dawsbergen espoused the cause of the Prince it had spurned and, three days after his escape, he was on his throne, defying Yetive and offering a price for the head of the unfortunate Dantan, now a fugitive in the hills along the Graustark frontier.
Major George Calhoun was a member of Congress from one of the southern states. His forefathers had represented the same commonwealth, and so, it was likely, would his descendants, if there is virtue in the fitness of things and the heredity of love. While intrepid frontiersmen were opening the trails through the fertile wilds west of the Alleghanies, a strong branch of the Calhoun family followed close in their footsteps. The major's great-grandfather saw the glories and the possibilities of the new territory. He struck boldly westward from the old revolutionary grounds, abandoning the luxuries and traditions of the Carolinas for a fresh, wild life of promise. His sons and daughters became solid stones in the foundation of a commonwealth, and his grandchildren are still at work on the structure. State and national legislatures had known the Calhouns from the beginning. Battlefields had tested their valor, and drawing-rooms had proved their gentility.
Major Calhoun had fought with Stonewall Jackson and won his spurs—and at the same time the heart and hand of Betty Haswell, the staunchest Confederate who ever made flags, bandages and prayers for the boys in gray. When the reconstruction came he went to Congress and later on became prominent in the United States consular service, for years holding an important European post. Congress claimed him once more in the early '90s, and there he is at this very time.
Everybody in Washington's social and diplomatic circles admired the beautiful Beverly Calhoun. According to his own loving term of identification, she was the major's "youngest." The fair southerner had seen two seasons in the nation's capital. Cupid, standing directly in front of her, had shot his darts ruthlessly and resistlessly into the passing hosts, and masculine Washington looked humbly to her for the balm that might soothe its pains. The wily god of love was fair enough to protect the girl whom he forced to be his unwilling, perhaps unconscious, ally. He held his impenetrable shield between her heart and the assaults of a whole army of suitors, high and low, great and small. It was not idle rumor that said she had declined a coronet or two, that the millions of more than one American Midas had been offered to her, and that she had dealt gently but firmly with a score of hearts which had nothing but love, ambition and poverty to support them in the conflict.
The Calhouns lived in a handsome home not far from the residence of Mr. and Mrs. Grenfall Lorry. It seemed but natural that the two beautiful young women should become constant and loyal friends. Women as lovely as they have no reason to be jealous. It is only the woman who does not feel secure of her personal charms that cultivates envy. At the home of Graustark's princess Beverly met the dukes and barons from the far east; it was in the warmth of the Calhoun hospitality that Yetive formed her dearest love for the American people.
Miss Beverly was neither tall nor short. She was of that divine and indefinite height known as medium; slender but perfectly molded; strong but graceful, an absolutely healthy young person whose beauty knew well how to take care of itself. Being quite heart-whole and fancy-free, she slept well, ate well, and enjoyed every minute of life. In her blood ran the warm, eager impulses of the south; hereditary love of case and luxury displayed itself in every emotion; the perfectly normal demand upon men's admiration was as characteristic in her as it is in any daughter of the land whose women are born to expect chivalry and homage.
A couple of years in a New York "finishing school" for young ladies had served greatly to modify Miss Calhoun's colloquial charms. Many of her delightful "way down south" phrases and mannerisms were blighted by the cold, unromantic atmosphere of a seminary conducted by two ladies from Boston who were too old to marry, too penurious to love and too prim to think that other women might care to do both. There were times, however,—if she were excited or enthusiastic,—when pretty Beverly so far forgot her training as to break forth with a very attractive "yo' all," "suah 'nough," or "go 'long naow." And when the bands played "Dixie" she was not afraid to stand up and wave her handkerchief. The northerner who happened to be with her on such occasions usually found himself doing likewise before he could escape the infection.
Miss Calhoun's face was one that painters coveted deep down in their artistic souls. It never knew a dull instant; there was expression in every lineament, in every look; life, genuine life, dwelt in the mobile countenance that turned the head of every man and woman who looked upon it. Her hair was dark-brown and abundant; her eyes were a deep gray and looked eagerly from between long lashes of black; her lips were red and ever willing to smile or turn plaintive as occasion required; her brow was broad and fair, and her frown was as dangerous as a smile. As to her age, if the major admitted, somewhat indiscreetly, that all his children were old enough to vote, her mother, with the reluctance born in women, confessed that she was past twenty, so a year or two either way will determine Miss Beverly's age, so far as the telling of this story is concerned. Her eldest brother—Keith Calhoun (the one with the congressional heritage)—thought she was too young to marry, while her second brother, Dan, held that she soon would be too old to attract men with matrimonial intentions. Lucy, the only sister, having been happily wedded for ten years, advised her not to think of marriage until she was old enough to know her own mind.
Toward the close of one of the most brilliant seasons the Capital had ever known, less than a fortnight before Congress was to adjourn, the wife of Grenfall Lorry received the news which spread gloomy disappointment over the entire social realm. A dozen receptions, teas and balls were destined to lose their richest attraction, and hostesses were in despair. The princess had been called to Graustark.
Beverly Calhoun was miserably unhappy. She had heard the story of Gabriel's escape and the consequent probability of a conflict with Axphain. It did not require a great stretch of imagination to convince her that the Lorrys were hurrying off to scenes of intrigue, strife and bloodshed, and that not only Graustark but its princess was in jeopardy.
Miss Calhoun's most cherished hopes faded with the announcement that trouble, not pleasure, called Yetive to Edelweiss. It had been their plan that Beverly should spend the delightful summer months in Graustark, a guest at the royal palace. The original arrangements of the Lorrys were hopelessly disturbed by the late news from Count Halfont. They were obliged to leave Washington two months earlier than they intended, and they could not take Beverly Calhoun into danger-ridden Graustark. The contemplated visit to St. Petersburg and other pleasures had to be abandoned, and they were in tears.
Yetive's maids were packing the trunks, and Lorry's servants were in a wild state of haste preparing for the departure on Saturday's ship. On Friday afternoon, Beverly was naturally where she could do the most good and be of the least help—at the Lorrys'. Self-confessedly, she delayed the preparations. Respectful maidservants and respectful menservants came often to the princess's boudoir to ask questions, and Beverly just as frequently made tearful resolutions to leave the household in peace—if such a hullaballoo could be called peace. Callers came by the dozen, but Yetive would see no one. Letters, telegrams and telephone calls almost swamped her secretary; the footman and the butler fairly gasped under the strain of excitement. Through it all the two friends sat despondent and alone in the drear room that once had been the abode of pure delight. Grenfall Lorry was off in town closing up all matters of business that could be despatched at once. The princess and her industrious retinue were to take the evening express for New York and the next day would find them at sea.
"I know I shall cry all summer," vowed Miss Calhoun, with conviction in her eyes. "It's just too awful for anything." She was lying back among the cushions of the divan and her hat was the picture of cruel neglect. For three solid hours she had stubbornly withstood Yetive's appeals to remove her hat, insisting that she could not trust herself to stay more than a minute or two." It seems to me, Yetive, that your jailers must be very incompetent or they wouldn't have let loose all this trouble upon you," she complained.
"Prince Gabriel is the very essence of trouble," confessed Yetive, plaintively." He was born to annoy people, just like the evil prince in the fairy tales."
"I wish we had him over here," the American girl answered stoutly. "He wouldn't be such a trouble I'm sure. We don't let small troubles worry us very long, you know."
"But he's dreadfully important over there, Beverly; that's the difficult part of it," said Yetive, solemnly." You see, he is a condemned murderer."
"Then, you ought to hang him or electrocute him or whatever it is that you do to murderers over there," promptly spoke Beverly.
"But, dear, you don't understand. He won't permit us either to hang or to electrocute him, my dear. The situation is precisely the reverse, if he is correctly quoted by my uncle. When Uncle Caspar sent an envoy to inform Dawsbergen respectfully that Graustark would hold it personally responsible if Gabriel were not surrendered, Gabriel himself replied: 'Graustark be hanged!'"
"How rude of him, especially when your uncle was so courteous about it. He must be a very disagreeable person," announced Miss Calhoun.
"I am sure you wouldn't like him," said the princess. "His brother, who has been driven from the throne—and from the capital, in fact—is quite different. I have not seen him, but my ministers regard him as a splendid young man."
"Oh, how I hope he may go back with his army and annihilate that old Gabriel!" cried Beverly, frowning fiercely.
