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Title: The Vanished Emperor
Author: Percy Andreae
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Language: English
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Title: The Vanished Emperor
Author: Percy Andreae

*

Author of "Stanhope of Chester," "The Mask and the Man," "The Signora."

*

Published in The Queenslander, Saturday 1 August 1896

*

BOOK I. THE MYSTIFICATION.




CHAPTER I.--A Missing Emperor.

Those whose memories carry them back a few years will not have forgotten
the sensation produced throughout Europe when, in spite of the most
stupendous efforts to keep the facts from becoming public, the news
suddenly leaked out that the young Arminian Emperor, Willibald II., had
mysteriously disappeared.

The first intimation of this extraordinary event was conveyed to the
people of Great Britain, and indeed to the world in general, by a short
paragraph which appeared, printed in bold type, in a well known London
morning paper, to the following effect:--

"Just before going to press, intelligence of a most unprecedented kind
reaches us from Berolingen. His Majesty the Emperor Willibald is
reported to be missing. The greatest consternation prevails at the
Arminian Court and in official circles generally. Stringent measures
have been adopted to prevent the news from spreading in the country.
Last evening's edition of the 'Berolingen Gazette,' in which the first
reference was made to the astounding rumour, has been confiscated, and
the editor has been placed under arrest."

It is almost needless to say that the most credulous among a
sensation-loving public at first received this astonishing paragraph
with a smile of utter incredulity. Anything in the world would have been
more readily believed of the young Emperor, upon whom since his
accession to power, the eyes of all Europe had been fixed, than the fact
of his having thus vanished from men's view. No other potentate was more
constantly in evidence, none more deeply convinced of the paramount
importance to mankind of his presence on earth. To think of him being
calmly reported as missing, for all the world like the ordinary young
person we occasionally read of in the police court news, who 'left her
home on the afternoon of such and such a date, and has not returned
since. When last seen was wearing--&c.,' seemed ludicrous beyond the
power of words to express.

For weeks one of the chief topics of the European Press had been the
contemplated voyage of his Arminian Majesty to the East, the
preparations for which had been carried out on that scale of
magnificence which the public had come to regard as inseparable from the
undertakings of this travel-loving young monarch. The date fixed for the
imperial departure had been unexpectedly postponed on the very eve of
the date itself; but the reasons given for this postponement were so
plausible that no one thought of connecting it with the extraordinary
news contained in the newspaper paragraph referred to.

All incredulity vanished, however, when four-and-twenty hours later
every journal of importance in the United Kingdom not only confirmed the
report with various additional particulars supplied by special
correspondents on the spot, but devoted columns upon columns to the
discussion of the possible political consequences of the event.

"There are many extraordinary features about the occurrence which has
thrown so deep a gloom over Europe," wrote the correspondent of the
'Times' in Berolingen, a few days after the Emperor's disappearance.
"From information which I have been able to gather from a reliable
source, it would seem that the first to discover the unaccountable
absence of his Majesty was his personal valet, Herr Schulzendorf. The
Emperor's sleeping apartment adjoins his private cabinet on the first
floor of the Royal Castle. On entering the room as usual on the morning
of the discovery, and finding it unoccupied, Herr Schulzendorf's first
impression appears to have been that his Majesty had absented himself on
one of those secret expeditions which he has of late been in the habit
of undertaking in company with his private secretary, Doctor Hofer. It
was his Majesty's custom on these occasions to avail himself of a small
staircase leading direct from his bedroom to a private exit in the left
wing of the castle. Herr Schulzendorf's suspicion received apparent
confirmation from the circumstance that Doctor Hofer's bedroom, which is
situated on the same floor as that of the Emperor, was likewise empty;
though the fact that the doctor's bed showed signs of having been
occupied during the night should have aroused his doubts. When, however,
an hour or so later, Doctor Hofer reappeared in the castle, accompanied
by an officer of the Imperial guard, and it was rumoured that he had
been placed under quasi-arrest at the instance of the military
authorities, Herr Schulzendorf's fears were awakened, and he at once
communicated the discovery of the Emperor's absence to the master of the
household. The alarm soon spread throughout the palace, and by noon the
news had been communicated by telegraph to the Sovereigns of the various
States composing the Empire. A council of the Ministry was hastily
summoned to consider the situation, but as to the outcome of its
deliberations nothing has been allowed to transpire. The most
astonishing part of the affair is that no one appears to possess the
slightest clue to the mystery. Doctor Hofer, the imperial secretary, I
am informed, has been subjected to a rigorous examination, but without
any result. The doctor declares himself totally unable to throw any
light upon the matter. The reason for his arrest is wrapped in complete
obscurity. He is, however, a Noverian by birth, his father having been
chaplain-in-ordinary to the late King of Noveria, and he is believed, in
spite of the position he has occupied at the imperial court for the last
twelve months, to be a strong upholder of the claim of the Duke of
Cumbermere to the kingdom annexed by Brandenburg after her successful
war with Austria in 1866. It is even whispered that evidence has come
into the hands of the Arminian Government implicating the imperial
secretary in the recent rebellious manifestations of the Guelph party in
the Noverian province, which appears now to have been of a far more
serious character than the world has been led to suppose. Whatever truth
there may be in this rumour, it is certain that the doctor's arrest
cannot have been a direct consequence of the Emperor's disappearance,
since it occurred some hours before his Majesty's absence was brought to
the knowledge of the military authorities. The consternation of the
latter is overwhelming, and in spite of the official silence maintained
by the Government, it is of course impossible to conceal the fact of the
Emperor's absence from the public at large. It is new nearly a week
since his Majesty was last seen by his subjects, and the most
sensational reports are already flying about the city with regard to his
fate.

"It is rumoured to-day that Prince Henry of Brandenburg, the Emperor's
brother and heir presumptive, has been urged by the Imperial Chancellor
and a few of the Southern Arminian sovereigns to assume the Regency of
the Empire pending his Majesty's return. But his Imperial Highness is
said to have categorically refused to accede to the request, as he
declares that during the lifetime of the Sovereign, or in the absence of
proof of his demise, no one but the Emperor can confer governing powers
either upon him or anyone else. It is thought that, should Prince Henry
persist in maintaining this attitude, serious constitutional
difficulties may arise in the event of the Emperor's prolonged absence
from the helm of affairs."

It was in vain that the fact of the Emperor's disappearance was now
vehemently denied by the semi-official organs of the Arminian
Government. When concealment, at least to the outer world, was no longer
possible, other means of allaying the growing sense of uneasiness in the
political world were resorted to, and it was stated that his Majesty,
with the knowledge of his Ministers, had gone on a political mission of
great delicacy, which, while it necessitated his own personal
supervision, required at the same time that he should preserve the very
strictest incognito.

It was hinted that the much-vexed question of the Emperor's marriage was
at the bottom of the mission, and as there was no matter the solution of
which had been more eagerly and anxiously watched for ever since the
young monarch ascended the throne three years before, the report, on the
face of it, seemed not altogether devoid of probability. But, coming
immediately after the most explicit of official assurances that his
Majesty was safe and sound in his capital, the thinness of this attempt
to hoodwink the public was too apparent, and beyond perhaps a few loyal
souls in Arminia itself no one was deceived by it. As day after day
passed, and the alarming rumours regarding the fate of the Emperor grew
more and more persistent, the excitement in Europe became positively
dangerous, and the Governments showed, by the extraordinary measures
they adopted to calm the public feeling, that they had arrived at that
stage of perplexity which, in common parlance, is defined as being at
one's wits' end.

Perhaps the following few gleanings from the telegraphic intelligence of
the newspaper Press of those days may serve better than anything else to
recall to the reader's mind the grave state of confusion into which
Europe had suddenly been thrown.

The fifteenth edition of the 'Daily Telegraph' of the 12th June--ten
days after the first rumour of the Arminian mystery burst upon the
world--contained the following telegraphic despatches:----

"Berolingen, June 12 (noon).

"The serious disturbances which have been taking place in all parts of
Noveria during the last few weeks have now culminated in a general
rising, which threatens to assume the dimensions of a revolution. The
disappearance of the Arminian Emperor is believed to be connected with
these troubles, and serious fears are entertained that his Majesty, who,
with his usual determination, is believed to have gone incognito to
Noveria to inquire personally into the position of affairs in that
province, has fallen into the hands of the rebel party. These fears are
strengthened by the extraordinary attitude of the Arminian Government,
whose laxness in dealing with the turbulent province is now attributed
to the unfortunate position of the young monarch. Should the rumours
regarding his Majesty's capture prove true, there is little doubt that
the outcome will be a recognition on the part of Arminia of the claim of
the Duke of Cumbermere to the throne of his late father, the deposed
King of Noveria."

"Berolingen (later).

"There can now no longer be any doubt that the report alluded to in one
of my previous despatches, according to which the private secretary of
the Emperor, Doctor Georg Hofer, had been placed under arrest a few
hours after his Majesty's disappearance, is substantially correct. The
mystery attaching to this incident is enhanced by the fact, which now
appears to be established beyond a doubt, that the order for this
official's imprisonment was actually written and signed by the Emperor's
own hand, and that the document was probably the last executed by the
monarch before he vanished. The most startling conjectures are current
regarding the connection existing between the two events. Doctor Hofer,
who has enjoyed the Emperor's confidence in a remarkable degree, is said
to have been a persona gratissima at Court, and his arrest at this
juncture of affairs has revived certain strange stories which were
afloat in society circles here a few months ago, concerning a romantic
attachment supposed to been formed by his Majesty's youngest and
favourite sister for a prominent official of the Emperor's household.

"These rumours were believed by many to be the mere outcome of idle
Court gossip. But recent events have lent them a colour of plausibility,
and it is now generally asserted that the temporary retirement of the
young Princess Margaret from the Court of Berolingen at the beginning of
the year, which was attributed at the time to the state of her Imperial
Highness's health, was in reality due to the peremptory action of his
Majesty himself, whose displeasure the young Princess had incurred by
her persistent refusal to contract a marriage suitable to her
illustrious birth. It is difficult, however, to reconcile this story
with the circumstance that her Imperial Highness returned to Court two
months ago, and has since quite regained her old position in the favour
of her brother. Nor does the arrest of Dr. Hofer, whose name is now
whispered in conjunction with that of the Princess, throw any light
whatsoever upon the Emperor's disappearance. If true, it serves to
complicate the mystery, that is all."

The fourteenth edition of the 'Evening Standard' the following day was
issued with the subjoined principal headings:----

"RUMOURED KIDNAPPING OF THE ARMINIAN EMPEROR.

"THREATENED OUTBREAK OF WAR WITH FRANCONIA.

"Patropolis, June 13.

"The reported capture of the Arminian Emperor by the supporters of the
old Noverian dynasty is generally credited here, and has caused the
greatest excitement throughout Franconia. It will be remembered that,
upon the demise of the late Duke of Brunsbuttel, the succession to the
throne of that State devolved upon his Royal Highness the Duke of
Cumbermere, the Noverian Pretender. The refusal of the Arminian Emperor
to recognise the latter's claim to the Duchy, except on condition that
he formally relinquished all pretensions to the crown of Noveria,
produced a feeling of deep resentment among the still numerous adherents
of the Duke in the Kingdom annexed by Brandenburg after the
Austro-Arminian war of 1866, and the present daring coup is said to be
the result. Whether true or not, it is certain that telegrams from
Berolingen report the rumoured discovery of a conspiracy there, in which
the most trusted confidant of the young Emperor is said to be
implicated."

"Patropolis, Midnight.

"The excitement in Franconia continues alarmingly on the increase. Four
Arminian subjects, one of them a distinguished member of the diplomatic
service, were surrounded and set upon by a crowd of Patropolitans in one
of the principal thoroughfares of the city towards six o'clock this
afternoon. The interference of the police was tardy and half-hearted,
and the unfortunate Arminians were not extricated from their perilous
position until they had suffered considerable ill-usage at the hands of
their assailants. A mob of several hundred people, among whom were a
number of well-dressed citizens, afterwards proceeded to the Arminian
Embassy, in front of which they made a hostile demonstration.

"This is, unfortunately, not the first outburst of popular feeling since
the Arminian complication, and it is but a feeble indication of the
general tendency of the hour. The Press is undoubtedly to blame for
stimulating the public excitement. The trumpet call sounded a week ago
by the extremist organs, has in the last three or four days been taken
up by the more moderate portion of the Press, and an article entitled
'The Revenge in Sight,' which appeared this morning in the semi-official
'Patropolis Gazette,' and which is generally believed to have been
directly inspired by the Government, is probably primarily responsible
for the lamentable occurrence of this afternoon. The development of
affairs in Arminia is being watched here on all hands with indescribable
eagerness, and the sudden activity which is being displayed in naval and
military departments can be taken as an indication of what may be
expected. In spite of all endeavours to maintain secrecy in the matter,
it is known that within the last week large bodies of troops have been
amassed on this side of the Arminian frontier, and representations are
said to have been made on the subject by the Arminian Government.

"Two further important items of news are being eagerly discussed
to-night in the clubs and places of public resort, and, if true, will
tend to render the situation more critical than ever. It is reported on
the one hand that differences of a serious nature have arisen between
the foremost members of the Arminian Empire, and on the other hand that
grave disturbances have broken out on the Russo-Arminian frontier. The
fact that these disturbances are said to have been deliberately provoked
by Russia adds to the gravity of the rumour."

"New York, June 13.

"The extraordinary disappearance of the Emperor Willibald still
continues to absorb public attention here. The 'New York Herald' states
that the Duke of Cumbermere, the Noverian Pretender, sailed for Europe
ten days ago."

"St. Petersburg, June 13.

"The sudden arrival of his Majesty the Czar in the capital yesterday
afternoon from Gatschina is currently reported to have been caused by a
fresh development of the Arminian mystery. A council of Ministers was
held at the Winter Palace late last night under the presidency of the
Czar, and it is stated to-day that a high official from the immediate
entourage of his Majesty started at an early hour this morning on a
secret mission to Patropolis. A Franco-Russian alliance directed against
Arminia is believed to be the immediate object of this mission."

"Berolingen, June 13.

"Considerable differences of opinion are reported to exist between the
heads of the various States which constitute the Arminian Empire as to
the course to be pursued in view of the uncertain fate of the Emperor
Willibald. The Prince Regent of Wittelsbach, it is whispered, has
already taken steps to summon an immediate meeting of the confederate
sovereigns, in order to consult as to the next future. The belief is
that, failing the consent of Prince Henry of Brandenburg, the missing
Emperor's brother and heir presumptive, to assume the temporary
leadership of the Empire, the Wittelsbach monarch will move that a
vice-Emperor be elected from among the sovereign rulers of Arminia. No
mention of this rumour has been allowed to appear in the native Press,
which, as you know, have been enjoined under threat of severe pains and
penalties from referring to the subject of the Emperor's disappearance
under whatsoever guise or pretence. But it is nevertheless already the
common topic of conversion in the capital, where it has caused the
greatest possible consternation. In fact, the feeling among the populace
here is one of growing suspicion, and the situation is regarded by many
as extremely ominous."

"Berolingen, June 14.

"I have ascertained on unquestionable authority that negotiations have
been in progress between the courts of Wittelsbach and Wettinia
respecting the proceedings at the contemplated meeting of the Arminian
sovereigns. The Regent of Wittelsbach makes his appearance at the
meeting conditional upon his election to the Imperial dignity. The King
of Wettinia claims that dignity for himself. The prospect of any
compromise being arrived at is almost hopeless."

I could supplement the above extracts by scores of others of an equally
startling and alarming character. But I purposely refrain from repeating
the mere sensational paragraphs with which the smaller fry of newspapers
regaled their readers, under such heads as:--'Reported Death of the
Emperor Willibald. Finding of the Body.' 'Berolingen in Flames. Rumoured
Massacre of the Arminian Ministers. Return of Prince Ottomarck to the
Head of Affairs,' and others of a similarly extravagant character. They
increased, so far as it was possible to increase, the excitement of the
public; but inasmuch, as they throw no light upon the real course of
events, I may pass them over in silence.