"Alas," sighed the princess, "he hasn't an army, and besides he is finding it extremely difficult to keep from being annihilated himself. The army has gone over to Prince Gabriel."
"Pooh!" scoffed Miss Calhoun, who was thinking of the enormous armies the United States can produce at a day's notice. "What good is a ridiculous little army like his, anyway? A battalion from Fort Thomas could beat it to—"
"Don't boast, dear," interrupted Yetive, with a wan smile. "Dawsbergen has a standing army of ten thousand excellent soldiers. With the war reserves she has twice the available force I can produce."
"But your men are so brave," cried Beverly, who had heard their praises sung.
"True, God bless them; but you forget that we must attack Gabriel in his own territory. To recapture him means a perilous expedition into the mountains of Dawsbergen, and I am sorely afraid. Oh, dear, I hope he'll surrender peaceably!"
"And go back to jail for life?" cried Miss Calhoun. "It's a good deal to expect of him, dear. I fancy it's much better fun kicking up a rumpus on the outside than it is kicking one's toes off against an obdurate stone wall from the inside. You can't blame him for fighting a bit."
"No—I suppose not," agreed the princess, miserably. "Gren is actually happy over the miserable affair, Beverly. He is full of enthusiasm and positively aching to be in Graustark—right in the thick of it all. To hear him talk, one would think that Prince Gabriel has no show at all. He kept me up till four o'clock this morning telling me that Dawsbergen didn't know what kind of a snag it was going up against. I have a vague idea what he means by that; his manner did not leave much room for doubt. He also said that we would jolt Dawsbergen off the map. It sounds encouraging, at least, doesn't it?"
"It sounds very funny for you to say those things," admitted Beverly, "even though they come secondhand. You were not cut out for slang."
"Why, I'm sure they are all good English words," remonstrated Yetive. "Oh, dear, I wonder what they are doing in Graustark this very instant. Are they fighting or—"
"No; they are merely talking. Don't you know, dear, that there is never a fight until both sides have talked themselves out of breath? We shall have six months of talk and a week or two of fight, just as they always do nowadays."
"Oh, you Americans have such a comfortable way of looking at things," cried the princess. "Don't you ever see the serious side of life?"
"My dear, the American always lets the other fellow see the serious side of life," said Beverly.
"You wouldn't be so optimistic if a country much bigger and more powerful than America happened to be the other fellow."
"It did sound frightfully boastful, didn't it? It's the way we've been brought up, I reckon,—even we southerners who know what it is to be whipped. The idea of a girl like me talking about war and trouble and all that! It's absurd, isn't it?"
"Nevertheless, I wish I could see things through those dear gray eyes of yours. Oh, how I'd like to have you with me through all the months that are to come. You would be such a help to me—such a joy. Nothing would seem so hard if you were there to make me see things through your brave American eyes." The princess put her arms about Beverly's neck and drew her close.
"But Mr. Lorry possesses an excellent pair of American eyes," protested Miss Beverly, loyally and very happily.
"I know, dear, but they are a man's eyes. Somehow, there is a difference, you know. I wouldn't dare cry when he was looking, but I could boo-hoo all day if you were there to comfort me. He thinks I am very brave—and I'm not," she confessed, dismally.
"Oh, I'm an awful coward," explained Beverly, consolingly. "I think you are the bravest girl in all the world," she added. "Don't you remember what you did at—" and then she recalled the stories that had come from Graustark ahead of the bridal party two years before. Yetive was finally obliged to place her hand on the enthusiastic visitor's lips.
"Peace," she cried, blushing. "You make me feel like a—a—what is it you call her—a dime-novel heroine?"
"A yellow-back girl? Never!" exclaimed Beverly, severely.
Visitors of importance in administration circles came at this moment and the princess could not refuse to see them. Beverly Calhoun reluctantly departed, but not until after giving a promise to accompany the Lorrys to the railway station.
* * * * *
The trunks had gone to be checked, and the household was quieter than it had been in many days. There was an air of depression about the place that had its inception in the room upstairs where sober-faced Halkins served dinner for a not over-talkative young couple.
"It will be all right, dearest," said Lorry, divining his wife's thoughts as she sat staring rather soberly straight ahead of her, "Just as soon as we get to Edelweiss, the whole affair will look so simple that we can laugh at the fears of to-day. You see, we are a long way off just now."
"I am only afraid of what may happen before we get there, Gren," she said, simply. He leaned over and kissed her hand, smiling at the emphasis she unconsciously placed on the pronoun.
Beverly Calhoun was announced just before coffee was served, and a moment later was in the room. She stopped just inside the door, clicked her little heels together and gravely brought her hand to "salute." Her eyes were sparkling and her lips trembled with suppressed excitement.
"I think I can report to you in Edelweiss next month, general," she announced, with soldierly dignity. Her hearers stared at the picturesque recruit, and Halkins so far forgot himself as to drop Mr. Lorry's lump of sugar upon the table instead of into the cup.
"Explain yourself, sergeant!" finally fell from Lorry's lips. The eyes of the princess were beginning to take on a rapturous glow.
"May I have a cup of coffee, please, sir? I've been so excited I couldn't eat a mouthful at home." She gracefully slid into the chair Halkins offered, and broke into an ecstatic giggle that would have resulted in a court-martial had she been serving any commander but Love.
With a plenteous supply of Southern idioms she succeeded in making them understand that the major had promised to let her visit friends in the legation at St. Petersburg in April a month or so after the departure of the Lorrys.
"He wanted to know where I'd rather spend the Spring—Washin'ton or Lexin'ton, and I told him St. Petersburg. We had a terrific discussion and neither of us ate a speck at dinner. Mamma said it would be all right for me to go to St. Petersburg if Aunt Josephine was still of a mind to go, too. You see, Auntie was scared almost out of her boots when she heard there was prospect of war in Graustark, just as though a tiny little war like that could make any difference away up in Russia—hundreds of thousands of miles away—" (with a scornful wave of the hand)—"and then I just made Auntie say she'd go to St. Petersburg in April—a whole month sooner than she expected to go in the first place—and—"
"You dear, dear Beverly!" cried Yetive, rushing joyously around the table to clasp her in her arms.
"And St. Petersburg really isn't a hundred thousand miles from Edelweiss," cried Beverly, gaily.
"It's much less than that," said Lorry, smiling, "But you surely don't expect to come to Edelweiss if we are fighting. We couldn't think of letting you do that, you know. Your mother would never—"
"My mother wasn't afraid of a much bigger war than yours can ever hope to be," cried Beverly, resentfully. "You can't stop me if I choose to visit Graustark."
"Does your father know that you contemplate such a trip?" asked Lorry, returning her handclasp and looking doubtfully into the swimming blue eyes of his wife.
"No, he doesn't," admitted Beverly, a trifle aggressively.
"He could stop you, you know," he suggested. Yetive was discreetly silent.
"But he won't know anything about it," cried Beverly triumphantly.
"I could tell him, you know," said Lorry.
"No, you couldn't do anything so mean as that," announced Beverly. "You're not that sort."
ON THE ROAD FROM BALAK
A ponderous coach lumbered slowly, almost painfully, along the narrow road that skirted the base of a mountain. It was drawn by four horses, and upon the seat sat two rough, unkempt Russians, one holding the reins, the other lying back in a lazy doze. The month was June and all the world seemed soft and sweet and joyous. To the right flowed a turbulent mountain stream, boiling savagely with the alien waters of the flood season. Ahead of the creaking coach rode four horsemen, all heavily armed; another quartette followed some distance in the rear. At the side of the coach an officer of the Russian mounted police was riding easily, jangling his accoutrements with a vigor that disheartened at least one occupant of the vehicle. The windows of the coach doors were lowered, permitting the fresh mountain air to caress fondly the face of the young woman who tried to find comfort in one of the broad seats. Since early morn she had struggled with the hardships of that seat, and the late afternoon found her very much out of patience. The opposite seat was the resting place of a substantial colored woman and a stupendous pile of bags and boxes. The boxes were continually toppling over and the bags were forever getting under the feet of the once placid servant, whose face, quite luckily, was much too black to reflect the anger she was able, otherwise, through years of practice, to conceal.
"How much farther have we to go, lieutenant?" asked the girl on the rear seat, plaintively, even humbly. The man was very deliberate with his English. He had been recommended to her as the best linguist in the service at Radovitch, and he had a reputation to sustain.
"It another hour is but yet," he managed to inform her, with a confident smile.
"Oh, dear," she sighed, "a whole hour of this!"
"We soon be dar, Miss Bev'ly; jes' yo' mak' up yo' mine to res' easy-like, an' we—" but the faithful old colored woman's advice was lost in the wrathful exclamation that accompanied another dislodgment of bags and boxes. The wheels of the coach had dropped suddenly into a deep rut. Aunt Fanny's growls were scarcely more potent than poor Miss Beverly's moans.
"It is getting worse and worse," exclaimed Aunt Fanny's mistress, petulantly. "I'm black and blue from head to foot, aren't you, Aunt Fanny?"
"Ah cain' say as to de blue, Miss Bev'ly. Hit's a mos' monstrous bad road, sho 'nough. Stay up dar, will yo'!" she concluded, jamming a bag into an upper corner.
Miss Calhoun, tourist extraordinary, again consulted the linguist in the saddle. She knew at the outset that the quest would be hopeless, but she could think of no better way to pass the next hour then to extract a mite of information from the officer.
"Now for a good old chat," she said, beaming a smile upon the grizzled Russian. "Is there a decent hotel in the village?" she asked.
They were on the edge of the village before she succeeded in finding out all that she could, and it was not a great deal, either. She learned that the town of Balak was in Axphain, scarcely a mile from the Graustark line. There was an eating and sleeping house on the main street, and the population of the place did not exceed three hundred.
When Miss Beverly awoke the next morning, sore and distressed, she looked back upon the night with a horror that sleep had been kind enough to interrupt only at intervals. The wretched hostelry lived long in her secret catalogue of terrors. Her bed was not a bed; it was a torture. The room, the table, the—but it was all too odious for description. Fatigue was her only friend in that miserable hole. Aunt Fanny had slept on the floor near her mistress's cot, and it was the good old colored woman's grumbling that awoke Beverly. The sun was climbing up the mountains in the east, and there was an air of general activity about the place. Beverly's watch told her that it was past eight o'clock.
"Good gracious!" she exclaimed. "It's nearly noon, Aunt Fanny. Hurry along here and get me up. We must leave this abominable place in ten minutes." She was up and racing about excitedly.
"Befo' breakfas'?" demanded Aunt Fanny weakly.
"Goodness, Aunt Fanny, is that all you think about?"
"Well, honey, yo' all be thinkin' moughty serious 'bout breakfas' 'long to'ahds 'leben o'clock. Dat li'l tummy o' yourn 'll be pow'ful mad 'cause yo' didn'—"
"Very well, Aunt Fanny, you can run along and have the woman put up a breakfast for us and we'll eat it on the road. I positively refuse to eat another mouthful in that awful dining-room. I'll be down in ten minutes."
She was down in less. Sleep, no matter how hard-earned, had revived her spirits materially. She pronounced herself ready for anything; there was a wholesome disdain for the rigors of the coming ride through the mountains in the way she gave orders for the start. The Russian officer met her just outside the entrance to the inn. He was less English than ever, but he eventually gave her to understand that he had secured permission to escort her as far as Ganlook, a town in Graustark not more than fifteen miles from Edelweiss and at least two days from Balak. Two competent Axphainian guides had been retained, and the party was quite ready to start. He had been warned of the presence of brigands in the wild mountainous passes north of Ganlook. The Russians could go no farther than Ganlook because of a royal edict from Edelweiss forbidding the nearer approach of armed forces. At that town, however, he was sure she easily could obtain an escort of Graustarkian soldiers. As the big coach crawled up the mountain road and further into the oppressive solitudes, Beverly Calhoun drew from the difficult lieutenant considerable information concerning the state of affairs in Graustark. She had been eagerly awaiting the time when something definite could be learned. Before leaving St. Petersburg early in the week she was assured that a state of war did not exist. The Princess Yetive had been in Edelweiss for six weeks. A formal demand was framed soon after her return from America, requiring Dawsbergen to surrender the person of Prince Gabriel to the authorities of Graustark. To this demand there was no definite response, Dawsbergen insolently requesting time in which to consider the proposition. Axphain immediately sent an envoy to Edelweiss to say that all friendly relations between the two governments would cease unless Graustark took vigorous steps to recapture the royal assassin. On one side of the unhappy principality a strong, overbearing princess was egging Graustark on to fight, while on the other side an equally aggressive people defied Yetive to come and take the fugitive if she could. The poor princess was between two ugly alternatives, and a struggle seemed inevitable. At Balak it was learned that Axphain had recently sent a final appeal to the government of Graustark, and it was no secret that something like a threat accompanied the message.
Prince Gabriel was in complete control at Serros and was disposed to laugh at the demands of his late captors. His half-brother, the dethroned Prince Dantan, was still hiding in the fastnesses of the hills, protected by a small company of nobles, and there was no hope that he ever could regain his crown. Gabriel's power over the army was supreme. The general public admired Dantan, but it was helpless in the face of circumstances.
"But why should Axphain seek to harass Graustark at this time?" demanded Beverly Calhoun, in perplexity and wrath. "I should think the brutes would try to help her."
"There is an element of opposition to the course the government is taking," the officer informed her in his own way, "but it is greatly in the minority. The Axphainians have hated Graustark since the last war, and the princess despises this American. It is an open fact that the Duke of Mizrox leads the opposition to Princess Volga, and she is sure to have him beheaded if the chance affords. He is friendly to Graustark and has been against the policy of his princess from the start."
"I'd like to hug the Duke of Mizrox," cried Beverly, warmly. The officer did not understand her, but Aunt Fanny was scandalized.
"Good Lawd!" she muttered to the boxes and bags.
As the coach rolled deeper and deeper into the rock-shadowed wilderness, Beverly Calhoun felt an undeniable sensation of awe creeping over her. The brave, impetuous girl had plunged gaily into the project which now led her into the deadliest of uncertainties, with but little thought of the consequences.
The first stage of the journey by coach had been good fun. They had passed along pleasant roads, through quaint villages and among interesting people, and progress had been rapid. The second stage had presented rather terrifying prospects, and the third day promised even greater vicissitudes. Looking from the coach windows out upon the quiet, desolate grandeur of her surroundings, poor Beverly began to appreciate how abjectly helpless and alone she was. Her companions were ugly, vicious-looking men, any one of whom could inspire terror by a look. She had entrusted herself to the care of these strange creatures in the moment of inspired courage and now she was constrained to regret her action. True, they had proved worthy protectors as far as they had gone, but the very possibilities that lay in their power were appalling, now that she had time to consider the situation.
The officer in charge had been recommended as a trusted servant of the Czar; an American consul had secured the escort for her direct from the frontier patrol authorities. Men high in power had vouched for the integrity of the detachment, but all this was forgotten in the mighty solitude of the mountains. She was beginning to fear her escort more than she feared the brigands of the hills.
Treachery seemed printed on their backs as they rode ahead of her. The big officer was ever polite and alert, but she was ready to distrust him on the slightest excuse. These men could not help knowing that she was rich, and it was reasonable for them to suspect that she carried money and jewels with her. In her mind's eye she could picture these traitors rifling her bags and boxes in some dark pass, and then there were other horrors that almost petrified her when she allowed herself to think of them.
Here and there the travelers passed by rude cots where dwelt woodmen and mountaineers, and at long intervals a solitary but picturesque horseman stood aside and gave them the road. As the coach penetrated deeper into the gorge, signs of human life and activity became fewer. The sun could not send his light into this shadowy tomb of granite. The rattle of the wheels and the clatter of the horses' hoofs sounded like a constant crash of thunder in the ears of the tender traveler, a dainty morsel among hawks and wolves.
There was an unmistakable tremor in her voice when she at last found heart to ask the officer where they were to spend the night. It was far past noon and Aunt Fanny had suggested opening the lunch-baskets. One of the guides was called back, the leader being as much in the dark as his charge.
"There is no village within twenty miles," he said, "and we must sleep in the pass."
Beverly's voice faltered. "Out here in all this awful—" Then she caught herself quickly. It came to her suddenly that she must not let these men see that she was apprehensive. Her voice was a trifle shrill and her eyes glistened with a strange new light as she went on, changing her tack completely: "How romantic! I've often wanted to do something like this."