Indeed, it would scarcely be possible to exaggerate the gravity of the
situation. The total absence of any clue whatsoever to the Emperor's
whereabouts seemed to render the prospect of a peaceable solution almost
hopeless. Had he really been kidnapped or spirited away, as some
asserted, with the connivance of certain exalted personages whose aim
was to effect a transfer of the Imperial supremacy in Arminia to another
State? Had he been made the Victim of foul play? Or was his
disappearance Voluntary, and his absence really connected with some deep
political design, the execution of which the youthful monarch, whose
spirit of independence and arbitrary nature had become proverbial since
his accession to the throne, would intrust to no one else?

The Emperor's well-known disregard of the irksome restrictions which
tradition has imposed upon royalty, and the energy with which he was
known to occupy himself personally with apparently paltry matters of
administration that are usually left to the management of subordinate
government officials, had caused him to be looked upon as self-willed
and eccentric. Self-willed he undoubtedly was. Eccentric he was only in
so far as he declined to be bound by what he considered obsolete customs
and useless forms, and claimed the right to exercise his own unfettered
judgment like every ordinary human being, and see with his own eyes and
hear with his own ears that which rulers had hitherto been accustomed to
see and hear with the eyes and ears of their servitors. The world
shrugged its shoulders and giggled at the spectacle of a monarch who
considered himself, not only in posse but in esse, the acting head and
administrator of every department of his Government, and who, on the
principle that every single appointment in the State, from the Prime
Minister or Chancellor down to the poorest village pastor, is held by
virtue of the power of representation vested in the holder of the
office, by the monarch to whom theoretically it belongs, felt himself
called upon, whenever the necessity arose, or the humour seized him, to
temporarily take the place of the substitute and administrate the office
in person.

The world merely saw the novelty of the proceeding, and called it barock
and eccentric. A monarch occupying himself with the minute details of
administration was something quite out of the common; hence the world's
inclination was to laugh. The Emperor Willibald had been known to preach
occasionally in the place of his chaplain, to pose as a teacher in the
school-room, and to deliver judgment on the bench. These and other
eccentricities had been made the subject of endless satires in the
newspaper Press of Europe. Perhaps not unjustly. But those who knew the
young monarch were aware that they were the mere extravagances of a mind
which Nature had endowed with quite exceptional gifts, and with a
firmness of purpose which, to use a colloquial phrase, stuck at nothing.

Personalities like that of the Emperor Willibald, which attract the
public attention in an inordinate degree, are always liable to be
misinterpreted or represented from a one-sided view, and there is no
doubt that the young Emperor suffered in this respect what all in his
position of life are more or less made to suffer. Certain traits of
harshness and want of consideration towards those who had just claim's
upon his respect and gratitude had in the first year of his reign
prejudiced public opinion, especially in England, against him. He had
entered upon a splendid inheritance with nothing to recommend him except
the fact that he was the grandson of a man to whom all Europe had looked
up with feelings of veneration. Young and untried as he was, he took the
position of his great ancestor with an air that seemed to argue a
conviction on his part that, with the Empire that had descended to him,
he had also inherited the personal greatness of the man to whom it's
foundation was owing. There was an absence of modesty and diffidence in
his attitude which at first shocked the world. What had been natural and
becoming in the grandsire seemed arrogant and unbecoming in the
grandson. The one had claimed pre-eminence by virtue of mighty deeds and
a life full of grand and exceptional achievements. The other asserted
the same claim; but he did so as one who has yet to show himself
possessed of those qualities which alone render the claim justifiable.
The young Emperor was conscious that he possessed those qualities. The
world had to learn that he was not mistaken. When it did so its opinion
changed slowly but steadily, and in time the disapprobation with which
it had at first regarded the self-reliance and assurance of the youthful
ruler made way for a feeling of surprised interest, which deepened
quickly into a respect as sincere, if not as profound, as that which had
been felt for his illustrious grandfather.

Thus, in small things as well as in great, success is, and always will
be, the criterion of merit. Whether it be a just criterion or not, the
fact remains, and is incontrovertible, that he who succeeds deserves
success, and he who fails apparently does not.

If I have dwelt at this length upon facts which may be assumed to be
known to everyone who is not totally ignorant of contemporary history,
the reader must not imagine that I therefore presume to class him among
the historically ignorant. The recapitulation of these details was
necessary to the full comprehension of events which are no less
historical, though now for the first time to be chronicled; events which
it has been my privilege to learn of from one who may claim to possess a
more intimate knowledge of the subject than any other man living, not
excepting even his Majesty the Emperor Willibald of Arminia himself.




CHAPTER II--Partly Diplomatic.


I am alluding, of course, to Sir John Templeton.

That the famous old diplomatist should have been one of the first
persons whose opinion on the extraordinary mystery that was agitating
the world was consulted by those most concerned in it, will scarcely
surprise anyone who is familiar with the history of the more prominent
European courts during the last few decades. There are those, however,
who to this day assert that Sir John Templeton at the outset grievously
misjudged the case, and miscalculated its political effects. Perhaps he
did. But, then, what mortal possesses the gift of looking into the
future? There is little doubt that, in its earlier stages, Sir John was
inclined to treat the Arminian mystery with a certain amount of
indifference. He ridiculed the notion, which gradually became universal,
that the Emperor's disappearance was the result of an intrigue of a
phenomenal kind, the like of which history had never seen. But, whatever
his views on the cause of that singular event were, its consequences
could not fail to impress him in the same way as they did every one
else.

Indeed, within a very short time people had ceased to marvel at the
strangeness of the thing, or to seek for its explanation. The question
now brought home to every mind was no longer the fate of an Emperor, but
of an Empire: for Arminia was leaderless, and, worse still, was torn by
inner dissensions, for which there seemed no hope of a solution, and
which, coupled with the threatening attitude of the excitable
Franconians, rendered the situation daily more and more critical. Since
her successful great war with her hereditary foe in the west, Arminia
stood, after Great Britain, at the head of the European Great Powers,
and upon the maintenance of this powerful position depended in a large
measure the peace of the world. Practically a confederation of a number
of States under one supreme head, the Arminian Empire formed so
tremendous a factor in the equipoise of Europe, that the merest
suspicion touching her stability was to make every statesman on our side
of the globe tremble. And it was this inner stability which was now
threatened.

Unfortunately, it was not until matters political had reached their
climax of confusion that official steps were reluctantly taken by the
Government of Arminia to enlist the services of Sir John Templeton in
unravelling the mystery that underlay it all. The reason for this
reluctance is not far to seek. Sir John had on more than one occasion
passed some rather severe strictures upon the Arminian authorities,
whose action in silencing the Press on the subject that was exciting all
Europe he pronounced a grievous blunder. His words had not, unnaturally
given considerable umbrage in Berolingen; nor, if report may be
believed, were his Arminian Majesty's advisers over well pleased at the
fact that one of the first to consult the old diplomatist and invite him
to Berolingen was the Dowager Empress of Arminia, the august relative of
our own gracious Sovereign, through whom her Majesty had conveyed her
desire that Sir John Templeton should place his services at the disposal
of the Arminian Government.

Nevertheless, it is not a little significant of the weight that was
attached to Sir John's opinions that Count Jadgberg, the Arminian
Ambassador at the Court of Vienna, should have deemed it expedient to
seek an interview with him in order to vindicate the course taken by his
Government.

The account of this interview, which I have obtained from Count Jadgberg
himself, is of sufficient interest, in view of subsequent developments,
to be briefly recorded here.

"I explained at some length to Sir John Templeton," his Excellency says,
in the memoir he has been good enough to draw up for me, "that in acting
as they did, the Imperial Government were prompted by certain reasons,
the cogency of which it was impossible to assail. The Emperor had
undoubtedly on several recent occasions expressed his intention of
proceeding in person to Noveria, and investigating matters in the
turbulent province with his own eyes. Assuming, therefore, not
unreasonably, as the authorities did, that his Majesty, in defiance of
all prudence, and in spite of the urgent representations of his
advisers, had ventured incognito and unattended into the very camp of
the rebel party, it of course became their first care to prevent any
knowledge of this dangerous proceeding from reaching the public. Indeed,
the mere fact of the Emperor's disappearance, had it come to the ears of
the Noverian leaders, would in itself have sufficed to put them on their
guard, and open their eyes to the tremendous possibilities involved."

All these arguments, however, failed to convince Sir John.

"I have followed the career of your illustrious Sovereign with the
profoundest interest, ever since his accession to the throne of
Arminia," he said, "and the estimate I have formed of his character is
so utterly irreconcilable with the foolhardy act which is now attributed
to him, that nothing of ocular proof will convince me of it. The Emperor
may be headstrong, and venturesome even to the verge of eccentricity.
But, coupled with his resoluteness and self-reliance, he possesses two
other sterling qualities, whose influence so far has been discernible in
all his actions. Those qualities are a deep earnestness of purpose and a
grasp of mind such as is rarely met with in so young a man, and more
rarely still in one of his Majesty's impulsive temperament. Moreover, if
the report of those may be trusted who are both competent and impartial
judges, he has already given proof of considerable military genius.
Compare these facts, then, with the extraordinary story we are now
called upon to believe: that of a monarch staking, not only his liberty
and his life, but the fortune, ay, the very existence, of a mighty
Empire, upon an adventure as foolish and useless in its conception as
perilous in its execution. Either the facts I have mentioned are true,
or the story is true; but not both.'

"Have you formed any definite theory of your own?" I asked.

Sir John shook his head.

"There is nothing I avoid more carefully than the danger of forming
theories," he said. "But in this instance the conclusion to be formed
from the facts is so obvious that it would be idle for me to pretend to
shut my eyes to it."

"To what facts do you allude?" I inquired.

"To the facts relating to the Emperor's private secretary, Doctor
Hofer," Sir John replied. "This man, it is admitted, the last person who
conversed with his Majesty before he retired to rest on the night of his
disappearance. He possessed the Emperor's confidence in a remarkable
degree, I believe; was, in fact, more of a friend than a servant to his
Imperial master."

"Doctor Hofer," I said, "if I may say so, did at one time exercise a
certain influence over his Majesty. But, it is certain that this
influence had not been maintained during the last two or three months."

"Which means that of late it had been observed that a certain coldness
had sprung up between the Emperor and his friend."

"It is believed," I rejoined, "that Doctor Hofer had for some reason
incurred his Majesty's displeasure."

"But in spite of this he was never removed from his post?"

"No."

"Nor did he cease to enjoy its exceptional privileges, such as the right
of entering his Majesty's presence unannounced and at all hours?"

"I believe not."

"Yet the very last act of the Emperor," Sir John remarked, "was to issue
an order which virtually deprived Doctor Hofer of his liberty."

"His Majesty's commands were that Doctor Hofer should be strictly
watched, and not permitted to leave the capital under whatsoever
pretence."

"And to whom was this order addressed?"

"To the general in command of the garrison of Berolingen."

"And it was to Doctor Hofer himself to whom his Majesty intrusted its
safe delivery?"

"I gave a silent affirmative."

"So that," Sir John continued, "on the eve of the Emperor's
disappearance Doctor Hofer actually received a sealed document from his
Majesty's hands containing an order for his own arrest; and being
ignorant of its purport, delivered it to the general commanding the
garrison, to whom it was addressed?"

Again I bowed a silent affirmative.

"There was, I understand, no reason given for the adoption of this
extraordinary measure?" Sir John asked.

"None," I replied.

"It may be inferred, then, that it is in some way connected with the
cause of his Majesty's absence."

"The inference is perhaps natural."

"The inference is the only possible one," Sir John said.

"Pardon my curiosity," I now observed. "But if you utterly scout the
notion that the Emperor's disappearance is connected with the dynastic
movements in Noveria, which are, after all, important to engage his
Majesty's serious attention, to what still more important motive is it
possible to assign a step which has jeopardised not only the stability
of our Empire, but the peace of Europe itself?"

"Your question," Sir John answered, "is based on three grave
misapprehensions. Firstly, I have not said that his Majesty's absence is
unconnected with the troubles in Noveria; on the contrary, I incline to
the belief that such a connection is highly probable, only I think not
in the manner supposed by your Government. Secondly, you will remember
that I have emphatically expressed it as my opinion that the European
complications which have followed the Emperor's action are not due to
that action itself, but to the arbitrary construction placed upon it by
his Majesty's own advisers. Thirdly, you start from the assumption that
the motive of his Majesty's step must necessarily be one of vast
political importance. It may or it may not be so. To argue that it needs
must be so is to fatally prejudge the case. Having said this, I can only
answer your question itself by saying that I am for the present as
ignorant of the real solution of the mystery as your Excellency is."

"Then how, in the name of common sense," I exclaimed, "would you propose
to set to work to discover it?"

"By making myself acquainted with the only man who is apparently able to
tell me what I want to know," Sir John answered.

"You allude to this Doctor Hofer," I said. "But do you imagine, that he
would be complaisant enough to gratify your curiosity? You do not know
the man, Sir John. Doctor Hofer is in many respects an exceptional
character, and certainly not one who would be likely to tell you any
more than suits him."

"What you say is deeply interesting," Sir John replied. "It is not,
however, what a man tells me, but what he does not tell me, that is the
most instructive information he conveys, and in this respect, it seems,
I might rely upon finding this Doctor Hofer unusually communicative."

From the tenor of this conversation it is hardly to be doubted that
Count Jadgberg, either on his own account, or upon instructions from
Berolingen, had used this of sounding Sir John Templeton's views as to
the best method of solving the difficulty in which the Government of
Arminia were placed. It required, however, the pressure of personal
influence, as well as that of circumstances, to induce the Arminian
Government actually to invite the cooperation of the astute old diplomat
in grappling with that difficulty. That such personal influence was
brought to bear upon the Arminian Ministers from many illustrious
quarters has already been intimated. What may have proved, however, of
greater weight with them than the advice of foreign potentates, was the
personal intervention of the great ex-Chancellor of the Empire, Prince
Ottomarck, whose dismissal from office twelve months previously by the
spirited young Emperor, though a foregone conclusion to those who were
acquainted with the characters both of the master and the servant, had
caused so immense a sensation in Europe.

Through King Albert of Wettinia, the truest champion of Arminian unity,
and the staunch admirer of the great statesman who was its political
founder, the Prince had used his utmost endeavours to prevail upon his
successor in office to secure the services of Sir John Templeton.

"There are circumstances," he wrote to King Albert, "which all the
resources of ordinary statecraft are inadequate to cope with, and it is
time that the Imperial Government should recognise the fact that such a
moment has arrived in the affairs of our common fatherland. It is my
firm conviction that, until the fate of his Majesty the Emperor has been
ascertained, nothing on earth can avert the disastrous consequences of
the present deplorable deadlock; and I know of no man better fitted to
undertake this difficult task, and possibly rectify the serious blunders
which have already been committed, than Sir John Templeton, who, I am
aware, needs no words of mine to recommend him to your Majesty."

What influence the opinion of Prince Ottomarck may have had upon Count
Capricius, the Arminian Imperial Chancellor, I am, of course, not in a
position to say. What I do know is that this letter, which was promptly
forwarded to the Government in Berolingen by the Wettinian monarch, bore
the date of 12th June, and that on 15th June Sir John Templeton left
Vienna for Berolingen.

There is nothing I regret more deeply than that just during these
exciting days I happened to be absent from my post in Vienna, and thus
missed the opportunity of following events, as I was so fond of doing,
through the medium, as it were, of old Sir John's mind. That it would
have been of more than usual interest to me to learn his views on the
situation just then the reader will readily gather from the fact that I
was at that very moment myself on the way to the Arminian capital for
purposes of which, personal though they be, I am compelled to make brief
mention here.

The fact is that the great English daily journal for which I had for
many years acted as occasional correspondent, had offered me the post of
its permanent correspondent in Berolingen, and it was with the object of
discussing this for me momentous offer that I had obtained three months'
leave of absence from my diplomatic post in Vienna and repaired to
London. The result of my visit was that I agreed to act as temporary
representative of the journal in Berolingen during the term of my
official furlough, leaving the question of my permanent engagement to be
settled at a later date.