The officer looked bewildered, and said nothing. Aunt Fanny was speechless. Later on, when the lieutenant had gone ahead to confer with the guides about the suspicious actions of a small troop of horsemen they had seen, Beverly confided to the old negress that she was frightened almost out of her boots, but that she'd die before the men should see a sign of cowardice in a Calhoun. Aunt Fanny was not so proud and imperious. It was with difficulty that her high-strung young mistress suppressed the wails that long had been under restraint in Aunt Fanny's huge and turbulent bosom.
"Good Lawd, Miss Bev'ly, dey'll chop us all to pieces an' take ouah jewl'ry an' money an' clo'es and ev'ything else we done got about us. Good Lawd, le's tu'n back, Miss Bev'ly. We ain' got no mo' show out heah in dese mountings dan a—"
"Be still, Aunt Fanny!" commanded Beverly, with a fine show of courage. "You must be brave. Don't you see we can't turn back? It's just as dangerous and a heap sight more so. If we let on we're not one bit afraid they'll respect us, don't you see, and men never harm women whom they respect."
"Umph!" grunted Aunt Fanny, with exaggerated irony.
"Well, they never do!" maintained Beverly, who was not at all sure about it. "And they look like real nice men—honest men, even though they have such awful whiskers."
"Dey's de wust trash Ah eveh did see," exploded Aunt Fanny.
"Sh! Don't let them hear you," whispered Beverly.
In spite of her terror and perplexity, she was compelled to smile. It was all so like the farce comedies one sees at the theatre.
As the officer rode up, his face was pale in the shadowy light of the afternoon and he was plainly nervous.
"What is the latest news from the front?" she inquired cheerfully.
"The men refuse to ride on," he exclaimed, speaking rapidly, making it still harder for her to understand. "Our advance guard has met a party of hunters from Axphain. They insist that you—'the fine lady in the coach'—are the Princess Yetive, returning from a secret visit to St. Petersburg, where you went to plead for assistance from the Czar."
Beverly Calhoun gasped in astonishment. It was too incredible to believe. It was actually ludicrous. She laughed heartily. "How perfectly absurd."
"I am well aware that you are not the Princess Yetive," he continued emphatically; "but what can I do; the men won't believe me. They swear they have been tricked and are panic-stricken over the situation. The hunters tell them that the Axphain authorities, fully aware of the hurried flight of the Princess through these wilds, are preparing to intercept her. A large detachment of soldiers are already across the Graustark frontier. It is only a question of time before the 'red legs' will be upon them. I have assured them that their beautiful charge is not the Princess, but an American girl, and that there is no mystery about the coach and escort. All in vain. The Axphain guides already feel that their heads are on the block; while as for the Cossacks, not even my dire threats of the awful anger of the White Czar, when he finds they have disobeyed his commands, will move them."
"Speak to your men once more, sir, and promise them big purses of gold when we reach Ganlook. I have no money or valuables with me; but there I can obtain plenty," said Beverly, shrewdly thinking it better that they should believe her to be without funds.
The cavalcade had halted during this colloquy. All the men were ahead conversing sullenly and excitedly with much gesticulation. The driver, a stolid creature, seemingly indifferent to all that was going on, alone remained at his post. The situation, apparently dangerous, was certainly most annoying. But if Beverly could have read the mind of that silent figure on the box, she would have felt slightly relieved, for he was infinitely more anxious to proceed than even she; but from far different reasons. He was a Russian convict, who had escaped on the way to Siberia. Disguised as a coachman he was seeking life and safety in Graustark, or any out-of-the-way place. It mattered little to him where the escort concluded to go. He was going ahead. He dared not go back—he must go on.
At the end of half an hour, the officer returned; all hope had gone from his face. "It is useless!" he cried out. "The guides refuse to proceed. See! They are going off with their countrymen! We are lost without them. I do not know what to do. We cannot get to Ganlook; I do not know the way, and the danger is great. Ah! Madam! Here they come! The Cossacks are going back."
As he spoke, the surly mutineers were riding slowly towards the coach. Every man had his pistol on the high pommel of the saddle. Their faces wore an ugly look. As they passed the officer, one of them, pointing ahead of him with his sword, shouted savagely, "Balak!"
It was conclusive and convincing. They were deserting her.
"Oh, oh, oh! The cowards!" sobbed Beverly in rage and despair. "I must go on! Is it possible that even such men would leave—"
She was interrupted by the voice of the officer, who, raising his cap to her, commanded at the same time the driver to turn his horses and follow the escort to Balak.
"What is that?" demanded Beverly in alarm.
From far off came the sound of firearms. A dozen shots were fired, and reverberated down through the gloomy pass ahead of the coach.
"They are fighting somewhere in the hills in front of us," answered the now frightened officer. Turning quickly, he saw the deserting horsemen halt, listen a minute, and then spur their horses. He cried out sharply to the driver, "Come, there! Turn round! We have no time to lose!"
With a savage grin, the hitherto motionless driver hurled some insulting remark at the officer, who was already following his men, now in full flight down the road, and settling himself firmly on the seat, taking a fresh grip of the reins, he yelled to his horses, at the same time lashing them furiously with his whip, and started the coach ahead at a fearful pace. His only thought was to get away as far as possible from the Russian officer, then deliberately desert the coach and its occupants and take to the hills.
THE RAGGED RETINUE
Thoroughly mystified by the action of the driver and at length terrified by the pace that carried them careening along the narrow road, Beverly cried out to him, her voice shrill with alarm. Aunt Fanny was crouching on the floor of the coach, between the seats, groaning and praying.
"Stop! Where are you going?" cried Beverly, putting her head recklessly through the window. If the man heard her he gave no evidence of the fact. His face was set forward and he was guiding the horses with a firm, unquivering hand. The coach rattled and bounded along the dangerous way hewn in the side of the mountain. A misstep or a false turn might easily start the clumsy vehicle rolling down the declivity on the right. The convict was taking desperate chances, and with a cool, calculating brain, prepared to leap to the ground in case of accident and save himself, without a thought for the victims inside.
"Stop! Turn around!" she cried in a frenzy. "We shall be killed! Are you crazy?"
By this time they had struck a descent in the road and were rushing along at breakneck speed into oppressive shadows that bore the first imprints of night. Realizing at last that her cries were falling upon purposely deaf ears, Beverly Calhoun sank back into the seat, weak and terror-stricken. It was plain to her that the horses were not running away, for the man had been lashing them furiously. There was but one conclusion: he was deliberately taking her farther into the mountain fastnesses, his purpose known only to himself. A hundred terrors presented themselves to her as she lay huddled against the side of the coach, her eyes closed tightly, her tender body tossed furiously about with the sway of the vehicle. There was the fundamental fear that she would be dashed to death down the side of the mountain, but apart from this her quick brain was evolving all sorts of possible endings—none short of absolute disaster.
Even as she prayed that something might intervene to check the mad rush and to deliver her from the horrors of the moment, the raucous voice of the driver was heard calling to his horses and the pace became slower. The awful rocking and the jolting grew less severe, the clatter resolved itself into a broken rumble, and then the coach stopped with a mighty lurch.
Dragging herself from the corner, poor Beverly Calhoun, no longer a disdainful heroine, gazed piteously out into the shadows, expecting the murderous blade of the driver to meet her as she did so. Pauloff had swung from the box of the coach and was peering first into the woodland below and then upon the rocks to the left. He wore the expression of a man trapped and seeking means of escape. Suddenly he darted behind the coach, almost brushing against Beverly's hat as he passed the window. She opened her lips to call to him, but even as she did so he took to his heels and raced back over the road they had traveled so precipitously.
Overcome by surprise and dismay, she only could watch the flight in silence. Less than a hundred feet from where the coach was standing he turned to the right and was lost among the rocks. Ahead, four horses, covered with sweat, were panting and heaving as if in great distress after their mad run. Aunt Fanny was still moaning and praying by turns in the bottom of the carriage. Darkness was settling down upon the pass, and objects a hundred yards away were swallowed by the gloom. There was no sound save the blowing of the tired animals and the moaning of the old negress. Beverly realized with a sinking heart that they were alone and helpless in the mountains with night upon them.
She never knew where the strength and courage came from, but she forced open the stubborn coachdoor and scrambled to the ground, looking frantically in all directions for a single sign of hope. In the most despairing terror she had ever experienced, she started toward the lead horses, hoping against hope that at least one of her men had remained faithful.
A man stepped quietly from the inner side of the road and advanced with the uncertain tread of one who is overcome by amazement. He was a stranger, and wore an odd, uncouth garb. The failing light told her that he was not one of her late protectors. She shrank back with a faint cry of alarm, ready to fly to the protecting arms of hopeless Aunt Fanny if her uncertain legs could carry her. At the same instant another ragged stranger, then two, three, four, or five, appeared as if by magic, some near her, others approaching from the shadows.
"Who—who in heaven's name are you?" she faltered. The sound of her own voice in a measure restored the courage that had been paralyzed. Unconsciously this slim sprig of southern valor threw back her shoulders and lifted her chin. If they were brigands they should not find her a cringing coward. After all, she was a Calhoun.
The man she had first observed stopped near the horses' heads and peered intently at her from beneath a broad and rakish hat. He was tall and appeared to be more respectably clad than his fellows, although there was not one who looked as though he possessed a complete outfit of wearing apparel.
"Poor wayfarers, may it please your highness," replied the tall vagabond, bowing low. To her surprise he spoke in very good English; his voice was clear, and there was a tinge of polite irony in the tones. "But all people are alike in the mountains. The king and the thief, the princess and the jade live in the common fold," and his hat swung so low that it touched the ground.
"I am powerless. I only implore you to take what valuables you may find and let us proceed unharmed—" she cried, rapidly, eager to have it over.
"Pray, how can your highness proceed? You have no guide, no driver, no escort," said the man, mockingly. Beverly looked at him appealingly, utterly without words to reply. The tears were welling to her eyes and her heart was throbbing like that of a captured bird. In after life she was able to picture in her mind's eye all the details of that tableau in the mountain pass—the hopeless coach, the steaming horses, the rakish bandit, and his picturesque men, the towering crags, and a mite of a girl facing the end of everything.
"Your highness is said to be brave, but even your wonderful courage can avail nothing in this instance," said the leader, pleasantly. "Your escort has fled as though pursued by something stronger than shadows; your driver has deserted; your horses are half-dead; you are indeed, as you have said, powerless. And you are, besides all these, in the clutches of a band of merciless cutthroats."
"Oh," moaned Beverly, suddenly leaning against the fore wheel, her eyes almost starting from her head. The leader laughed quietly—yes, good-naturedly. "Oh, you won't—you won't kill us?" She had time to observe that there were smiles on the faces of all the men within the circle of light.
"Rest assured, your highness," said the leader, leaning upon his rifle-barrel with careless grace, "we intend no harm to you. Every man you meet in Graustark is not a brigand, I trust, for your sake. We are simple hunters, and not what we may seem. It is fortunate that you have fallen into honest hands. There is someone in the coach?" he asked, quickly alert. A prolonged groan proved to Beverly that Aunt Fanny had screwed up sufficient courage to look out of the window.
"My old servant," she half whispered. Then, as several of the men started toward the door: "But she is old and wouldn't harm a fly. Please, please don't hurt her."
"Compose yourself; she is safe," said the leader. By this time it was quite dark. At a word from him two or three men lighted lanterns. The picture was more weird than ever in the fitful glow. "May I ask, your highness, how do you intend to reach Edelweiss in your present condition. You cannot manage those horses, and besides, you do not know the way."
"Aren't you going to rob us?" demanded Beverly, hope springing to the surface with a joyful bound. The stranger laughed heartily, and shook his head.
"Do we not look like honest men?" he cried, with a wave of his hand toward his companions. Beverly looked dubious. "We live the good, clean life of the wilderness. Out-door life is necessary for our health. We could not live in the city," he went on with grim humor. For the first time, Beverly noticed that he wore a huge black patch over his left eye, held in place by a cord. He appeared more formidable than ever under the light of critical inspection.
THE RAGGED RETINUE
"I am very much relieved," said Beverly, who was not at all relieved." But why have you stopped us in this manner?"
"Stopped you?" cried the man with the patch. "I implore you to unsay that, your highness. Your coach was quite at a standstill before we knew of its presence. You do us a grave injustice."
"It's very strange," muttered Beverly, somewhat taken aback.
"Have you observed that it is quite dark?" asked the leader, putting away his brief show of indignation.
"Dear me; so it is!" cried she, now able to think more clearly.
"And you are miles from an inn or house of any kind," he went on. "Do you expect to stay here all night?"
"I'm—I'm not afraid," bravely shivered Beverly.
"It is most dangerous."
"I have a revolver," the weak little voice went on.
"Oho! What is it for?"
"To use in case of emergency."
"Such as repelling brigands who suddenly appear upon the scene?"
"May I ask why you did not use it this evening?"
"Because it is locked up in one of my bags—I don't know just which one—and Aunt Fanny has the key," confessed Beverly.
The chief of the "honest men" laughed again, a clear, ringing laugh that bespoke supreme confidence in his right to enjoy himself.
"And who is Aunt Fanny?" he asked, covering his patch carefully with his slouching hat.
"My servant. She's colored."
"Colored?" he asked in amazement. "What do you mean?"
"Why, she's a negress. Don't you know what a colored person is?"
"You mean she is a slave—a black slave?"
"We don't own slaves any mo'—more." He looked more puzzled than ever—then at last, to satisfy himself, walked over and peered into the coach. Aunt Fanny set up a dismal howl; an instant later Sir Honesty was pushed aside, and Miss Calhoun was anxiously trying to comfort her old friend through the window. The man looked on in silent wonder for a minute, and then strode off to where a group of his men stood talking.
"Is yo' daid yit, Miss Bev'ly—is de end came?" moaned Aunt Fanny. Beverly could not repress a smile.
"I am quite alive, Auntie. These men will not hurt us. They are very nice gentlemen." She uttered the last observation in a loud voice and it had its effect, for the leader came to her side with long strides.
"Convince your servant that we mean no harm, your highness," he said eagerly, a new deference in his voice and manner. "We have only the best of motives in mind. True, the hills are full of lawless fellows and we are obliged to fight them almost daily, but you have fallen in with honest men—very nice gentlemen, I trust. Less than an hour ago we put a band of robbers to flight—"
"I heard the shooting," cried Beverly. "It was that which put my escort to flight."
"They could not have been soldiers of Graustark, then, your highness," quite gallantly.
"They were Cossacks, or whatever you call them. But, pray, why do you call me 'your highness'?" demanded Beverly. The tall leader swept the ground with his hat once more.
"All the outside world knows the Princess Yetive—why not the humble mountain man? You will pardon me, but every man in the hills knows that you are to pass through on the way from St. Petersburg to Ganlook. We are not so far from the world, after all, we rough people of the hills. We know that your highness left St. Petersburg by rail last Sunday and took to the highway day before yesterday, because the floods had washed away the bridges north of Axphain. Even the hills have eyes and ears."
Beverly listened with increasing perplexity. It was true that she had left St. Petersburg on Sunday; that the unprecedented floods had stopped all railway traffic in the hills, compelling her to travel for many miles by stage, and that the whole country was confusing her in some strange way with the Princess Yetive. The news had evidently sped through Axphain and the hills with the swiftness of fire. It would be useless to deny the story; these men would not believe her. In a flash she decided that it would be best to pose for the time being as the ruler of Graustark. It remained only for her to impress upon Aunt Fanny the importance of this resolution.
"What wise old hills they must be," she said, with evasive enthusiasm." You cannot expect me to admit, however, that I am the princess," she went on.
"It would not be just to your excellent reputation for tact if you did so, your highness," calmly spoke the man. "It is quite as easy to say that you are not the princess as to say that you are, so what matters, after all? We reserve the right, however, to do homage to the queen who rules over these wise old hills. I offer you the humble services of myself and my companions. We are yours to command."
"I am very grateful to find that you are not brigands, believe me," said Beverly. "Pray tell me who you are, then, and you shall be sufficiently rewarded for your good intentions."
"I? Oh, your highness, I am Baldos, the goat-hunter, a poor subject for reward at your hands. I may as well admit that I am a poacher, and have no legal right to the prosperity of your hills. The only reward I can ask is forgiveness for trespassing upon the property of others."
"You shall receive pardon for all transgressions. But you must get me to some place of safety," said Beverly, eagerly.
"And quickly, too, you might well have added," he said, lightly. "The horses have rested, I think, so with your permission we may proceed. I know of a place where you may spend the night comfortably and be refreshed for the rough journey to-morrow."
"To-morrow? How can I go on? I am alone," she cried, despairingly.