Before I left London I had an opportunity of discussing the situation in
general, and my immediate destination in particular, with our late
correspondent in Berolingen, whose retirement at this particular
juncture had been brought about by his contravention of the new Arminian
Press laws, which made the despatch of news to foreign countries subject
to the sanction of the censor.

The information I gathered from him, though full of interest from my
point of view as a journalist, was surprisingly meagre in those details
respecting the actual question at issue, which alone can claim the
attention of the reader of this history. Indeed, beyond the facts
already plainly indicated in the telegraphic despatches which I have
cited, all I learned in this latter regard was that the rumour of the
Emperor Willibald's capture by the so-called Guelph party in Noveria,
though by no means supported by anything resembling positive proof, had
a strong basis of probability. That his Majesty's love of adventure, and
perhaps his tendency to trust no eye and no judgment but his own, had
led him in this instance to play the part of his own detective, and thus
place himself in a position of great peril, appeared in my humble
opinion to be certain. It was the only plausible explanation of his
strange disappearance, and, according as it did with that which was
known of his independence of character and indomitable spirit, there is
little wonder that a certain amount of credence should have been
attached to it.

What, however, appeared to me too extravagant to believe was the alleged
complicity of the Duke of Cumbermere in this daring attempt to restore
by force of arms the kingdom his late father had forfeited twenty years
previously, when he blindly cast in his lot with Austria in that
country's unfortunate war with Brandenburg. On this point indeed, our
late correspondent would express no decided opinion.

"The question is a difficult one to answer," he said. "The Duke is
certainly reported upon pretty good authority to have sailed for Europe
a fortnight ago, and his destination under present circumstances can
scarcely be doubtful. If, therefore, the Emperor has placed himself in
the power of the Noverian rebels, his Royal Highness practically holds
the key of the entire position, and can dictate almost any terms he
likes. On the other hand, however, there is every reason to believe that
his Majesty has for some time been favourably inclined towards an
amicable settlement of the Noverian question, and there are indications
which tend to show that he has been conducting personal negotiations to
this end with the Duke of Cumbermere. That a certain influence has been
at work for several years to bring about this desired result is beyond
all question. It is within your own knowledge, no doubt, that his
Majesty's private secretary and, until very recently at least, his
trusted confidante, is a Noverian and a stanch adherent of the late
Royal house."

"You allude, of course, to the famous Doctor Hofer."

"Precisely."

"But was not this very man arrested by order of the Emperor himself at
the moment of his Majesty's disappearance?"

"So it is reported. The terms of this arrest, however, are, to say the
least, somewhat extraordinary, since they merely restrict the Doctor's
liberty to move about at will, excepting within the precincts of the
Imperial palace. But let us leave the fact of this arrest, which no one
pretends to understand, out of account for the present. What we are
discussing is the influence which this man has undoubtedly exercised
over the mind and the views of his Imperial master. As an example of the
tendency of this influence I need only adduce one incident, which,
though it caused at the time considerable astonishment in Arminian
political circles, naturally attracted little attention abroad. Three
months ago the Emperor suddenly declared his intention of reinstating
the son of the former Prime Minister of the late King of Noveria, Baron
von Arnold, a young man of pronounced Noverian sympathies, and believed
to be one of the most active agents in the employ of the Duke of
Cumbermere, in the possessions which his father had forfeited to the
crown of Brandenburg. In spite of the urgent remonstrances of the
Government, who foresaw the imprudence of such a step, his Majesty
persisted in carrying out this spontaneous act of grace, and Baron von
Arnold returned to Arminia shortly afterwards, and quietly re-entered
into possession of his family estates."

"And is it believed that this generous act on his Majesty's part was due
to the influence of Doctor Hofer?"

"The conclusion is inevitable. What increases the strangeness of the
incident, however, is the fact that, with the return of young Von Arnold
from exile, the influence of Dr. Hofer at the Arminian court commenced
to wane, and there is little doubt that, within a very short time, an
estrangement ensued between the Emperor and his confidant, which, if we
may credit the official version, culminated on the day of his Majesty's
disappearance, in the complete disgrace and the arrest of the latter."

"But would not this tend to prove," I remarked, "that the Emperor had
discovered the existence of some plot in which this man Hofer was
concerned?"

"Very true. On the face of it that appears to me the most plausible
explanation. Court gossip, however, throws a very different light upon
the history of Doctor Hofer's disgrace. There are two versions current,
either of which, if correct, would reduce the whole affair to the level
of a mere court intrigue. According to the first of these two versions
it would seem that Doctor Hofer had prevailed upon the Emperor to grant
an amnesty to Baron von Arnold for selfish reasons, inasmuch, namely, as
the young Baron, it appears, was the affianced husband of Hofer's
sister, a young girl said to be possessed of very great beauty. Those
who know the Emperor are aware that he never forgives an act of
deception, and the discovery that he had been thus practised upon by one
whom he had honoured with his confidence and friendship would indeed
more than sufficiently account for what has happened. Unfortunately for
the probability of this story, however, there is every reason to believe
that, if Doctor Hofer had been inclined to use his position at court for
the purpose of self-advancement, the extraordinary favour with which the
Emperor has always treated him would have enabled him to gratify his
ambition long ago, and in a manner very different from that which is now
attributed to him. But his bitterest enemies cannot accuse him of
pursuing selfish ends. Far from seeking advancement, he has, on the
contrary, always studiously avoided it, contenting himself with a
position which, if influential has certainly not been productive of any
undue benefit to himself."

"That disposes, then, of the first version," I said. "And the second?"

"Unfortunately it is scarcely more satisfactory than the first. You have
heard, no doubt, like the rest of the world, of the strained relations
which existed some months ago between the Emperor and his second
youngest sister, the Princess Margaret. The cause was no secret. The
Emperor wished to bestow his sister's hand upon the heir to one of the
most powerful thrones in Europe, and met with a refusal on the part of
the Princess which was as determined as it was unexpected. His Majesty,
as you are aware, is not accustomed to brook opposition, even from those
for whom he has a tenderness, and the firm stand made by her Imperial
Highness, who was his Majesty's especial favourite, is said to have led
to a complete rupture between the brother and sister, culminating at
last in the banishment of the latter from court. The Princess is
reported at the time to have declared her intention never to marry at
all. Whether true or not, rumour at once busied itself with the reason
for such a determination in one whose attractions are universally
acknowledged to be of a very superior kind. It was whispered that an
unfortunate attachment for a certain person of quite inferior rank, who
held a confidential position at the Imperial court, was the real cause
of the Princess's wish to remain single, and among those pointed out as
the probable object of this attachment was his Majesty's private
secretary, Doctor Hofer. The gossip subsided after a while, as gossip
usually does, but it has been revived within the last fortnight, and the
quarrel between the Emperor and His favourite sister is now asserted by
some to have a distinct bearing upon the subsequent disgrace of his
Majesty's secretary. Unfortunately, again, for the upholders of this
version, there is the fact that, only a few weeks prior to the
disappearance of the Emperor and the mysterious arrest of Doctor Hofer,
the banishment of the princess was revoked, and a reconciliation between
the illustrious parties to the quarrel took place, which circumstances,
as you will readily admit, is scarcely compatible with the theory
advanced by the court wiseacres in explanation of her Imperial
Highness's enforced retirement from the capital."

All this was of course deeply interesting to me, but at the same time
extremely puzzling.

"It is strange," I said, "that, in whatever direction one looks in this
mysterious business, the only result one obtains is a negative one. It
is like wandering in a maze of blind alleys. There seems to be no single
affirmative fact, if I may so call it, to start from in investigating
the matter."

"Just so," my companion rejoined. "It is that which emphasises the
seriousness of the situation, and you may believe me, in spite of all
outward appearances, affairs look nowhere more serious than in the
Arminian capital itself. There is a savour of revolution in the very
atmosphere one breathes there."

"But surely," I said, "it is not by means of a revolution that the
people of Berolingen can hope to rescue their Emperor from the hands of
the Noverians."

My informant shrugged his shoulders.

"A populace does not reason," he said. "The people's confidence in their
Government has entirely vanished. The attempts of the authorities to
conceal what everyone knows to be the truth, coupled with his rumoured
meeting of the Arminian princes in the capital to deliberate on the
situation, have caused the most extravagant suspicions. What their
outcome will be I will not venture to foreshadow. But you will have an
opportunity of seeing and judging for yourself."

And so indeed I had.

As I lay in bed that night, previous to my departure for the Arminian
capital, ruminating on the amazing change which had taken place in the
aspect of political affairs throughout the entire civilised world within
a short fortnight, in consequence of the disappearance of one solitary
mortal from the scene of action, I could not help dwelling upon the
extraordinary instability of our human affairs generally.

Let the reader recapitulate for himself the stupendous mass of events
which had crowded into that comparatively brief span of time.

It was on the 31st of May that the first rumour of the Arminian
Emperor's disappearance reached the public through the medium of a
London morning paper. Within a few hours the report confirmed on
indubitable evidence by every newspaper of note in Europe, and its truth
maintained in spite of the most strenuous denials issued by the Arminian
Government. A wave of the greatest conceivable excitement instantly
passed over the world. The Cabinets of every State in Europe were
hastily summoned to deliberate on the situation and its possible
consequences. Alas, to how little purpose! Within ten days, Franconia
had practically mobilised her army, frontier troubles of the gravest
kind had arisen between Arminia and her colossal neighbour in the East,
apprehension had seized the mind, and was guiding the actions of every
statesman in Europe; in short, complications of the most alarming nature
had set in on all sides. Troops were being mustered, armies
strengthened, and other military measures adopted by every power who had
any interests to protect--and what power has not? In Arminia itself
differences and dissensions were reported to have broken out between the
component sovereign members of the huge Empire, a rebellion had suddenly
taken place in Noveria, and Berolingen, with its population of over a
million souls, was on the eve of a terrible revolution.

Viewed calmly and dispassionately, even at the distance of time which
has since elapsed, this rapid metamorphosis seems to us now almost
incredible. Yet, when I say that the picture is not overdrawn nor
exaggerated in one single particular, I do so knowing that the testimony
of every contemporary observer will bear out the truth of the assertion.

Doubtless, history records more than one instance of international
complications as intricate and menacing as those we are now dealing
with, but assuredly none in which the source, the primary cause, of the
complications was of so strangely simplex a nature. The conflicting
political interests of the great powers of the earth, to reconcile and
adjust which the combined intelligence of the most eminent statesman and
diplomatists frequently spends itself in vain, have before now set the
world ablaze, and brought untold misery and disaster upon suffering
humanity. But here was a case of a different, a totally unprecedented
kind. Not the aims and ends of scheming statecraft, not the clash and
the entanglement of irreconcilable interests of State and State, nor the
colliding angry passions of rival races, were the primary elements of
the gathering storm. Its origin was assignable to one single fact, one
solitary event, upon the elucidation of which it depended whether war or
peace, hope or despair, calm or tempest, was in store for mankind. In a
word, the fate of the whole civilised world hung upon the answer to the
one problem, the terribly simple problem: What had become of the
Arminian Emperor?




BOOK II. COMPLICATION.




CHAPTER III.--Imperial Berolingen.

If it merely required a relation of my own personal experiences to place
the reader in possession of the remarkable facts of the present story,
my task would be light and easy indeed. The circumstance, however, that
I happened at this juncture to be sent to Berolingen as special
correspondent of one of the most distinguished English newspapers, and
that I thus had the good fortune to live, so to speak, in the thick of
subsequent events, is a coincidence which, though it enables me to
supply from my own stock of knowledge a good many details bearing upon
the subject matter of these pages, does not place me in a position to
deal as an historian with that subject matter itself.

I wish the reader, before I proceed, clearly to grasp this fact. The
collection of those more or less disjointed records which form the
really historical part of my story has been a labour of some years, to
which I have devoted no little energy and persistency, and for which I
may justly claim some recognition. Without my experiences, gathered both
in London and in Berolingen, I should perhaps not have been able so to
piece these records together, supplementing, where needful, those
general details which they lack, as to produce a perfectly complete and
consecutive narrative. On the other hand, were it not for the main
facts, for which I am indebted to other sources, the account of my own
experiences, pure and simple, would possess no more interest, and
certainly no more value, than the reminiscences of any fairly able
journalist whom chance has placed as an eye-witness in the midst of
events of an unusually stirring character. It is the combination of
these two distinct sources of information which qualifies me to write
this history, and it is this combination, then, with all its necessary
drawbacks, which I must ask the reader to bear with patiently.

Having thus, as I venture to think, satisfactorily explained my
position, I will now proceed to lay before the reader that part of my
material, the true source of which he must use his own skill and
ingenuity to discover.

Those who can claim even the slightest acquaintance with Berolingen are
aware that what is known there as the Royal Castle, a huge pile
remarkable rather for its squareness than its beauty, marks, as it were,
the boundary between the older portion of the city, which extends hence
towards the north and the east, and comprises a considerable number of
industrial suburbs, with their legion of factories and storehouses, in
its wide area, and the more modern extension of the town, which covers a
still larger area in the west and south. In the immediate vicinity of
the Castle stands the great dome, and at a somewhat greater distance,
arrayed, seemingly, without any regard for symmetrical order, upon a
comparatively small space, there are the museums and picture galleries,
the Hall of Glory, with its piled-up mass of trophies, and the
University buildings. Opposite the latter, to the left, stands the Grand
Opera House, flanked by two royal palaces. One of these, once known as
the palace of the Crown Prince, is now the Berolingen residence of her
Majesty the Empress Mother; whilst the other, once the regular abode of
his late Majesty the Emperor Willibald the Victorious, and facetiously
termed 'the chest of drawers' by the Berolingen wits, on account of its
resemblance in shape to that useful article of furniture, has since the
decease of that glorious monarch been left untouched by his successor
for reasons of historic piety.

From here the world-famed Grand Avenue of Limes stretches for
considerably over half-a-mile towards the historical Arch of Victory,
forming as fine a boulevard as any capital in Europe, not excepting
Patropolis itself, can boast of. Beyond lies the aristocratic, or at
least wealthier, western quarter of Berolingen, with its unique forest
park, its shady avenues, canal-walks, and villa residences. But it is
within the immediate precincts of the great alleys of limes that royal
and official Berolingen lives and breathes. Here is the centre of the
great metropolis, where the world of fashion congregates. Here the
people from every quarter, north, south, east, and west, assemble in
their hundreds of thousands when court pageants or military displays are
expected, for the numerous palaces of the different members of the Royal
and Imperial house are all situated within a ten minutes' radius of this
centre, and whether court processions or military reviews, royal
receptions or departures, or any other State functions, form the
programme of the day's performance, both start and finish can only be
witnessed on this spot, and nowhere else.

At the time we are speaking of, that is to say, two days after the
conversation recorded in the preceding chapter, there was little in the
aspect of this portion of the city to denote the existence of any
unusual popular excitement. In the great Square in front of the
principal entrance to the Royal Castle the crowd of gazers who always
idle about here in anticipation of catching a glimpse of its illustrious
occupant was perhaps a little larger than usual, and the mounted police
stationed at all points and corners were obliged to display somewhat
more than their ordinary energy in enforcing the regulation which
prohibited the gathering of groups in the public thoroughfares. But the
demeanour of the people was on the whole extremely orderly, and beyond a
certain look of anxiety on some faces, and an air of vacant curiosity,
mingled, however, with a peculiar expression of distrust on others, the
keenest observer could have detected no sign of that spirit of
dissatisfaction and resentment which, according to those accustomed to
gauge the state of the public pulse, pervaded the town.

In the Castle itself, into which it will now become my privilege to
introduce the reader, everything wore its usual tranquil appearance. In
the various departments of the Imperial household work was proceeding
with its wonted clockwork regularity. In the immense vestibule leading
from the inner courtyard to the Imperial State apartments on the ground
floor of the central building, a host of lacqueys in their gorgeous
liveries were to be seen solemnly pacing up and down between the statues
and vases with which the place abounded, or standing at attention near
the grand entrance itself, as if expecting every moment to hear the cry
of the sentry in the courtyard without heralding the approach of the
Imperial carriage, and to see the guard stationed in the gateway
opposite turn out and present arms as his Majesty drove up and alighted
at the entrance.