"Permit me to remind you that you are no longer alone. You have a ragged following, your highness, but it shall be a loyal one. Will you re-enter the coach? It is not far to the place I speak of, and I myself will drive you there. Come, it is getting late, and your retinue, at least, is hungry."
He flung open the coach door, and his hat swept the ground once more. The light of a lantern played fitfully upon his dark, gaunt face, with its gallant smile and ominous patch. She hesitated, fear entering her soul once more. He looked up quickly and saw the indecision in her eyes, the mute appeal.
"Trust me, your highness," he said, gravely, and she allowed him to hand her into the coach.
A moment later he was upon the driver's box, reins in hand. Calling out to his companions in a language strange to Beverly, he cracked the whip, and once more they were lumbering over the wretched road. Beverly sank back into the seat with a deep sigh of resignation.
"Well, I'm in for it," she thought. "It doesn't matter whether they are thieves or angels, I reckon I'll have to take what comes. He doesn't look very much like an angel, but he looked at me just now as if he thought I were one. Dear me, I wish I were back in Washin'ton!"
THE INN OF THE HAWK AND RAVEN
Two of the men walked close beside the door, one of them bearing a lantern. They conversed in low tones and in a language which Beverly could not understand. After awhile she found herself analyzing the garb and manner of the men. She was saying to herself that here were her first real specimens of Graustark peasantry, and they were to mark an ineffaceable spot in her memory. They were dark, strong-faced men of medium height, with fierce, black eyes and long black hair. As no two were dressed alike, it was impossible to recognize characteristic styles of attire. Some were in the rude, baggy costumes of the peasant as she had imagined him; others were dressed in the tight-fitting but dilapidated uniforms of the soldiery, while several were in clothes partly European and partly Oriental. There were hats and fezzes and caps, some with feathers In the bands, others without. The man nearest the coach wore the dirty gray uniform of as army officer, full of holes and rents, while another strode along in a pair of baggy yellow trousers and a dusty London dinner jacket. All in all, it was the motliest band of vagabonds she had ever seen. There were at least ten or a dozen in the party. While a few carried swords, all lugged the long rifles and crooked daggers of the Tartars.
"Aunt Fanny," Beverly whispered, suddenly moving to the side of the subdued servant, "where is my revolver?" It had come to her like a flash that a subsequent emergency should not find her unprepared. Aunt Fanny's jaw dropped, and her eyes were like white rings in a black screen.
"Good Lawd—wha—what fo' Miss Bev'ly—"
"Sh! Don't call me Miss Bev'ly. Now, just you pay 'tention to me and I'll tell you something queer. Get my revolver right away, and don't let those men see what you are doing." While Aunt Fanny's trembling fingers went in search of the firearm, Beverly outlined the situation briefly but explicitly. The old woman was not slow to understand. Her wits sharpened by fear, she grasped Beverly's instructions with astonishing avidity.
"Ve'y well, yo' highness," she said with fine reverence, "Ah'll p'ocuah de bottle o' pepp'mint fo' yo' if yo' jes don' mine me pullin' an' haulin' 'mongst dese boxes. Mebbe yo' all 'druther hab de gingeh?" With this wonderful subterfuge as a shield she dug slyly into one of the bags and pulled forth a revolver. Under ordinary circumstances she would have been mortally afraid to touch it, but not so in this emergency. Beverly shoved the weapon into the pocket of her gray traveling jacket.
"I feel much better now, Aunt Fanny," she said, and Aunt Fanny gave a vast chuckle.
"Yas, ma'am, indeed,—yo' highness," she agreed, suavely.
The coach rolled along for half an hour, and then stopped with a sudden jolt. An instant later the tall driver appeared at the window, his head uncovered. A man hard by held a lantern.
"Qua vandos ar deltanet, yos serent," said the leader, showing his white teeth in a triumphant smile. His exposed eye seemed to be glowing with pleasure and excitement.
"What?" murmured Beverly, hopelessly. A puzzled expression came into his face. Then his smile deepened and his eye took on a knowing gleam.
"Ah, I see," he said, gaily, "your highness prefers not to speak the language of Graustark. Is it necessary for me to repeat in English?"
"I really wish you would," said Beverly, catching her breath. "Just to see how it sounds, you know."
"Your every wish shall be gratified. I beg to inform you that we have reached the Inn of the Hawk and Raven. This is where we dwelt last night. Tomorrow we, too, abandon the place, so our fortunes may run together for some hours, at least. There is but little to offer you in the way of nourishment, and there are none of the comforts of a palace. Yet princesses can no more be choosers than beggars when the fare's in one pot. Come, your highness, let me conduct you to the guest chamber of the Inn of the Hawk and Raven."
Beverly took his hand and stepped to the ground, looking about in wonder and perplexity.
"I see no inn," she murmured apprehensively.
"Look aloft, your highness. That great black canopy is the roof; we are standing upon the floor, and the dark shadows just beyond the circle of light are the walls of the Hawk and Raven. This is the largest tavern in all Graustark. Its dimensions are as wide as the world itself."
"You mean that there is no inn at all?" the girl cried in dismay.
"Alas, I must confess it. And yet there is shelter here. Come with me. Let your servant follow." He took her by the hand, and led her away from the coach, a ragged lantern-bearer preceding. Beverly's little right hand was rigidly clutching the revolver in her pocket. It was a capacious pocket, and the muzzle of the weapon bored defiantly into a timid powder-rag that lay on the bottom. The little leather purse from which it escaped had its silver lips opened as if in a broad grin of derision, reveling in the plight of the chamois. The guide's hand was at once firm and gentle, his stride bold, yet easy. His rakish hat, with its aggressive red feather, towered a full head above Beverly's Parisian violets.
"Have you no home at all—no house in which to sleep?" Beverly managed to ask.
"I live in a castle of air," said he, waving his hand gracefully. "I sleep in the house of my fathers,"
"You poor fellow," cried Beverly, pityingly. He laughed and absently patted the hilt of his sword.
She heard the men behind them turning the coach into the glen through which they walked carefully. Her feet fell upon a soft, grassy sward and the clatter of stones was now no longer heard. They were among the shadowy trees, gaunt trunks of enormous size looming up in the light of the lanterns. Unconsciously her thoughts went over to the Forest of Arden and the woodland home of Rosalind, as she had imagined it to be. Soon there came to her ears the swish of waters, as of some turbulent river hurrying by. Instinctively she drew back and her eyes were set with alarm upon the black wall of night ahead. Yetive had spoken more than once of this wilderness. Many an unlucky traveler had been lost forever in its fastnesses.
"It is the river, your highness. There is no danger. I will not lead you into it," he said, a trifle roughly. "We are low in the valley and there are marshes yonder when the river is in its natural bed. The floods have covered the low grounds, and there is a torrent coming down from the hills. Here we are, your highness. This is the Inn of the Hawk and Raven."
He bowed and pointed with his hat to the smouldering fire a short distance ahead. They had turned a bend in the overhanging cliff, and were very close to the retreat before she saw the glow.
The fire was in the open air and directly in front of a deep cleft in the rocky background. Judging by the sound, the river could not be more than two hundred feet away. Men came up with lanterns and others piled brush upon the fire. In a very short time the glen was weirdly illuminated by the dancing flames. From her seat on a huge log, Beverly was thus enabled to survey a portion of her surroundings. The overhanging ledge of rock formed a wide, deep canopy, underneath which was perfect shelter. The floor seemed to be rich, grassless loam, and here and there were pallets of long grass, evidently the couches of these homeless men. All about were huge trees, and in the direction of the river the grass grew higher and then gave place to reeds. The foliage above was so dense that the moon and stars were invisible. There was a deathly stillness in the air. The very loneliness was so appalling that Beverly's poor little heart was in a quiver of dread. Aunt Fanny, who sat near by, had not spoken since leaving the coach, but her eyes were expressively active.
The tall leader stood near the fire, conversing with half a dozen of his followers. Miss Calhoun's eyes finally rested upon this central figure in the strange picture. He was attired in a dark-gray uniform that reminded her oddly of the dragoon choruses in the comic operas at home. The garments, while torn and soiled, were well-fitting. His shoulders were broad and square, his hips narrow, his legs long and straight. There was an air of impudent grace about him that went well with his life and profession. Surely, here was a careless freelance upon whom life weighed lightly, while death "stood afar off" and despaired. The light of the fire brought his gleaming face into bold relief, for his hat was off. Black and thick was his hair, rumpled and apparently uncared for. The face was lean, smooth and strong, with a devil-may-care curve at the corners of the mouth. Beverly found herself lamenting the fact that such an interesting face should be marred by an ugly black patch, covering she knew not what manner of defect. As for the rest of them, they were a grim company. Some were young and beardless, others were old and grizzly, but all were active, alert and strong. The leader appeared to be the only one in the party who could speak and understand the English language. As Beverly sat and watched his virile, mocking face, and studied his graceful movements, she found herself wondering how an ignorant, homeless wanderer in the hills could be so poetic and so cultured as this fellow seemed to be.
Three or four men, who were unmistakably of a lower order than their companions, set about preparing a supper. Others unhitched the tired horses and led them off toward the river. Two dashing young fellows carried the seat-cushions under the rocky canopy and constructed an elaborate couch for the "Princess." The chief, with his own hands, soon began the construction of a small chamber in this particular corner of the cave, near the opening. The walls of the chamber were formed of carriage robes and blankets, cloaks and oak branches.
"The guest chamber, your highness," he said, approaching her with a smile at the conclusion of his work.
"It has been most interesting to watch you," she said, rising.
"And it has been a delight to interest you," he responded. "You will find seclusion there, and you need see none of us until it pleases you."
She looked him fairly in the eye for a moment, and then impulsively extended her hand. He clasped it warmly, but not without some show of surprise.
"I am trusting you implicitly," she said.
"The knave is glorified," was his simple rejoinder. He conducted her to the improvised bed-chamber, Aunt Fanny following with loyal but uncertain tread. "I regret, your highness, that the conveniences are so few. We have no landlady except Mother Earth, no waiters, no porters, no maids, in the Inn of the Hawk and Raven. This being a men's hotel, the baths are on the river-front. I am having water brought to your apartments, however, but it is with deepest shame and sorrow that I confess we have no towels."
She laughed so heartily that his face brightened perceptibly, whilst the faces of his men turned in their direction as though by concert.
"It is a typical mountain resort, then," she said, "I think I can manage very well if you will fetch my bags to my room, sir."
"By the way, will you have dinner served in your room?" very good-humoredly.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to eat in the public dining-room," said she. A few minutes later Beverly was sitting upon one of her small trunks and Aunt Fanny was laboriously brushing her dark hair.
"It's very jolly being a princess," murmured Miss Calhoun. She had bathed her face in one of the leather buckets from the coach, and the dust of the road had been brushed away by the vigorous lady-in-waiting.
"Yas, ma'am, Miss—yo' highness, hit's monstrous fine fo' yo', but whar is Ah goin' to sleep? Out yondah, wif all dose scalawags?" said Aunt Fanny, rebelliously.
"You shall have a bed in here, Aunt Fanny," said Beverly.
"Dey's de queeres' lot o' tramps Ah eveh did see, an' Ah wouldn' trust 'em 's fer as Ah could heave a brick house."
"But the leader is such a very courteous gentleman," remonstrated Beverly.
"Yas, ma'am; he mussa came f'm Gawgia or Kaintuck," was Aunt Fanny's sincere compliment.
The pseudo-princess dined with the vagabonds that night. She sat on the log beside the tall leader, and ate heartily of the broth and broiled goatmeat, the grapes and the nuts, and drank of the spring water which took the place of wine and coffee and cordial. It was a strange supper amid strange environments, but she enjoyed it as she had never before enjoyed a meal. The air was full of romance and danger, and her imagination was enthralled. Everything was so new and unreal that she scarcely could believe herself awake. The world seemed to have gone back to the days of Robin Hood and his merry men.
"You fare well at the Inn of the Hawk and Raven," she said to him, her voice tremulous with excitement. He looked mournfully at her for a moment and then smiled naively.
"It is the first wholesome meal we have had in two days," he replied.
"You don't mean it!"
"Yes. We were lucky with the guns to-day. Fate was kind to us—and to you, for we are better prepared to entertain royalty to-day than at any time since I have been in the hills of Graustark."
"Then you have not always lived in Graustark?"
"Alas, no, your highness. I have lived elsewhere."
"But you were born in the principality?"
"I am a subject of its princess in heart from this day forth, but not by birth or condition. I am a native of the vast domain known to a few of us as Circumstance," and he smiled rather recklessly.
"You are a poet, a delicious poet," cried Beverly, forgetting herself in her enthusiasm.
"Perhaps that is why I am hungry and unshorn. It had not occurred to me in that light. When you are ready to retire, your highness," he said, abruptly rising, "we shall be pleased to consider the Inn of the Hawk and Raven closed for the night. Having feasted well, we should sleep well. We have a hard day before us. With your consent, I shall place my couch of grass near your door. I am the porter. You have but to call if anything is desired."
She was tired, but she would have sat up all night rather than miss any of the strange romance that had been thrust upon her. But Sir Red-feather's suggestion savored of a command and she reluctantly made her way to the flapping blanket that marked the entrance to the bed-chamber. He drew the curtain aside, swung his hat low and muttered a soft goodnight.
"May your highness's dreams be pleasant ones!" he said.
"Thank you," said she, and the curtain dropped impertinently. "That was very cool of him, I must say," she added, as she looked at the wavering door.
When she went to sleep, she never knew; she was certain that her eyes were rebellious for a long time and that she wondered how her gray dress would look after she had slept in it all night. She heard low singing as if in the distance, but after a while the stillness became so intense that its pressure almost suffocated her. The rush of the river grew louder and louder and there was a swishing sound that died in her ears almost as she wondered what it meant. Her last waking thoughts were of the "black-patch" poet. Was he lying near the door?
She was awakened in the middle of the night by the violent flapping of her chamber door. Startled, she sat bolt upright and strained her eyes to pierce the mysterious darkness. Aunt Fanny, on her bed of grass, stirred convulsively, but did not awake. The blackness of the strange chamber was broken ever and anon by faint flashes of light from without, and she lived through long minutes of terror before it dawned upon her that a thunderstorm was brewing. The wind was rising, and the night seemed agog with excitement. Beverly crept from her couch and felt her way to the fluttering doorway. Drawing aside the blanket she peered forth into the night, her heart jumping with terror. Her highness was very much afraid of thunder and lightning.
The fire in the open had died down until naught remained but a few glowing embers. These were blown into brilliancy by the wind, casting a steady red light over the scene. There was but one human figure in sight. Beside the fire stood the tall wanderer. He was hatless and coatless, and his arms were folded across his chest. Seemingly oblivious to the approach of the storm, he stood staring into the heap of ashes at his feet. His face was toward her, every feature plainly distinguishable in the faint glow from the fire. To her amazement the black patch was missing from the eye; and, what surprised her almost to the point of exclaiming aloud, there appeared to be absolutely no reason for its presence there at any time. There was no mark or blemish upon or about the eye; it was as clear and penetrating as its fellow, darkly gleaming in the red glow from below. Moreover, Beverly saw that he was strikingly handsome—a strong, manly face. The highly imaginative southern girl's mind reverted to the first portraits of Napoleon she had seen.
Suddenly he started, threw up his head and looking up to the sky uttered some strange words. Then he strode abruptly toward her doorway. She fell back breathless. He stopped just outside, and she knew that he was listening for sounds from within. After many minutes she stealthily looked forth again. He was standing near the fire, his back toward her, looking off into the night.
The wind was growing stronger; the breezes fanned the night into a rush of shivery coolness. Constant flickerings of lightning illuminated the forest, transforming the tree-tops into great black waves. Tall reeds along the river bank began to bend their tops, to swing themselves gently to and from the wind. In the lowlands down from the cave "will o' the wisps" played tag with "Jack o' the lanterns," merrily scampering about in the blackness, reminding her of the revellers in a famous Brocken scene. Low moans grew out of the havoc, and voices seemed to speak in unintelligible whispers to the agitated twigs and leaves. The secrets of the wind were being spread upon the records of the night; tales of many climes passed through the ears of Nature.
From gentle undulations the marshland reeds swept into lower dips, danced wilder minuets, lashed each other with infatuated glee, mocking the whistle of the wind with an angry swish of their tall bodies. Around the cornices of the Inn of the Hawk and Raven scurried the singing breezes, reluctant to leave a playground so pleasing to the fancy. Soon the night became a cauldron, a surging, hissing, roaring receptacle in which were mixing the ingredients of disaster. Night-birds flapped through the moaning tree-tops, in search of shelter; reeds were flattened to the earth, bowing to the sovereignty of the wind; clouds roared with the rumble of a million chariots, and then the sky and the earth met in one of those savage conflicts that make all other warfare seem as play.