No one could have guessed from the empty expression on their stolid
countenances that they had been waiting in this vain expectation for
over a fortnight. Carriages, it is true, had driven up in considerable
numbers during that period, but their occupants, princely or otherwise,
had rarely alighted, and the duties of the be-liveried gentlemen in the
vestibule had consisted all this time in the mere reiteration to these
would-be visitors, of the now well-worn phrase, specially constructed
and issued from the office of the Imperial Chief Court Marshal, "that
his Majesty would receive no one."

The words were harmless, and deceived nobody. They simply meant that the
situation, which was no longer a secret to anyone, remained unaltered;
and so they were received, with a sigh by some, with resignation by
others, and deferentially yet sadly by one and all.

The grand staircase which mounts from the entrance hall to the first
floor of the main body of the Castle leads to the principal staterooms,
amongst which the two most important are the great banqueting hall, in
which several hundred guests can be seated with ease, and the throne
room, a chamber of colossal dimensions, used only on extraordinary
occasions when State ceremonies of a specially formal character are
enacted. Immediately at the top of the staircase a spacious corridor
branches off to the left wing of the Castle, where the Emperor's private
apartments are situated. These, although most sumptuously furnished, are
comparatively few in number, consisting, indeed, merely of three large
rooms, the middle one of which, approached through an ante-room, is his
Majesty's private audience chamber, and the two others respectively the
Emperor's study and his sleeping apartment, the latter immediately
adjoining the study.

Besides these three rooms, however, which are exclusively reserved for
the Emperor's own use there is a large library, separated only by a
small closet from the Imperial study, and leading on the other side to a
further set of two rooms, which constitute--or rather constituted at the
period in question--the official abode of the Imperial secretary, Doctor
Georg Hofer.

Even in this portion of the Castle, the description of which must
suffice the reader for the present, there was nothing in the general
appearance of things to indicate the occurrence of that extraordinary
event which was engrossing the minds of the outer world. The Emperor's
apartments were empty, it is true; but for all the evidence to the
contrary his Majesty might have been out riding or driving, or holding a
review of his troops, or surprising the garrison of the capital--a
pastime much affected by his Majesty--or, in short, engaged on any other
business necessitating a temporary absence from home. The approach to
the Imperial apartments was as carefully guarded as ever. The
ante-chamber was occupied by the Imperial aide-de-camp on duty, as if at
any moment the call-bell from the inner apartment might sound and summon
him to the presence of his illustrious master; whilst outside, the usual
array of orderlies stood about, ready to hasten off with commands or
despatches at the shortest notice. Chamberlains and other household
dignities were continually passing to and fro between the ante-room and
the various official departments of the Castle; stalwart lacqueys stood
stiff and erect at their posts before the door to the Imperial chambers
and along the passage leading to it. In a word, the scene generally
presented as animated an appearance as it had ever done at the best of
times.

In one of the rooms adjoining the library, the situation of which I have
described above, sat, at this moment, two men engaged in earnest
conversation. One of these, a tall, wiry figure, slightly bent with age,
yet in every limb still expressive of a vitality that would have
arrested attention even in a younger man, was Sir John Templeton
himself. The other, a man of commanding presence, with a handsome,
though somewhat stern cast of features, who was seated at a large
writing-table strewn with a mass of books, papers, and official
documents, was no other than the famous Imperial private secretary,
Doctor Georg Hofer.

The gossip concerning this man and his relations to the missing Emperor
will have awakened sufficient curiosity in the mind of the reader to
justify a somewhat more detailed description of this interesting
personage than that already given.

As regards his age, he might have been anything between 25 and 35. His
head was rather round than oval in shape, but his face had a marked
individuality of its own in all its parts. Each feature was sharply
defined and well-proportioned, the nose tending somewhat to the
aquiline, the forehead high and arched, the eyebrows finely curved, and
the lips strong and determined. His hair was of a dark brown colour,
matching with that of the beard, which he wore slightly pointed. By his
dress one could not fail to recognise in him a man accustomed to move in
circles where fashion is a power, if not a deity. His attire was
faultless, yet quiet, and in the latter respect accorded with his
general demeanour, which was grave and reserved, almost excessively so
in one of his years.

This picture, however, so far as it goes, conveys but a slight idea of
the real character of the man. This was not stamped on any feature; it
revealed itself in the eyes alone. No one could have met the firm,
dignified expression in these eyes without being instantly struck with
the sense of power which spoke in them; ay, and something even beyond
that--a certain subtle influence difficult to define, but which few can
resist, the influence of a mind concentrated in itself, like that of the
magnetiser, who by the sheer force of his will can direct the thoughts
and guide the actions of his less gifted fellow-mortals.

This, then, was the man who, if report could be believed, had succeeded
in accomplishing what the greatest statesman of the century, if not of
all times, had failed to accomplish; that is to say, to gain an
ascendency over the strong-willed young monarch who sat on the throne of
Arminia. True, to all outward appearance this success had not been
lasting. Even now, he who had once been the powerful favourite, sought
after by many, envied by all, was to all intents and purposes a
prisoner; confined in a palace, indeed, yet none the less a captive;
treated with consideration and respect, yet not free to move at will, to
come and go when and where he liked. And more strange than all this, the
Emperor, whose friendship he had succeeded in gaining--he alone of the
hundreds who had striven for it, and intrigued for it, and fought for
it--the master to whom he apparently had known how to make himself
indispensable, had vanished completely from view, as if suddenly removed
from the face of the earth.

Here was a curious reversal of fortunes. Those who had but yesterday
sued for his favour, the very Ministers and generals who had eyed him
with that keen distrust which is born of fear and jealousy, and which no
smiles can effectually conceal, were now his gaolers, responsible for
his safe-keeping, but responsible also for his safety and wellbeing.
They knew, or they fancied they knew, that he alone had enjoyed the
confidence of their Sovereign; a misplaced confidence, of course, they
thought, as, indeed, what monarch's confidence is not misplaced in the
opinion of those upon whom it has not been bestowed? Perhaps even, in
spite of the suspicions of the Berolingen populace, they were inwardly
convinced that the key to the mystery which baffled them and threatened
to spread disaster throughout the length and breadth of the world was in
this very man's possession. And yet they felt their hands tied, their
actions fettered, by the sovereign commands of the Emperor himself, whom
to disobey, even with the most loyal intentions, meant to offend and
displease for ever. What if it all were but a feint to try that spirit
of blind obedience which the young autocrat demanded from all who served
him? The favourite had fallen, but might he not rise again? He had lost
the influence that had once been his, but might he not regain it? After
all, he was perhaps only checked, not overthrown, rebuffed, but not
discarded. In short, the position was altogether anomalous. The history
of royal favourites afforded no parallel instance from which some
conclusion as to the true meaning of the riddle might have been drawn.

The man who now sat opposite the object of all these doubts and fears
seemed as unconscious of them as he was unmoved by the evident air of
haughty reserve with which his companion treated him. Different as they
were in external appearance, these two men were strangely well-matched
in respect of those finer qualities of the mind in which man's real
strength lies; and they felt it, too, the one proudly, suspiciously, the
other with undisguised satisfaction, and with an interest as keen as
that of the champion who for once meets a foeman of his own peculiar
stamp.

Sir John Templeton, true to the principle from which he rarely deviated,
that, although facts concerning the action of men may be conveniently
learned at second hand, no reliable opinion as to the motives underlying
them can be formed from such intermediary courses, had lost no time,
after his arrival in Berolingen, in seeking out the one man whom he
believed to be possessed of the key to the mystery he had undertaken to
solve. It was characteristic, too, of his method of procedure that he
should have declined to hold speech on the subject of his mission with
anyone, whether a member of the Government or not, until he had been
brought face to face with the man of whose character and individuality
he desired above all things to form a free and independent judgment.

This decision considerably surprised the ministerial councillor who had
been his travelling companion from the frontier, and with whom, at such
times when he was not occupied in studying the official report which, at
Sir John's own request, that gentleman had been charged to convey to
him, he discoursed pleasantly on every possible topic except the
all-important one on which it might have been supposed that his whole
interest was concentrated. The astonishment of the Arminian official,
however, was greater still when they arrived in Berolingen, and Sir John
Templeton, on being received at the station by the Imperial Chancellor's
private secretary, who was in waiting to conduct him forthwith to the
Chancellor himself, courteously but firmly declined that honour as if
this was a mere trifle. He would wait upon his Excellency later in the
day, Sir John said. For the present he merely requested that
instructions should be given at the Royal Castle which would insure his
admittance to the presence of his Majesty's private secretary, whose
personal acquaintance he was anxious to make.

Thereupon he had taken a courteous leave of his travelling companion,
and driven straight to the British Embassy, a handsome palace forming
the corner of the famous Willabald-street and the Avenue of Limes in the
centre of the town, where he was to stay as the guest of Sir Edward
Hammer, her Majesty's representative at the Arminian court. Two hours
later he was closeted with Doctor Georg Hofer, the Emperor's
much-talked-of private secretary, in his apartments in the Royal Castle.

It is marvellous how quick kindred minds are to recognise each other.
These two men had been together but a short quarter of an hour, and they
had never met before that day. Yet each had already gauged the other's
power, and was prepared to put his own against it.

With what result the reader will now learn.




CHAPTER IV--An Interview with the Imperial Secretary.

Sir John Templeton was not the man to clothe his intentions in ambiguous
language, or to beat about the bush when his purpose was to effect a
definite understanding. He had come to offer a compact, and after the
first formal interchanges of courtesies between him and the Imperial
secretary, he had frankly stated the object of his visit, and explained
the nature of the mission which had brought him to Berolingen.

Doctor Hofer's countenance, while listening to the brief exposition of
the circumstances which had preceded his visitor's arrival in the
Arminian capital, was inscrutable. Had the speaker been expatiating upon
the most commonplace of occurrences, the effect of what he said upon his
listener could scarcely have been less stirring. Once or twice, when Sir
John made passing mention of the grave political crisis in Europe, to
which the Emperor's disappearance had given birth, he raised his
eyebrows ever so slightly, showing thereby that the facts alluded to
were new to him. But, with these few exceptions, he merely sat listening
with polite attention, his eyes fixed the while upon his visitor with a
quiet, studious gaze.

"You do me a signal honour by this visit, Sir John Templeton," he said,
with a faint touch of irony, when the old diplomat had concluded, "and
it is one that I can appreciate the more, as I have of late not been
over-burdened with such distinctions. But, since it is apparently based
upon the assumption that I possess intelligence bearing upon the matter
you have at heart, I fear I cannot claim to merit it. I possess no such
intelligence, and can therefore be of little service to you."

There was a ring of determination in these words, which might have
escaped a less practised ear than that of the man to whom they were
addressed.

"Were it merely a question of rendering me a service," Sir John said, "I
should not have ventured to trouble you, Doctor Hofer. Let me assure
you, to begin with, that I have sought you less as being the person
chiefly concerned in the mysterious disappearance of his Majesty the
Emperor than as the individual most deeply interested in his safe
return."

"In other words," the Doctor replied, "you have come to render me a
service?"

"Possibly," Sir John rejoined.

"And in what may that service consist?"

"For the present merely in soliciting your assistance in the task that
lies before me."

"My assistance?" the other said, with a bitter smile. "That sounds more
like a pleasantry. You see me here virtually a prisoner within these
four walls, cut off from all communication with the outer world, and
consequently more ignorant of the event's that are moving it than any
living creature in this city."

"True," Sir John Templeton said, gravely. "And you might add,
consequently, the less able to gauge the extent of the danger that
threatens you."

"Me?"

"You."

"From what quarter?"

"From those who may hold you responsible for the Emperor's
fate--whatever that fate may be."

"And upon what grounds would they be justified in thus holding me
responsible for that of which I know as little as they themselves?"

"The grounds are numerous. But one will be sufficient. You were the last
person who saw his Majesty alive."

"Possibly. What does that prove?"

"In itself little. But in conjunction with the fact that his Majesty's
last act was to issue an order depriving you of your freedom, it might
lead to an ominous conclusion."

"I fail to see the logic of such conclusion."

"The logic is simple. His Majesty is not accustomed to act without a
purpose, and the interpretation that will be placed upon his intentions
in this particular instance, in the event of his absence continuing
indefinitely, is not likely to be favourable to yourself."

"Well?"

"That is your danger. It might occur--nay, it probably has occurred--to
those to whose safe-keeping you have been consigned that, in solving the
mystery attaching to the arrest of the Emperor's private secretary and
confidant on the eve of his Majesty's strange disappearance, the
explanation of that disappearance itself may be found."

An expression of genuine surprise came into the doctor's eyes.

"What you say there," he observed, after a moment's reflection, "is more
interesting to me than you perhaps imagine. Indeed, he who enlightens me
as to the reason for the extraordinary treatment to which his Majesty
has thought fit to subject me will confer an inestimable boon upon me."

"You yourself, then, can assign no reason for it?"

"It is a mystery more profound to me than that of his Majesty's
disappearance itself."

"And yet, if I am correctly informed," Sir John said, "there had been
signs that his Majesty had ceased to regard you with the same favour as
of old."

"Even so, the fact enhances rather than lessens the mystery. You are not
the first, Sir John Templeton," Doctor Hofer went on, falling once more
into his former tone of curt and frigid hauteur, "who has thus plied me
with questions since his Majesty's disappearance. It is a pity that
those who have sent you to me did not spare you the trouble of repeating
a process the results of which can only be a negative one. I have, as I
have already said, nothing to divulge. I am detained here," he
exclaimed, growing warmer as he proceeded, "a captive, humiliated and
disgraced without cause or reason, an object of distrust and suspicion
to those who watch and guard me, and yet ignorant of the very nature of
the crime they apparently impute to me. The Emperor, whom it seems I
have offended, though by what action of mine I know not, has
mysteriously left his palace and his capital, and because I, forsooth,
was the last person with whom he is supposed to have conversed, it
appears that I am to be held answerable for his non-return. It is but
one instance more of the famous spirit of Brandenburgian justice. Had I
not the misfortune to be a Noverian--but enough, why dwell upon it? I
know only too well towards what this all tends."

His speech had grown quick and animated, and he pulled himself up
towards the close, as if regretting that he had allowed himself to be
entertained upon debatable ground.

"The misfortune," Sir John remarked, "is not alone that you happen to be
a Noverian, Doctor Hofer, but that the Emperor is believed by some to be
at this moment, detained a prisoner by the party who have recklessly
raised the standard of rebellion in the kingdom to which his Royal
Highness the Duke of Cumbermere lays claim."

"I have heard that extraordinary story," Doctor Hofer, said coldly. "Do
you believe it?"

"I believe exactly so much of it as you do yourself," Sir John Templeton
replied, somewhat ambiguously.

"And assuming it were true," Doctor Hofer went on apparently ignoring
the reply, "by what stretch of fancy could I be supposed to be
implicated?"

"You are an avowed friend of the Duke of Cumbermere," Sir John said,
"and are known to have maintained a secret correspondence with him up to
the very date of his Majesty's disappearance."

"Well?"

"Is it necessary for me to point out the possible construction that may
be placed upon this circumstance? His Majesty the Emperor----"

"Has been perfectly cognisant of the fact of this correspondence, sir,"
Dr. Hofer broke in haughtily.

"Precisely," Sir John rejoined; "for the correspondence has passed
through his Majesty's own hands."

Doctor Hofer gave a slight start.

"That is indeed new to me," he said slowly. "But since his Majesty has
always been aware of my sentiments, even this alleged violation of
privacy of my letters can have resulted in nothing more than a
confirmation of that which he already knew!"

"Possibly that may be so," Sir John answered. "Only the question is not
what his Majesty knows, but what interpretation his Government may place
upon it."