As Beverly sank back from the crash, she saw him throw his arms aloft as though inviting the elements to mass themselves and their energy upon his head. She shrieked involuntarily and he heard the cry above the carnage. Instantly his face was turned in her direction.
"Help! Help!" she cried. He bounded toward the swishing robes and blankets, but his impulse had found a rival in the blast. Like a flash the walls of the guest chamber were whisked away, scuttling off into the night or back into the depths of the cavern. With the deluge came the man. From among the stifling robes he snatched her up and bore her away, she knew not whither.
THE HOME OF THE LION
"May all storms be as pleasant as this one!" she heard someone say, with a merry laugh. The next instant she was placed soundly upon her feet. A blinding flash of lightning revealed Baldos, the goat-hunter, at her side, while a dozen shadowy figures were scrambling to their feet in all corners of the Hawk and Raven. Someone was clutching her by the dress at the knees. She did not have to look down to know that it was Aunt Fanny.
"Goodness!" gasped the princess, and then it was pitch dark again. The man at her side called out a command in his own language, and then turned his face close to hers.
"Do not be alarmed. We are quite safe now. The royal bed-chamber has come to grief, however, I am sorry to say. What a fool I was not to have foreseen all this! The storm has been brewing since midnight," he was saying to her.
"Isn't it awful?" cried Beverly, between a moan a shriek.
"They are trifles after one gets used to them," he said. "I have come to be quite at home in the tempest. There are other things much more annoying, I assure your highness. We shall have lights in a moment." Even as he spoke, two or three lanterns began to flicker feebly.
"Be quiet, Aunt Fanny; you are not killed at all," commanded Beverly, quite firmly.
"De house is suah to blow down. Miss—yo' highness," groaned the trusty maidservant. Beverly laughed bravely but nervously with the tall goat-hunter. He at once set about making his guest comfortable and secure from the effects of the tempest, which was now at its height. Her couch of cushions was dragged far back into the cavern and the rescued blankets, though drenched, again became a screen.
"Do you imagine that I'm going in there while this storm rages?" Beverly demanded, as the work progressed.
"Are you not afraid of lightning? Most young women are."
"That's the trouble. I am afraid of it. I'd much rather stay out here where there is company. You don't mind, do you?"
"Paradise cannot be spurned by one who now feels its warmth for the first time," said he, gallantly. "Your fear is my delight. Pray sit upon our throne. It was once a humble carriage pail of leather, but now it is exalted. Besides, it is much more comfortable than some of the gilded chairs we hear about."
"You are given to irony, I fear," she said, observing a peculiar smile on his lips.
"I crave pardon, your highness," he said, humbly "The heart of the goat-hunter is more gentle than his wit. I shall not again forget that you are a princess and I the veriest beggar."
"I didn't mean to hurt you!" she cried, in contrition, for she was a very poor example of what a princess is supposed to be.
"There is no wound, your highness," he quickly said. With a mocking grace that almost angered her, he dropped to his knee and motioned for her to be seated. She sat down suddenly, clapping her hands to her ears and shutting her eyes tightly. The crash of thunder that came at that instant was the most fearful of all, and it was a full minute before she dared to lift her lids again. He was standing before her, and there was genuine compassion in his face. "It's terrible," he said. "Never before have I seen such a storm. Have courage, your highness; it can last but little longer."
"Goodness!" said the real American girl, for want of something more expressive.
"Your servant has crept into your couch, I fear. Shall I sit here at your feet? Perhaps you may feel a small sense of security if I—"
"Indeed, I want you to sit there," she cried. He forthwith threw himself upon the floor of the cave, a graceful, respectful guardian. Minutes went by without a word from either. The noise of the storm made it impossible to speak and be heard. Scattered about the cavern were his outstretched followers, doubtless asleep once more in all this turmoil. With the first lull in the war of the elements, Beverly gave utterance to the thought that long had been struggling for release.
"Why do you wear that horrid black patch over your eye?" she asked, a trifle timidly. He muttered a sharp exclamation and clapped his hand to his eye. For the first time since the beginning of their strange acquaintanceship Beverly observed downright confusion in this debonair knight of the wilds.
"It has—has slipped off—" he stammered, with a guilty grin. His merry insolence was gone, his composure with it. Beverly laughed with keen enjoyment over the discomfiture of the shame-faced vagabond.
"You can't fool me," she exclaimed, shaking her finger at him in the most unconventional way. "It was intended to be a disguise. There is absolutely nothing the matter with your eye."
He was speechless for a moment, recovering himself. Wisdom is conceived in silence, and he knew this. Vagabond or gentleman, he was a clever actor.
"The eye is weak, your highness, and I cover it in the daytime to protect it from the sunlight," he said, coolly.
"That's all very nice, but it looks to be quite as good as the other. And what is more, sir, you are not putting the patch over the same eye that wore it when I first saw you. It was the left eye at sunset. Does the trouble transfer after dark?"
He broke into an honest laugh and hastily moved the black patch across his nose to the left eye.
"I was turned around in the darkness, that's all," he said, serenely." It belongs over the left eye, and I am deeply grateful to you for discovering the error."
"I don't see any especial reason why you should wear it after dark, do you? There is no sunlight, I'm sure."
"I am dazzled, nevertheless," he retorted.
"Fiddlesticks!" she said. "This is a cave, not a drawing-room."
"In other words, I am a lout and not a courtier," he smiled. "Well, a lout may look at a princess. We have no court etiquette in the hills, I am sorry to say."
"That was very unkind, even though you said it most becomingly," she protested. "You have called this pail a throne. Let us also imagine that you are a courtier."
"You punish me most gently, your highness. I shall not forget my manners again, believe me." He seemed thoroughly subdued.
"Then I shall expect you to remove that horrid black thing. It is positively villainous. You look much better without it."
"Is it an edict or a compliment?" he asked with such deep gravity that she flushed.
"It is neither," she answered. "You don't have to take it off unless you want to—"
"In either event, it is off. You were right. It serves as a partial disguise. I have many enemies and the black patch is a very good friend."
"How perfectly lovely," cried Beverly. "Tell me all about it. I adore stories about feuds and all that."
"Your husband is an American. He should be able to keep you well entertained with blood-and-thunder stories," said he.
"My hus—What do you—Oh, yes!" gasped Beverly. "To be sure. I didn't hear you, I guess. That was rather a severe clap of thunder, wasn't it?"
"Is that also a command?"
"What do you mean?"
"There was no thunderclap, you know."
"Oh, wasn't there?" helplessly.
"The storm is quite past. There is still a dash of rain in the air and the wind may be dying hard, but aside from that I think the noise is quite subdued."
"I believe you are right. How sudden it all was."
"There are several hours between this and dawn, your highness, and you should try to get a little more sleep. Your cushions are dry and—"
"Very well, since you are so eager to get rid of—" began Beverly, and then stopped, for it did not sound particularly regal. "I should have said, you are very thoughtful. You will call me if I sleep late?"
"We shall start early, with your permission. It is forty miles to Ganlook, and we must be half way there by nightfall."
"Must we spend another night like this?" cried Beverly, dolefully.
"Alas, I fear you must endure us another night. I am afraid, however, we shall not find quarters as comfortable as these of the Hawk and Raven."
"I didn't mean to be ungrateful and—er—snippish," she said, wondering if he knew the meaning of the word.
"No?" he said politely, and she knew he did not—whereupon she felt distinctly humbled.
"You know you speak such excellent English," she said irrelevantly.
He bowed low. As he straightened his figure, to his amazement, he beheld an agonizing look of horror on her face; her eyes riveted on the mouth of the cavern. Then, there came an angrier sound, unlike any that had gone before in that night of turmoil.
"Look there! Quick!"
The cry of terror from the girl's palsied lips, as she pointed to something behind him, awoke the mountain man to instant action. Instinctively, he snatched his long dagger from its sheath and turned quickly. Not twenty feet from them a huge cat-like beast stood half crouched on the edge of the darkness, his long tail switching angrily. The feeble light from the depth of the cave threw the long, water-soaked visitor into bold relief against the black wall beyond. Apparently, he was as much surprised as the two who glared at him, as though frozen to the spot. A snarling whine, a fierce growl, indicated his fury at finding his shelter—his lair occupied.