"Am I to understand, then, that my correspondence with the Duke of
Cumbermere is in the possession of the Arminian Government?" Doctor
Hofer asked, with the shade of a frown upon his face.

"The Government possesses copies of all letters that have passed between
you and his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumbermere since the beginning of
this year," Sir John replied.

"You are therefore doubtless acquainted with their contents?"

"I am."

"You have certainly the merit of being strangely frank, sir," Doctor
Hofer said, after a pause, during which he eyed his visitor with an
undisguised expression of interest.

"I know of no better weapon against deception," Sir John answered,
simply. "My object is to undo, not to add to, the mischief which has
been caused by the blindness and duplicity of those upon whose
discretion and wisdom I believed the Emperor has relied. Even you must
be to some extent aware of the terrible consequences with which their
foolish policy of secrecy and concealment has already been fraught.
Arminia is on the verge of total disruption. Franconia threatens her in
the west, and Russia is encroaching upon her in the east. Meanwhile her
own fears paralyse her actions, and render her even incapable of coping
with the most ordinary of her inner difficulties. In another week,
Doctor Georg Hofer," he concluded, impressively, "unless the Emperor
returns to his capital, or something definite is ascertained regarding
his fate, a European war will have broken out; with what result to
Arminia I may leave you to conceive."

Doctor Hofer was silent for a moment.

"The picture you draw is a desperate one indeed," he said, at last. "But
let us trust that it is somewhat exaggerated. Even supposing all this
were to come about as you predict, are not the Arminian sovereigns able
to hold their own? If their Emperor has forsaken them, there are others
among the monarchs of Arminia who will be capable of replacing him."

"And, peradventure, as anxious to do so as they are capable," Sir John
remarked, drily. "It is just here where Arminia's chief and most
immediate danger lies; and if it is to be averted, no time must be lost.
Even while we are speaking, the Sovereigns of the Arminian States are
hurrying from all sides to the Imperial capital, and will assemble here
in full conclave to deliberate on the very measure you have mentioned."

"Well? And do you think----"

"I think, sir," Sir John said, "that such a meeting of the Arminian
Sovereigns at this particular juncture will produce a revolution, but
not an Emperor."

"A revolution? What, in Berolingen?"

"Not only in Berolingen, but throughout the entire Kingdom of
Brandenburg, without whose support and cooperation an Arminian Empire
would be a body without a backbone, mere flesh without muscle. Believe
me, sir, Franconia could wish for no better opportunity of reclaiming
what it has lost than the moment when the Sovereigns of Arminia assemble
in the Imperial capital to adjust that which is not adjustable."

"Yet surely," the other exclaimed, impressed in spite of himself by what
he had heard, "it is imperative that something must be done to meet this
unheard-of position. Where, then, in the name of all reason is the
Emperor, whose unaccountable absence is the cause of all this
confusion?"

"That," Sir John replied, "is the question I have set myself to solve."

"And do you think you will succeed?"

"With your aid--yes. Without it, only if time and events do not
forestall me."

"With my aid?" Doctor Hofer said. "I do not follow your meaning. In what
respect, pray, can my humble aid serve you?"

"In so far that you can save me the trouble of finding out for myself,
as I undoubtedly shall, for what purpose you have entered the service
and gained the confidence of the Arminian Emperor. Nay, why start up and
frown? We are two men, Dr. Georg Hofer, well, if not equally, matched.
Why should we fear to speak our thoughts to each other? It requires but
little wisdom to tell me that you had a purpose in availing yourself of
the useful friendship of a monarch, the cause of whose enemies you
confessedly uphold. It is no less obvious to me that that purpose has
been discovered by his Majesty, and that to know it means to know the
solution of the mystery which is now convulsing Europe."

Doctor Hofer had risen, and now regarded his companion with a
penetrating look. Gradually a lofty smile crept into his face, and he
said calmly:

"I have heard something of your powers of perception, Sir John
Templeton. In this instance, however, you will forgive me if I fail to
appreciate them. I am a Noverian by birth and by sympathy. The Emperor
knows it, and has always known it, for I have never endeavoured to
conceal the fact. I have been credited, I know, with an influence on his
Majesty which I have never possessed. By heaven," he exclaimed, with an
angry outburst, "has it not even been asserted that it was I who induced
the Emperor to grant an amnesty to this double-faced scoundrel Von
Arnold, and restore to him the estate which his father forfeited when he
loyally threw in his lot with his ill-fated King? That act of
restitution, for which I never pleaded, was his Majesty's own
spontaneous inspiration; for what cause I know not, unless it be that he
hoped thereby to deprive the cause of the Noverian dynasty of its most
influential supporter; in which case," he added, bitterly, "it would
seem that he has only too well succeeded."

"You are of opinion, then," Sir John broke in, "that Baron von Arnold
has suddenly become a traitor to the cause for which he has hitherto
sacrificed so much?"

"And if I were of that opinion, sir?"

"The opinion seems somewhat strange in the face of the fact that the
Baron has just espoused the sister of the very man who holds it."

"His Majesty is aware that this marriage never had my approval; indeed,
that I opposed it to the very utmost limit of my power and means."

"Why?"

The directness of the question seemed momentarily to disconcert the
Doctor.

"The reason is self-evident, I think," he said, evasively. "But we are
wandering from the subject. My private affairs can scarcely be suspected
to have a bearing upon the important matter which is at present engaging
your attention. Pshaw," he went on, more calmly, "loyal Noverian though
I am, I am well aware that if the rights of the Duke of Cumbermere are
to meet with just recognition, it is not by dint of arms, nor by puny
attempts at rebellion made by a band of well-meaning and fanatic
devotees, that such recognition is to be obtained. If his Majesty has
really been deceived by this rising it is not the fault of the Duke of
Cumbermere, without whose privacy, you may rest assured, it has taken
place. As for the purpose you are good enough to credit me with, I have
certainly availed myself of the friendship extended to me by this
Majesty, in order to open his eyes to the just claims of the Prince
whose heritage he withholds from him. If this fact can be construed as
the result of premeditated purpose, you are welcome to the
interpretation. I shall be the last person to deny it."

The tone of these words was unmistakable. It meant that, so far as the
speaker was concerned, the matter ended there.

Sir John Templeton rose quietly.

"I must of course accept your answer, Dr. Hofer," he said.
"Unfortunately, however, for your opinion as to the Duke of Cumbermere's
privity to the incidents in Noveria, there is a circumstance which
places this matter in a somewhat different light. It will possibly be
news to you to learn that the Duke of Cumbermere sailed for Europe more
that a fortnight ago, that he landed on the Belgian coast the day before
yesterday, and is at this moment presumably well on his way to join his
faithful followers in the realm which his late father forfeited."

As he spoke he drew a copy of an English newspaper from his pocket, and
handed it gravely to the Imperial secretary.

Dr. Hofer had grown strangely pale, and his hand trembled perceptibly as
he took and glanced at the paper. But he seemed conscious that his
companion's eyes were riveted upon his countenance, and he regained his
composure almost instantly.

"Pooh!" he said, crushing the paper in his hands and throwing it down
with an air of disdain. "The thing is a fable, must be a fable, or----"

"Or you have been grossly deceived," Sir John Templeton said, quietly.
"That is what you would say. And, indeed, is it not more than probable
that you have been deceived, Doctor Georg Hofer, and in a quarter from
which you least expected it?"

"It is impossible, totally impossible, I say!" Doctor Hofer exclaimed,
pacing the room in great agitation.

"Impossible that you, the Duke of Cumbermere's trusted friend and
correspondent, who has been in constant communication with his Royal
Highness, could have been left in ignorance of that which so deeply
concerns, not only his Highness's plans, but your own safety?"

"It is impossible," the other repeated once more.

"May I ask," Sir John said, "when you last received a communication from
the Duke?"

The question seemed to surprise the Doctor. But he made no reply.

"But I can save you the trouble of answering the question," Sir John
continued. "The Duke's last letter reached you three weeks ago, a day
before his Majesty's disappearance. From the copy," he added,
tranquilly, "of that letter, which I have been permitted to inspect----"

Doctor Hofer bit his lip fiercely. But Sir John went on apparently
without noticing it.

"From this copy it is clear that the writer either had no intention of
starting for Europe at the date of the writing, or that it did not suit
with his plans to acquaint his correspondent at the court of Arminia
with the fact that he harboured such intention. Your own letters
unfortunately throw no light upon the matter, so that the Arminian
Government are left to choose between the two alternative assumptions.
It is not difficult to guess upon which one their choice will fall."

"And that is?"

"I will explain it briefly. They think the Emperor has fallen into a
trap set him by the Duke of Cumbermere, perhaps with the aid and
connivance of certain exalted personages whose names I refrain from
mentioning, and that the principal instrument in luring his Majesty to
his fate is the man whom the Emperor, conscious no doubt of the risk he
was incurring, has left in the safe custody of his advisers--in other
words, yourself."

"And by what means is it supposed that I have succeeded in thus deluding
his Majesty?"

"It would take too long to enumerate the many theories propounded in
this regard," Sir John replied. "But what combinations are possible
hardly requires much thought to conceive. Recall the facts for yourself,
Doctor Hofer. On the 15th January the Emperor, disregarding the advise
of his responsible Ministers, and, as it is supposed, at the instance of
his Noverian secretary, grants a free pardon to Baron Frederick von
Arnold, the son of the late King of Noveria's Prime Minister, and one of
the confidential group of friends surrounding the Noverian Pretender,
the Duke of Cumbermere, in his American retreat. Four weeks later Herr
von Arnold returns to Arminia and re-enters into possession of his
family estates, selecting as his residence, not his possessions in the
Noverian province, but the property of Arnoldshausen in Brandenburg, not
thirty miles from Berolingen. Coincident with the young Baron's return
are two events, the connection between which would appear to be obvious.
I mean the sudden activity of the Noverian party in the annexed
province, and the estrangement between his Majesty the Emperor and the
man upon whom he had until that moment bestowed his confidence and
friendship, and for whose sake his act of clemency towards Herr von
Arnold is believed to have been accomplished. Of Herr von Arnold's
movements, after his return to his own, little is ascertained. He lives
almost as a recluse upon the smallest of his vast estates, which he
never leaves, apparently visiting no one and visited by none. Meanwhile
the disturbances in Noveria increase, and the Emperor treats them with
inexplicable leniency, until they reach a pitch which can no longer be
disregarded. Then the extraordinary event happens upon which the whole
mystery turns. The Emperor vanishes on the very eve of a long
premeditated voyage to the East, and simultaneous with his strange
disappearance comes the news of the Duke of Cumbermere's departure from
America and return to Europe. These facts, Doctor Georg Hofer, combined
with the apparently trivial incident of the order for the practical
arrest of the man whose sister has so recently become the wife of Baron
von Arnold, suggest, as you will admit, the not unnatural
conclusion----"

"That Doctor Hofer and Herr von Arnold, acting as the agents of the Duke
of Cumbermere, have conspired to lead the Arminian Emperor into the
power of the Noverian rebel party; a truly wild conclusion, in all
faith. And do you share it?"

"If I shared it, sir," Sir John said, "I should not be standing here
now."

"You have formed some definite opinion, then, as to his Majesty's
purposes in thus vanishing from his capital?"

"I have formed certain conclusions as to what were not his purposes,
sir, and they are so comprehensive that few possible ones remain for
closer investigation."

"And when do you suppose you will have succeeded in solving the
problem?"

"When I have succeeded in solving the simpler one which I have already
mentioned; the cause of your presence at the Imperial Court of Arminia,
Doctor Hofer."

The Doctor made an impatient gesture.

"You still adhere, then, to the belief that I am concerned in this
unfortunate mystery?"

"Our conversation has rendered the belief a conviction."

"In short, that I have sacrificed the liberty, and perhaps the life, of
his Majesty the Emperor Willibald of Arminia for some alleged hidden
purpose of my own?"

"On the contrary," Sir John answered with a smile, "that his Majesty the
Arminian Emperor has thwarted this alleged purpose of your own, as you
please to term it, by acting as he has done."

The Doctor looked at him in silence.

"Were any other man but Sir John Templeton to tell me this," he said at
last, "I should conclude him----"

"To be a fool, Doctor Hofer. Possibly. You scout my conclusion. Yet you
yourself have just now propounded a theory scarcely less astonishing
than mine."

"What theory, sir?"

"The theory that Baron Frederick von Arnold, the husband of a lady who,
if report is true, excels even her brother in her loyalty to the house
of Noveria, has traitorously forsaken that cause in order to regain
possession of the estates which his father sacrificed for it."

The other shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Unfortunately," he said, "history records many parallel instances of
such treachery."

"But surely none," Sir John observed, "where the traitor signalises his
treachery by espousing a passionate adherent of the very cause he has
betrayed."

"You are singularly well acquainted with the sentiments of the lady you
speak of," said the Doctor, eyeing him suspiciously. "Am I to infer from
this circumstance that not even the correspondence between my sister and
myself has escaped the prying attention of his Majesty's advisers?"

Sir John bowed an assent.

"I have had the privilege of reading some of Demoiselle Hofer's letters
to her brother," he said, "from which I have gathered that hatred of the
house of Brandenburg is the first and most important article of the
creed she has been reared in from her earliest infancy."

The Doctor turned away with a shrug, and made no reply.

"Does it not strike you as at least worthy of consideration," Sir John
continued, without heeding the gesture, "that his Majesty's Government
should have taken so entirely different a view of the relationship
existing between the Emperor and this latest Noverian protege of his?"

"If you mean by that, sir," Doctor Hofer rejoined sharply, "that his
Majesty's Government distrust this man, I see practically little
difference between our respective views, for so do I."

"True; but the suspicion the Arminian Government entertain against
him----"

"Is preposterous, sir," the other exclaimed, with some petulance. "Have
not you yourself admitted it?"

"With a certain reservation, yes," Sir John Templeton replied. "I am, as
I have already said, convinced, Doctor Hofer, that you possess no
knowledge of the Emperor's whereabouts."

The Doctor inclined his head with an ironical smile.

"But I am equally convinced," Sir John went on, quietly, "that Baron
Frederick von Arnold does."

"Then, in heaven's name!" the Doctor exclaimed, with a passionateness
which was startlingly sudden, "if such be the views of his Majesty's
Government, why do they not lay hands on this man? They have him in
their power, and if he alone on God's earth knows what fate has befallen
the Emperor----"

"Would his mere seizure suffice to secure the principal object the
Government seek to attain; that is to say, to bring his Majesty safely
back to his capital? You forget, Doctor Hofer, that the Emperor's
absence is not believed to be voluntary, and, moreover, that it is
supposed to be connected with the rebellious manifestations in Noveria.
Under these circumstances his Majesty's Government have been content for
the present merely to watch Herr von Arnold's movements with the view of
intercepting any communication that may pass between him and the rebel
leaders."

"A wise proceeding, forsooth," the Doctor said, contemptuously. "And,
pray, with what success has it been attended?"

"Hitherto with none," Sir John replied. "It has, on the contrary, been
established, I think beyond a doubt, that Baron von Arnold holds no
communication whatever with the outer world, but is living tranquilly on
his estate at Arnoldshausen, enjoying the first sweets of his married
life."

Doctor Hofer strode impulsively to the window and gazed out. Presently
he returned, and faced his companion with a searching look.

"Why do you tell me all this?" he said, in a short, almost fierce tone.

"As I have already explained," Sir John Templeton, answered calmly, "to
warn you of the danger to which you are exposed--not only from the
Arminian government, to whose vigilant care the Emperor, for reasons
known to himself alone, has confided you, but from a far more formidable
quarter. Events, if I mistake not, are rapidly striding towards a crisis
unprecedented even in Arminia's chequered history, and though the
Sovereign's commands may protect you from the wrath of those to whose
custody he has consigned you, not many days may elapse before even they
will require to seek protection from the senseless fury of the people
whom they have foolishly sought to delude."

Hofer paced the room gravely, a stern expression upon his handsome
features.

"You believe, in short, that the people of Berolingen will rise and
overthrow the government."

"Berolingen is at this very moment in the throes of a revolution."

"Caused by the absence of the Emperor?"

"Caused by the folly of those who have converted his absence into a
national calamity, sir."

"And this assemblage of the Arminian princes, you think, will be the
match that ignites the revolutionary flame?"

"A populace whose suspicions are once aroused is quick at forming
conclusions. That the imperious nature and independent character of the
young Emperor have caused many heartburnings among the confederate
sovereigns who acknowledge his supreme leadership is a matter of common
history. The indecent haste shown to replace him by another of their own
choice has not unnaturally given rise to the wildest conjectures among a
populace already highly excited. The fire is smouldering; it requires
but a breath to fan it into flame."

"And this breath----" Doctor Hofer said reflectively.

But at that moment a rattling of carriage wheels, and a succession of
shouts, accompanied by the clatter of feet and the beating of drums, as
the guard turned out to render a royal salute, sounded in the castle
courtyard without, and interrupted the speaker's sentence. Stepping
quickly to the window, Sir John Templeton looked out.

"There," he said gravely, pointing to the occupant of the Imperial
equipage which had just driven up to the grand entrance, "is the first
of symptom of the coming storm."

Doctor Hofer, who had followed him to the window, gazed with some
surprise at the royal visitor, who now alighted.

"The Prince Regent of Wittelsbach," he murmured.

"The first of the Arminian Sovereigns to arrive in Berolingen," Sir John
said. "The rest will follow. Is not the fact suggestive? Twenty years
ago, Doctor Georg Hofer, the then ruler of Wittelsbach, Brandenburg's
most jealous rival in the Arminian confederacy, was the first to acclaim
the venerable King Willibald of Brandenburg as Arminian Emperor. That
was on the soil of conquered Franconia. You know, as well as I do, what
it cost to induce proud Wittelsbach to submit to the political
leadership of the great rival State. The wound to its pride was never
healed. Powerful as Brandenburg is, and paramount among the
Sovereignties of Arminia, let Noveria, that trophy of Brandenburg's
victorious war with Austria and the Southern Arminian States, be once
more wrenched from her and restored as an independent Arminian kingdom,
and the preponderance of Brandenburg's power is no longer such as to
outweigh the ambition of its proud Southern rival; more especially," he
added, fixing his companion with a meaning look, "if, with the return of
the Duke of Cumbermere, Wittelsbach should gain a grateful ally where
Brandenburg loses a great territory."

Doctor Hofer fell back with an air of bewildered surprise.

"Do you mean," he said, "that the Regent of Wittelsbach has taken
advantage of the Emperor's disappearance to league himself with the
adherents of the Noverian dynasty, and by restoring the kingdom to its
rightful owner, the Duke of Cumbermere, to gain the latter's support in
the Imperial Council? By the powers, the idea is so well conceived that
I could almost wish it were true."

"If it should prove true, sir," Sir John Templeton said solemnly, "rest
assured that you will not live to see it accomplished. For the present
the idea is merely the outcome of popular fancy and suspicion run wild.
Yet, such as it is, it bodes little good to one in your position."

He paused for an instant; then he resumed in his ordinary tone----

"I have done what in me lay to open your eyes to the grave peril in
which you stand, and I have no more to say. If I must work without your
aid there is no help for it. Perhaps," he added with a peculiar look,
"we separate, both of us, wiser men than we met. Before I go, one more
word of warning, Doctor Hofer, if you value the life of him to whose
cause you have devoted so much, take no step without consulting me. The
advice is that of a friend. Follow it."

Before Doctor Hofer could answer he had left the room and was gone.

For the space of a full hour the Imperial secretary paced his room like
a caged lion, stern and wrathful. Outside, the unusual stir and bustle
caused by the advent of the royal visitor continued. There was much
rushing to and fro, and clangour of swords and other military display. A
constant stream of equipages was flowing into the great castle-yard, and
their occupants alighted and passed into the building--some with slow,
phlegmatic movement, some briskly, and with an eager, expectant mien.
Princes of the Royal house of Brandenburg, Ministers, generals, and
court and State dignitaries of every kind and description were among
these prompt visitors, all apparently hastening to pay their respects to
the illustrious guest whose arrival was looked upon as an omen of the
gravest significance. This change in the aspect of the Castle
surroundings was a strangely striking one; and, indeed, had it been
caused by the long-hoped-for return of its Imperial lord himself, it
could scarcely have been greater.

Doctor Georg Hofer took no note of all this, but pursued his restless
promenade, wrapped in thoughts which to all appearances were totally
unconnected with the events that were passing around him. They were
stormy thoughts, too, as was evidenced by the passionate way in which he
would ever and anon stop short and clench his hands, like a man reduced
to the extremity of despair. Could Sir John Templeton have taken a
glimpse now of the calm and haughty personage with whom he had just held
an apparently fruitless converse, he might well have stood amazed at the
metamorphosis he had meanwhile undergone.

Whether the spectacle would have enlightened him on the one point on
which he was avowedly seeking enlightenment it is, however, difficult to
say.




CHAPTER V--The Dowager Empress Fritz.


Sir John Templeton was right. Within forty-eight hours of the interview,
recorded in the last Chapter, the Prince Regent of Wittelsbach's arrival
had been followed by that of nearly every reigning sovereign in Arminia.

It would be impossible to conceive a more extraordinary contrast than
that afforded at this period between the life at the Imperial Court of
Berolingen and the demeanour of those classes of society of which
nine-tenths of the population of the metropolis was composed. In keeping
with the sorry farce enacted by the Arminian Government to blind the
country, and indeed the world generally, to the palpable fact that a
crisis of the most momentous nature was pending, the Imperial Court had
not only maintained its ordinary appearance, as if nothing had occurred
to affect it, but had developed an even greater activity than was
customary at this time of the year.

The Emperor's absence, in this sphere of society, was never alluded to
in words. It was tacitly accepted as a matter of course. At the Royal
Castle, the abode of the Sovereign, there was under the circumstances
naturally no sign of that gay and festive life which, to the outer
world, is the gilt that hides the rough substance of care, and toil, and
worry, and anxiety, which constitutes the reality of royal existence.
But in other directions the usual parade of gaiety went on
uninterrupted. During these last three weeks function had succeeded
function, festivity followed upon festivity, until the people, who were
usually only too ready to feast their eyes from the distance upon these
brilliant shows, grew sated with the incessant display, and witnessed
each fresh pageant with an increasing sense of sullen bewilderment. They
read with amazement of these Court balls and State concerts, receptions,
and ceremonies, which followed one another in such rapid succession; and
they went, as they always did, in their tens and tens of thousands
curiously to witness the grand military reviews held "by command of the
Emperor," as the 'Gazette' gravely put it, on the parade ground outside
the north-western quarter of the city. But they felt the imposition
notwithstanding, and regarded these persistent attacks on their
credulity with growing resentment.

The fiction, they saw, was to be kept a outrance, and the only thought
it roused in them was as to when and how it would all end. One thing
they felt sure of, that if the members of their Royal House affected
this show of indifference and unconcern in the face of a calamity which
threatened the very foundation of the Empire, they did so, not of their
own free will, but under compulsion, though under what sort of
compulsion they would have been at a loss to determine.

In spite of the smiling countenance of the Empress-Mother and her
daughters, the sisters of the reigning Emperor, wherever they appeared
in public, the Berolingers were quick to perceive the lines of anxiety
and care with which the suspense of these last weeks had furrowed their
brows. Rumours, too of all kinds, were in circulation respecting the
attitude assumed by the Imperial family, and more especially by Prince
Henry, the Emperor's only brother, towards those who advocated the
summoning of the Arminian Sovereigns to Berolingen, ostensibly to devise
measures for the government of the Empire during the Emperor's absence.

The Prince, a sailor, with something of a sailor's bluffness, was
credited with having categorically refused to lend his countenance to
proceedings which the Emperor's death alone could justify. Report even
declared that a correspondence of a very heated character had passed on
the subject between him and the Regent of Wittelsbach, as the spokesman
of the Arminian princes, in which he had announced his intention of
signifying his disapproval of the contemplated action of the Arminian
rulers in a marked and unmistakable manner.

Whether this report was correct or not, it is certain that an hour
before the arrival in Berolingen of the Regent of Wittelsbach, Prince
Henry had left the city and taken up his quarters in Carolinenburg, the
well-known Royal summer resort situated not three miles from the capital
itself. It was scarcely possible to misinterpret the meaning of this
movement. Though the Prince could not prevent the assembly of the
monarchs in the Arminian metropolis, he was at least determined to take
no part in their reception.

The people had noted this significant circumstance, and they were not
slow to approve and applaud it. The arrival of the Regent of Wittelsbach
had taken them quite unawares; for the fact of the Royal journey to
Berolingen had been kept a profound secret. But when, late that same
evening, the news spread through the city that the arrival of the
Wittelsbach Sovereign had been followed within a few hours by that of
the Kings of Suabia and Neckarstadt, the sense of surprise gave away to
one of stern displeasure, and the railway termini of the capital were
beleaguered during the next two days by a multitude which defied all the
endeavours of the police, assisted by soldiery, to repress and disperse
it.

Monarch now followed upon monarch, and what with the incessant
receptions, and the driving to and fro of innumerable State coaches with
court and military dignitaries in gala attire between the various Royal
palaces and the railway stations, the occasion might have passed for one
of some rare festivity, such as a Royal jubilee or coronation.

What the people commented upon, however, was not so much the
inappropriateness of all this outward display of pomp and splendour, as
the extraordinary precautions for the maintenance of order and decorum
in the streets with which it was accompanied. The three first arrivals
had been accomplished with a singular absence of ostentation and show.
But at the first sign of the awakening of the popular curiosity all this
simplicity vanished, and the reception of the Royal visitors assumed
quite a different character. Troops now surrounded the stations and
lined the routes to and from them and the centre of the town. Military
escorts accompanied even the petty Princes and Sovereign Dukes who
constituted, what may not inaptly be termed the smaller fry of the
Confederate Monarchs, and the police swarmed everywhere in such numbers
that one might have supposed they had been called out to quell a
disturbance rather than to effect the comparatively simple manoeuvre of
keeping the roads clear for the passage of a few Royal visitors.

Strangely enough, as it chanced, the streets of Berolingen had never
before been filled with more orderly crowds than they were during these
two days. No attempt was made in any single quarter to give open vent to
the feelings of exasperation which pervaded all classes of the
community; although, as will be seen presently, the occasion did not
pass without a startingly significant demonstration of quite an opposite
description. The masses surged in the streets from morning till night,
surrounding the stations and thronging the open spaces in front of the
Royal palaces, apparently intent upon nothing else but to catch glimpses
of the illustrious personages who passed in review, as it were, before
them. To all appearances, it was only the ordinary curiosity of a
spectacle-loving populace that had enticed them from their every-day
occupations, and brought them out to gape and gaze.

One thing alone distinguished them from an ordinary assembly of curious
sightseers. This was the almost total silence maintained by these vast
crowds from one end of the city to the other. Not a cheer was raised,
not a cap lifted, as the princely visitors swept past in their gorgeous
coaches. And yet, once--and for one instant only--did this air of
apparent apathy and indifference which characterised the loitering
crowds during those two memorable days vanish completely, as if
dispelled by some hidden magic, making way for an outburst of such
demonstrative enthusiasm that none who witnessed it can have failed to
be deeply impressed by it.

This incident was brought about by the chance appearance of her Majesty
the Dowager Empress in the streets of Berolingen. Returning from
Carolinenburg, whither she had gone to visit her son, Prince Henry, her
Majesty, accompanied by her daughter, the Princess Margaret, happened to
enter the Avenue of Limes on her drive back to her palace just at the
hour when, in consequence of the expected arrival of the King of
Wettinia and the Grand Duke of Zahringen, both of whom were to take up
their quarters in the Royal Castle, that great thoroughfare had become
densely packed from end to end with a surging mass of spectators.

At the first glimpse of the imperial carriage and its occupants, as they
emerged unexpectedly through the colossal Arch of Victory at the further
end of the boulevard, a sudden shout of delight went up from the throng
collected there, and rolled in an ever-increasing roar along the whole
route, being taken up by the countless thousands who filled it for
considerably over a mile.

A strangely impressive spectacle now followed. Those who had hitherto
stood for hours and hours silent and impassive behind the troops that
lined the route in single file on both sides, now pressed forward with
so sudden an onrush that the lines were instantly broken through in all
directions. Caps were thrown up, handkerchiefs waved, and such a
deafening noise of cheers and acclamations rent the air, that the words
of command issued to the astonished soldiers by their irate officers
were completely drowned by it. The demonstration was so sudden and
unexpected that it was impossible to cope with it, and for the time the
military, the police, and the public, were all mingled in one entangled,
struggling mass, which closed round the Imperial carriage, and followed
it as it proceeded on its way down the grand Avenue toward her Majesty's
palace at the other end. All that the troops could do was to avoid being
carried away altogether by the overwhelming stream of excited peopled.
To oppose it, or attempt to stem the impetuous tide and restore order,
was out of the question. Indeed, many of the soldiers, in spite of their
being mounted, were unable to extricate themselves from the rushing
crowd until they had been swept along for a considerable distance, and
the police, the greater number of whom were on foot, proved, or course,
totally powerless to help them.

The wonder was that the progress of the Imperial carriage itself was not
impeded by the frantic mob that surrounded it. But the pace at which it
proceeded scarcely slackened perceptibly for one moment, and not a
muscle in the familiar face of the Empress betrayed the faintest
apprehension at the stirring scene about her, as she sat bowing right
and left in proud acknowledgment of the wild and frenzied greeting that
was offered to her. She understood, and appreciated its meaning only too
well.

Ten minutes later, when the troops had barely recovered their order and
had formed once more in an unbroken line along the route which had just
been the scene of this extraordinary demonstration, a detachment of
Imperial Guards, heralding the approach of the two Royal visitors whose
arrival had been the cause of the vast congregation of spectators in the
Avenue, issued forth from under the Arch of Victory, followed by two
four-horsed equipages with outriders, containing the august guests and
their suites, while another detachment of the same troop formed the
escort in the rear.

In the opposite direction, the sounds of cheering and shouting could
still be faintly heard from the distance, as they were carried across by
the breeze which blew over the city from the north. But they died away
almost immediately.

And now what a contrast, as the brilliant procession drove slowly along
the same route that had just before been traversed by that one solitary
carriage amid a scene such as Imperial Berolingen had rarely witnessed!
The moment it came into view a hush fell upon the multitude, and in like
manner as but a few minutes ago a wave of the wildest enthusiasm had
swept over it, carrying all and everything before it, so now a wave of
cold, stern silence passed over the same crowds. It preceded the Royal
cortege along the whole way; nor was the strange, ominous, stillness
broken until long after it had vanished from sight.

The Berolingers had given vent to their sentiments, plainly,
unmistakably, and this one spontaneous outburst apparently contented
them for the moment. Was it a warning of that spirit of determination
which, according to those best informed, was seething beneath their
outer surface of gloomy calm? And if so, would they to whom it was
addressed take timely heed of it?

Doubtless the Government of his vanished Majesty were only too sensible
of the tremendous responsibility that was crushing upon them. One and
twenty sovereign Kings and Princes of Arminia were already within the
walls of Berolingen, and four more would arrive in the course of the
next four-and-twenty hours, thus completing the full number of those
whose territories were comprised in the vast Empire they had come to
safeguard. The fate of Imperial Arminia was to be decided by these
five-and-twenty monarchs. Did it occur to any one of them that they were
perchance blindly placing their own fate in the hands of the people in
whose midst they had elected to assemble?

There was at least one person in Berolingen who was painfully alive to
this possibility. That person was no one less than the Imperial lady
whose appearance that day had been the signal for so remarkable a
demonstration on the part of the populace of Berolingen.

The duties of the chosen ones of the earth necessitate the abnegation of
self, with its predilections and interests, in a higher degree than
those of an ordinary mortal, however onerous his position may be. Had
her Majesty the Dowager Empress, or the Empress Fritz, as she was more
commonly styled in commemoration of her late lamented husband, been an
ordinary mortal, she would perhaps have heartily applauded the spirit
displayed that day by her son's subjects. She would certainly have
regarded it with greater equanimity than, under the circumstances, she
was able to. But, alas! the very suspicion of turbulence on the part of
the people, even if it be prompted by excess of loyalty, is alarming to
the occupants of thrones, and the Empress had seen enough that day to
fill her with sombre misgivings on this score in regard to the near
future. Her own inclination would have led her to withdraw from the
city, like her son Prince Henry, or at least to shut herself up in the
seclusion of her palace and plead her sorrow and anxiety, or what not,
as an excuse for declining to receive the illustrious Sovereigns whose
presence in the Imperial capital was a deep chagrin and a source of
distrust and anger to her. But, though she disapproved of the policy
that had brought them there, and, indeed, looked upon it with alarm and
suspicion, etiquette demanded that she should conceal her real feelings
and extend a Royal welcome to these self-invited guests. Nay, not only
the exigencies of Royal custom rendered this necessary; the very
demeanour of the people, which was a secret source of pride to her
Majesty, made it imperative that she should not appear to resent the
intrusion of the unwelcome visitors, and thus encourage the churlish
spirit in which they had been received.

Towards evening on the day which had witnessed the end, or nearly the
end, of the influx of Arminian princes into the capital of the Empire,
her Majesty sat in her private apartment in the north wing of her
palace, engaged, as was her wont when the duties of State permitted, in
the pursuit of the art in which she found her most cherished recreation.

The room, which was situated on the upper floor of the palace, for the
sake of the better light afforded there, resembled a painter's studio
more than the boudoir of a Royal lady. Several easels with half-finished
paintings stood about; lay figures, some draped with costly materials,
others without the accompaniment of cloth or drapery and posed in
various attitudes, were arranged in more or less conspicuous positions
in front of them, and groups of statuary, busts, canvasses, framed and
unframed, gems, models, and curios--in short, works of art of every
class and description--were distributed here and there in picturesque
disorder, giving the whole place an aspect of luxurious, but somewhat
Bohemian, splendour.

Before one of the easels near the great bow window in the centre of the
apartment sat the Empress herself, ostensibly occupied with brush and
palette in putting the finishing touches to the huge canvass which
towered before her. I say ostensibly, for her Majesty's attention was
manifestly divided between the great clock over the chimneypiece
opposite and the door of the room on her left, rather than directed upon
the work before her.

Presently one of her gentlemen entered, received a sign from her, bowed,
and withdrew. A few moments afterwards Sir John Templeton was ushered
in.

The Empress had risen, and now advanced to meet her visitor with an
eager, questioning look.

"You bring good tidings, I trust, Sir John Templeton," she said, in a
tone in which hope and doubt were equally mingled.

The old diplomat bowed low over the hand she extended to him.

"I fear I am destined to disappoint your Majesty," he said.

"Ah," she exclaimed, "do not tell me that you already despair of
accomplishing your task."

"I despair by no means, Madam," he replied. "Only it requires time; and
whether I shall accomplish it before it is too late to avert the
disaster it is designed to avert, that is a question which fills me with
grave anxiety. Certain events are fast approaching that may be fraught
with consequences which not even the safe return of his Majesty the
Emperor will be able to undo."

The Empress sighed deeply.

"Yet you still believe in my son's ultimate safe return?" she asked
anxiously.

"Implicitly."

"You have progressed, then? Tell me what you have learned. What may we
hope?"

"I must pray of your Majesty to be content for the present with the
knowledge that I am progressing," Sir John answered. "Had I the cordial
support of those who have summoned me to their aid, I could promise to
accomplish in hours what may now occupy days. And every moment is
precious. Unfortunately I am hampered where I should be assisted, and
thwarted where I should be encouraged. My advice is disregarded--indeed,
I fear it is even received with suspicion; and unless your Majesty
condescends to become my ally----"

"Does it need my assurance to convince you that you may count upon me?"
the Empress said. "I have neither power nor influence over my son's
Ministers. But such assistance as I may be able to afford you is yours.
What can I do?"

"Two things, Madam. Firstly, to use such influence as your Majesty
possesses to prevail upon the Arminian princes to defer this projected
meeting in full conclave for another few days at least."

"I will use every endeavour," the Empress said. "But I fear it will be
difficult."

"Doubly difficult, doubtless, as matters now stand."

"Have fresh troubles, then, arisen?"

"No fresh troubles, Madam. But those we already have to cope with have
assumed more definite proportions. The Franconian question has to-day
entered into an acute stage. The demand for the withdrawal of the troops
with which the garrisons in the annexed Franconian provinces were
recently reinforced by command of the Emperor has been pressed with an
imperativeness that borders on positive insolence. The latest
communication received from his Excellency the Franconian Ambassador is,
I understand, virtually an ultimatum."

"You have seen the Chancellor?"

"I have this moment left his Excellency in conference with their
Majesties the Kings of Suabia and Wettinia and the Prince Regent of
Wittelsbach."

"And the proposed meeting of the Sovereigns----"

"Will take place at noon the day after to-morrow, unless your Majesty
can prevent it."

"War threatening us from without, and revolution from within. What will
be the fate of Arminia?" the Empress murmured.

"Arminia's more immediate fate, Madam, rest assured, depends upon one
thing only--the return of his Majesty the Emperor before this meeting of
Sovereigns takes place."

"And If he returns too late to prevent it?"

"Then, Madam, I fear he will return to find himself the only monarch
left in Arminia."

"What?" the Empress said. "Do you imagine the people would dare to lay
violent hands on their princes? Ah, you forget. We have the army.
Berolingen is garrisoned by fifty thousand of our finest troops."

"The majority of whom are children of Berolingen, Madam, the sons of the
very people they will be called upon to oppose."

"True, true," the Empress murmured. "Yet they are loyal to their
Emperor. Have I not seen the proofs with my own eyes?"

Sir John Templeton made no response. Perhaps he felt no call to point
out that a revolution prompted by loyalty may end by destroying the very
idol it had started to set up. If he had, history would no doubt have
afforded him more than one parallel instance in illustration of the
fact.

The Empress remained silent for a while, plunged in her own thoughts.
Presently she turned to him again, and said----

"You spoke of a second matter in which my assistance would be of avail.
What is it?"

"It is this," he answered. "To-morrow night your Majesty gives a State
ball in honour of these princely visitors. I have come to ask your
Majesty to command the addition of one more name to the list of the
guests."

"That is a simple matter," the Empress replied. "Who is it?"

There was a slight pause before Sir John answered.

"It is his Majesty's private secretary, Doctor Georg Hofer," he said.

The Empress drew back with a look of displeasure.

"You cannot be serious," she said, coldly.

"Your Majesty is mistaken. The occasion would indeed be a sorry one for
a jest."

"You forget that Doctor Hofer has incurred the Emperor's grave
displeasure."

"Can your Majesty tell me through what serious offence of his Doctor
Hofer has had the misfortune to displease the Emperor?" Sir John asked,
quickly.

"I have not made it my business to inquire into the private affairs of
my son's household," the Empress replied, in a tone which was
half-haughty, half-evasive. "But the character of his offence matters
little. Such a mark of favour, as you suggest is, under the
circumstances, impossible."

"As a mark of your Majesty's favour--perhaps. Yet, if I am correctly
informed, there was a time when Doctor Hofer would not have required my
humble intermediation to obtain so slight a favour at your Majesty's
hands."

"You show a strange interest in this man, Sir John Templeton," the
Empress said, giving him a look which indicated plainly that this
manifestation of interest on his part was distasteful to her.

"I do not deny it, Madam," he rejoined. "It is through him alone that I
can hope to solve the one problem upon which this whole mystery turns."

"And that is?"

"Why his Majesty the Emperor has left his capital."

"You suspect Doctor Hofer of being privy, then----"

"I think not," Sir John answered.

"Then I do not understand you. You are propounding a riddle which
appears to admit of no answer."

"It is precisely a riddle we are dealing with, Madam," he said, "and a
riddle to which I maintain Dr. Georg Hofer alone possesses the key."

"And yet he refrains from using it?"

"If he knew how to use it, or were even at liberty to do so, his Majesty
the Emperor would be now safe in his palace at Berolingen."

"Then Doctor Hofer's captivity, in other words, is not the effect, but
the cause of the Emperor's absence?"

"I believe it to be both, Madam."

"But if it were indeed the cause," the Empress exclaimed, "the simplest
means of securing his Majesty's return would be----"

"To set Doctor Hofer at liberty, precisely. It is this advice which I
have just ventured to tender to his Majesty's Government."

"And they have rejected it?"

"Indignantly."

The Empress gazed at him for a moment in silence.

"I do not profess to understand the reasons that prompted you in
offering such advice," she said at length. "But since Doctor Hofer, as
you know, is strongly suspected of having instigated the rebellion in
Noveria----"

"Your Majesty cannot but applaud the decision of the Government," Sir
John said. "May I ask, Madam, if you share these suspicions against
Doctor Hofer?"

The Empress made a little movement of impatience.

"I know no longer what suspicions I share, and what I do not share," she
replied, almost desperately. "It is all dark and entangled. If his
Majesty were at liberty to return, what greater inducement could he
possess for doing so than the knowledge of the terrible position in
which the Empire is now placed?"

"It is indeed impossible to conceive of any stronger inducement," Sir
John assented, gravely.

"Is not this a proof, then, that he is not at liberty to return?"

"Might it not also be a proof that he lacks the knowledge your Majesty
has just mentioned?" Sir John asked.

"Is that likely?"

"It is more than likely; it is certain, Madam."

"Certain, you mean, always assuming that the Emperor is really free to
return?"

"Not necessarily. His Majesty may be detained by those whose power to
hold him will vanish with the first breath of that knowledge which he so
sorely needs."

"And that breath, you think," the Empress said, after a moment's
reflection, "would reach him through Doctor Hofer?"

"As surely, Madam, as I believe it would have reached him long ago
through the public Press of the country, had the latter not been
enjoined to maintain strict silence on the subject of his Majesty's
absence."

"You persist, I see, in believing that the Emperor's absence is
voluntary."

"That it was originally so--yes."

"Yet this sudden resolve to leave his capital----"

"Sudden, Madam? It was far from sudden."

"How so?" the Empress said, startled by his tone.

"I mean that it was long premeditated."

"What leads you to this conclusion?"

"The fact that his Majesty had already fixed the exact date for his
departure three full months ago," Sir John said.

"Three months ago!" the Empress cried. "And you profess to know this?"

"Nay, more, Madam," Sir John said; "I think I can designate not only the
day, but the very hour when his Majesty fixed that date."

The Empress regarded him with a look of incredulous surprise.

"And when was that?" she asked, slowly.

"It was the moment when his Majesty issued his commands to the naval
authorities to commence preparations for the intended Imperial voyage to
the East."

The Empress reflected an instant.

"It is true," she murmured; "the Emperor disappeared on the very eve of
this contemplated voyage."

"When, therefore, the most elaborate measures had been devised for the
carrying on of the Government during his Majesty's sojourn upon the high
seas," Sir John remarked.

"Then you maintain," the Empress said, "that these extensive
preparations were merely effected----"

"To enable his Majesty to leave his capital secretly without any
inconvenience arising to the Empire from the prolonged absence of its
sovereign head; I have no doubt about it, Madam."

The Empress was visibly impressed.

"But if this conclusion should be correct," she exclaimed, with sudden
animation, "and indeed it sounds wonderfully plausible--it would surely
afford proof positive that his Majesty's absence is unconnected with the
rebellious uprising in Noveria."

"Your Majesty has touched the core of the matter," Sir John said. "The
Emperor's plans, whatever they were, had been conceived and carefully
matured long before the rebellion in Noveria was thought of. It is of
this fact that I have vainly endeavoured to convince the Imperial
Government."

For some moments her Majesty stood with an air of indecision, wavering
apparently between two conflicting resolutions.

"Tell me," she said at last, abruptly, "for what purpose do you desire
Doctor Hofer's presence at the Court ball?"

"Does your Majesty insist upon an answer to that question?"

"Not if you have reasons for with holding it. Nay, I am willing to grant
this strange request, Sir John Templeton," she went on more warmly, "on
one condition: that you pledge me your word that this is not a stratagem
to enable Doctor Hofer to escape from his custodians. The Emperor's
commands are law, and I will not be a party to their contravention."

"Your Majesty," Sir John Templeton said, gravely, "will please to accept
my solemn assurance that nothing is further from my thoughts than to
connive at so heinous an offence. I will answer for Doctor Hofer's
safety with my own person."

Twilight had set in during the progress of this conversation, and the
dusk was now increasing apace, enveloping the vast chamber, with its
curious assortment of statues and easels, its costly draperies and
many-coloured stuffs, interspersed here and there with painting
paraphernalia of every kind and description, in an indistinct haze which
lent it an almost weird appearance. From outside came the distant
muffled hum of the traffic in the great city, now broken for an instant
by a few short, sharp cries of command and a monotonous military tramp
of feet in the street immediately below the windows of the studio, where
the sentinels stationed before the portals of the Imperial palace were
being relieved. These sounds died away quickly, and left the stillness,
or rather the semi-stillness, more impressive than before.

The Empress had quitted Sir John Templeton and approached a magnificent
bureau standing in an embrasure between the two great middle
bow-windows--a masterpiece of the designer's art, executed most
elaborately in ebony inlaid with silver. The workmanship of this
exquisite piece of furniture, which was a memento of the visit of her
Majesty's late husband to the Holy Land and Persia, was the most perfect
thing imaginable, and its value was priceless.

Drawing from one of its recesses a letter fringed with a thin black
border and bearing on the top of its front page the familiar initials,
"V.R." she stood for a moment perusing it in silence. At last she turned
again to Sir John Templeton.

"The Queen is anxiously awaiting some hopeful tidings," she said. "What
may I tell her, Sir John Templeton? The messenger goes back to-night.
Can I give her some assurance that will confirm her confidence in your
power to unravel this mystery? Stay," she added, "you shall judge for
yourself of the trust she reposes in you. 'That you now have the advice
of Sir John Templeton,' her Majesty writes, 'is a great solace to my
heart, which bleeds sorely for you in your dire trouble and sorrow. You
may trust it implicitly. I have experienced its sterling value.'"

A flush of pleasure mounted to the old diplomatist's face, and his
expressive gray eyes lighted up with a quick brightness.

"I would wish her Majesty to know," he said with a profound bow, and
speaking in a soft, vibrating tone, which reflected the emotion that had
been stirred within him, "that I seek no higher ambition than that of
justifying the trust her Majesty so graciously places in me." He paused
for an instant, and then, as if inspired by a sudden impulse, he added:
"Madam, will you convey to her Majesty my assurance that, if I fail in
this, I shall consider it the disaster of my life; and by heaven!" he
exclaimed, with unusual animation, "unless that has been done which no
mortal hand can undo, I shall not fail."

The Empress replaced the letter silently in the drawer of the bureau
from which she had taken it. Then she extended her hand to him with a
grateful smile.

"I believe you, Sir John," she said simply. "May heaven, then, prosper
your work."




CHAPTER VI.--Princess Margaret of Brandenburg.


On leaving the Empress's studio, Sir John Templeton was received in the
ante-chamber through which he passed by her Majesty's personal
attendant, a stalwart lacquey in the Imperial livery, and conducted to
the head of the grand staircase, on to which this apartment gave. Here
he was again met by another lacquey, who bowed automatically as he
approached, and receiving him, as it were, formally from the first one's
hands, preceded him silently with grave, ceremonious steps down the
first flight of stairs to the floor below, where a whole array of
similar automata were stationed at regular intervals, like gorgeous
sign-posts in human shape, apparently to guide the hapless wanderer who
chanced to go astray in the maze of corridors and passages that gaped
here invitingly at him on all sides.

With a stately gesture the nearest of these statuesque beings motioned
the visitor in the direction he was to take, and which, had he followed
it, would have led him to the central staircase that descended from this
first floor of the palace to the entrance hall below, whence, under
ordinary circumstances, those who had passed through the ordeal of an
Imperial reception were not a little relieved to make their speedy
escape into the easier atmosphere of the everyday world without.

But Sir John Templeton seemed in nowise pressed for time, and stood at
the foot of the stairs gazing furtively around, as if in search of
something or some one whom he expected to meet here. Nor was he deceived
in such expectation; for just as the statuesque gentleman
aforementioned, who had observed his tendency to loiter in the precincts
of the Imperial apartments with an air of dignified disapprobation,
advanced towards him with the obvious intention of "moving him on," if
so mean a term is applicable to so exalted a personage, an officer in
the uniform of the Imperial Guard, emerging apparently from nowhere in
particular, stepped suddenly on to the scene, and quickly approaching
the old diplomatist, saluted him in stiff, military fashion.

The statuesque gentleman and his associates drew back at once, and
resumed their former attitude.

"Sir John Templeton, I believe?" said the officer.

Sir John bowed acquiescently.

"You have received her Imperial Highness's commands, I presume?" the
officer asked.

Sir John bowed once more, this time with the shadow of a smile.

"I have received a note from her Imperial Highness informing me of her
wish to speak with me," he said.

"Then have the goodness to follow me," the officer rejoined, curtly. And
raising his hand once more by way of salute, he wheeled round without
anything further, and passed on in a direction leading apparently to the
left wing of the palace. Sir John Templeton followed in silence.

Those who know Arminia and the military spirit which pervades all
classes of its people, more especially in Brandenburg, will not, I
trust, commit the fatal mistake of supposing that this Imperial
guardsman intended any rudeness by his abrupt and unceremonious manner.
Far from it. He was performing a duty, and the very essence of such
performance, according to Arminian ideas, consists in its being
unaccompanied by any unnecessary word or phrase which might indicate
what I will call a sense of the personal identity of the performer.
Military rank in this vast Empire, with its standing army of over
half-a-million disciplined soldiers, governs society from the highest
grade to the very lowest, and the degree of deference accorded by the
wearer of one uniform to the wearer of another--and who does not wear
uniform in Arminia?--is determined simply and solely by the number of
stars on their respective epaulettes, or whatever other outward sign of
their military position the wearers may possess. Sir John Templeton,
being, as I need hardly say, pre-eminently of the civilian order, wore
of course no uniform at all, and he was consequently as complete a
nonentity from the military point of view as it is possible for a
breathing human being to be. Indeed, had the most distinguished and
illustrious man of the century, for whom possibly our guardsman in his
un-uniformed human character would have felt the deepest personal
veneration, been in the old diplomatist's place without some such
distinctive badge of the only recognised rank in the country, his mode
of reception would doubtless have been the same.

This, I beg the reader to believe, is no exaggeration. It is a fact
that, at the recent opening of the new Houses of Parliament in
Berolingen, the venerable President of the Arminian Legislative
Assembly, one of the most eminent men in the country, and, for the nonce
at least, one would have supposed, second in importance only to his
Majesty the Emperor himself, was actually relegated at the great opening
ceremony to a back seat among the crowd of beardless lieutenants and
subalterns, where he languished in obscurity throughout the whole
proceedings, for no other reason than because he happened in his
military capacity to have attained no higher degree than they.

This curious incident was, it will be remembered, much commented upon at
the time in the foreign Press; and in Arminian official circles, too,
considerable indignation was called forth by the absurd fact--not, I
mean, that the illustrious President of the Parliament should have been
only a sub-lieutenant in the Imperial Army, but that a mere
sub-lieutenant in the Imperial Army should have been elected President
of the Parliament.

But I have digressed.

The particular portion of the palace to which Sir John Templeton was now
conducted was situated at no great distance from the spot where his
guide had met him; nor would the way thither have been difficult to
find, had he been left to seek it for himself. It was, in fact, merely a
long, straight passage, with no outlet on the other side, leading to a
suite of apartments to which access was gained by a pair of large
folding-doors at the end. Passing through these at the heels of his
military conductor, Sir John Templeton found himself in a kind of inner
vestibule with doors on every side. Approaching one of these doors, the
officer motioned him to enter, saluted once more in the same stiff
fashion as before, and retired without another word.

The apartment, an octagonal chamber of ordinary dimensions, was lighted
by two shaded lamps, one a standard placed almost in the centre of the
room, in close proximity to a reading-desk of carved rosewood, the
design of which displayed the letter 'M' in every possible shape and
form, the other an ordinary table lamp, fitted to a receptacle of chased
silver, and standing upon a side table near a curtained door on the
opposite side. The appointments of the room were rich and dainty, and
the surroundings generally could scarcely have been more different from
those Sir John Templeton had just quitted. There was no sign here of
that artistic disorder which characterised the Empress's favourite
haunt. This room was a lady's boudoir in the fullest and most particular
sense of the term.

When Sir John Templeton entered it was empty. But he had barely had
leisure to glance curiously around him, when the curtained door at the
further end was opened, and a slim, girlish figure stepped into the
room. She hesitated for a moment upon the threshold, and fixed a look,
half proudly curious, half timidly apprehensive, upon her visitor. Then,
as if suddenly shaking off her passing fit of timidity, she closed the
door behind her, and advanced with a quick, resolute movement into the
middle of the room.

"I have to thank you, Sir John Templeton, for complying so readily with
my wish to see you," she said, speaking with a rich, musical voice, and
in the purest English.

"I shall consider myself fortunate if I am able to be of service to your
Imperial Highness," Sir John answered.

There was a ring of something more than pure formality in the tone of
the words. And, indeed, they would have been no mere figure of speech in
the mouth of any man possessed of some sense for feminine grace and
beauty.

Princess Margaret of Brandenburg, the second youngest daughter of the
Arminian Empress, showed her English origin, like all her sisters, in
her appearance as well as in her speech. She was, in fact, the very type
of that rare English beauty which perhaps none are quicker to perceive
and readier to admire than foreigners. Her Guelph descent through her
mother was traceable in every line of her face; yet there were certain
features in it, more notably, perhaps, the slightly pursed lip and the
determined curve of the chin, which stamped her just as unmistakably as
of the house of Brandenburg. It was in these latter characteristics that
her resemblance to her brother the Emperor was most marked. They gave
her, as they did him, that air of haughtiness and stubborn resolve which
is the distinctive feature of that whole illustrious race. And yet it
was rather the quality of self-reliance than pride, rather, perhaps,
that of wilfulness than obstinacy, which they really betokened; and in
the Princess they were wonderfully softened by the feminine charm of her
whole countenance, culminating, as it occasionally did, in the
bewitching smile that proclaimed her, more than anything else, the true
daughter of her mother.

There are some people who smile with their lips only; there are others
the essence of whose smile lies in their eyes. The Princess Margaret
belonged to the latter class, and though she smiled rarely--more
particularly at the period we speak of--the memory of one smile from
those large expressive brown eyes of hers dwelt long and sweetly enough
with him upon whom it happened to be bestowed to make him forget the
length of the interval that ensued between it and its successor.

"You can render me a very great service, Sir John Templeton," she said,
sinking upon a large divan in the centre of the room, flanked on either
side by a croup of taper-leaved palms, and inviting him with a graceful
gesture to a seat near her. "Need I tell you what has caused me to ask
you for this interview?"

"I think not, Princess," Sir John answered. "There is but one thought
dominating every mind in the country at this moment, and I scarcely need
your Imperial Highness's assurance that it is uppermost in yours; the
anxiety concerning the fate of his Majesty the Emperor."

"I would give my life to bring him back," the Princess exclaimed,
clasping her hands in front of her with a sudden passionate gesture.
"Can nothing be done, nothing to solve this dreadful mystery? Whatever
it is, if my help can avail, it is yours unasked."

There was something despairing, and yet suggestive, in her tone and in
the action that accompanied it, which struck Sir John Templeton
strangely.

"Princess," he said, bending slightly forward towards her, and gazing
full into her eyes, as if he expected to read in them the answer to what
he was about to say, "permit me to ask you one question. Did the Emperor
part with you in anger?"

She returned his look with one of surprise.

"No, no," she said. "You mistake me. It is not that. He was tenderness
itself towards me. Ah, only too tender."

She added the last words as if on an after-thought--fondly, regretfully.

"His Majesty never gave you the slightest reason for supposing," Sir
John asked, "that it was his intention to absent himself from his
capital, or to embark upon any undertaking involving peril to his own
person?"

"None whatever," the Princess replied. "My brother's last words to me--I
remember them only too well--were these: 'When we meet again, Sissy, I
shall have news for you worth more than a kiss. So hold yourself
prepared to pay special tribute.'"

"Your Imperial Highness, of course, knew to what his Majesty was
referring," Sir John observed.

"Not surely," the Princess exclaimed, with a start, "to anything
connected with his strange absence?"

Sir John Templeton did not answer at once. Apparently a train of thought
had been started in him which for the moment absorbed his attention.
Presently he turned to her with a quick impulse.

"Am I right, Princess," he said, with an abruptness that was softened by
his tone of respectful sympathy, "in assuming that you have sent for me
because you think you possess some knowledge which may throw light upon
the cause of his Majesty's absence?"

"I have sent for you, Sir John Templeton," the Princess replied,
studying his face with a curiously scrutinising gaze, "because I have
heard you spoken of as one whose advice is to be trusted, and because I
know that my mother places all her hopes in your ability to fathom this
terrible mystery."

"And do you share her Majesty's confidence?" he asked.

"I hope to share it," she replied.

"Then I may speak without reserve, Princess," he continued, "without
fear of giving offence, even if I should venture to trespass upon a
subject which may be painful and distressing to your Imperial Highness?"

The Princess turned just a shade paler, and her slender fingers toyed
nervously with the leaves of a palm that curved invitingly towards her.

"What subject could be more painful and distressing than the one we are
discussing?" she said in a low voice. "You may speak freely. I desire
it."

Sir John Templeton bowed greatly.

"You occupied, I believe, a place very near his Majesty's heart," he
said, "and he confided in you more fully than in any other member of his
family; is it not so, Princess?"

"Possibly," she replied; "I can scarcely say. My brother loved me and
placed great trust in my affection. But he was never inclined to be
lavish with his confidence, even towards those whom he loved."

Sir John paused for the space of an instant before he continued.

"Did he ever confide to your Highness the cause of the sudden distrust
which he conceived towards his private secretary, Dr. Georg Hofer?"

The question was evidently not an unexpected one. Yet, save for an
almost imperceptible tremor of the Princess's lips, which betrayed her
emotion, there was nothing in her manner of receiving it to denote that
it affected her more than any ordinary question would have done.

"He did not," she answered simply. "But perhaps----"

She hesitated now, and a slight flush mounted to her cheeks.

"Perhaps?"

"Perhaps it required no explanation on his part to enable me to guess
the true cause," she said. "But why do you ask this?" she continued,
with a sudden return to her former agitated manner. "You do not suppose
that any possible connection can exist between my brother's relations
with this man and his unaccountable disappearance?"

"Would it be so extraordinary," Sir John answered, "if I supposed what
your Imperial Highness yourself firmly believes?"

"Ah, if I believed it," she exclaimed, half rising, and with a quick
flash of anger in her eyes; "but can I, dare I believe it?"

"Princess," Sir John said, impressively, "there is indeed but one road
to the knowledge we are seeking, and he who would find it must first
possess himself of the secret which Doctor Georg Hofer alone holds: the
cause of his quarrel with his Imperial master."

The Princess gazed at him with a steady, searching look.

"You are absolutely convinced of this?" she asked.

"Absolutely."

"Have you seen Doctor Hofer?"

"I have both seen and spoken with him."

"And you believe him capable of betraying one who trusted and confided
in him?"

There was a touch almost of angry menace in the tone in which she asked
this question, which perhaps escaped Stir John's notice. At any rate, he
took no apparent heed of it, but unanswered unmoved----

"I am as ignorant, Princess, of the part played by Doctor Hofer at the
Imperial Court, and the purpose which brought him here, as I am of the
cause of the sudden difference which has arisen between him and the
Emperor. One thing only I know--as certainly as I know of my own
existence. It is that the discovery of the real purpose pursued by
Doctor Georg Hofer at the Court of Berolingen, not only was the cause of
the Emperor's altered attitude towards his private secretary, but is
also the cause of his Majesty's absence."

Again the troubled look crept into the Princess's face, and she sat for
a while in silence, apparently weighing what she had heard.

"Tell me, Sir John Templeton," she said, presently, in a low, anxious
voice, "do you believe the Emperor's life is in danger?"

"No one can say to what danger his Majesty may be exposed," he replied.

The Princess rose once more, with the same abrupt lapse into passion as
before.

"If his life should be endangered," she exclaimed, "if one hair of his
head should have been injured to further the plans of any mortal man,
whoever it may be, he shall know at least that a sister's curse rests
upon him; ay, he shall learn that a woman may possess the courage to
avenge her own blood, and will avenge it, even if----"

"Even if she should tear out her own heart in doing so, Princess," Sir
John said, in an earnest tone.

"Even if she tear out her own heart in doing so," the girl echoed,
returning his gaze proudly, yet speaking scarcely above a murmur. "You
have said it. Now go and tell Doctor Georg Hofer what you have heard,
and whose were the lips that uttered it."

Sir John's eyes rested upon her with a regard of undisguised admiration,
as she stood before him, her figure proudly erect--so youthful, yet so
queenly; so sternly resolute, yet so impetuous and passionate. He, too,
had risen to his feet when she rose.

"Were it not better, Princess," he said, deliberately, "that Doctor
Hofer should learn all this from your Imperial Highness's own lips?"

"From my lips?" she asked, with a startled expression. "What opportunity
will be vouchsafed me of speaking my mind to Doctor Hofer?"

"The opportunity is near at hand," Sir John replied. "The question is
whether your Imperial Highness will deign to avail yourself of it.
Doctor Georg Hofer will be present at the court ball to-morrow night."

"Ah," the Princess exclaimed, with an involuntary impulse of joy, "then
he is free again?"

Sir John Templeton shook his head.

"He is not free, Princess," he said. "At least, he is no more free than
he has been for the last four months."

"For the last four months?" the Princess repeated in a puzzled tone. "Do
you mean that he was already a prisoner before the Emperor left us?"

"To all intents and purposes, yes," Sir John replied. "Doctor Hofer has
not been at liberty to quit the capital since the day on which he had
the misfortune to forfeit his Majesty's confidence."

The Princess made a movement of annoyance.

"You are trifling with me, Sir John Templeton," she said, coldly. "Why
this pretended ignorance of the origin of my brother's displeasure? You
know it as well as I do."

"If I knew it as well as you do, Princess," Sir John rejoined, drily, "I
should be ignorant indeed; for your Imperial Highness, of this I am at
least sure, is gravely mistaken."

The Princess flushed and drew back.

"Yet you tell me that Doctor Hofer has been virtually a captive in my
brother's palace for the last four months?" she said.

"Since his Majesty learned the nature of his secretary's correspondence
with his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumbermere, yes."

"That correspondence, then, has fallen into the Emperor's hands?"

"It was first brought to his Majesty's notice by Baron von Ellermann,
the Minister of Police, since when no letter has been received or
despatched by Doctor Georg Hofer without his Majesty being supplied with
a copy."

"You have read these letters?"

"With the greatest care."

"And their contents are of a treasonable nature?" the Princess pursued,
with blanched lips.

"Their contents are such as to prove of the very deepest interest to his
Majesty the Emperor," Sir John replied.

"In view of the questions pending between him and the Duke of
Cumbermere?"

"In view of the questions pending between his Majesty and the Duke of
Cumbermere," Sir John affirmed.

There was a short pause.

"You know more than you profess to know, Sir John Templeton," the
Princess said, darting a quick look of suspicion at him.

"I know more than I dare confide even to your Imperial Highness," he
answered. "But unfortunately it does not tell me where his Majesty is,
nor why he has left his capital."

She turned away from him with a petulent gesture, and stood for a few
instants wrapped in thought.

"I will see Doctor Hofer," she said at last, with a sudden resolution.

Sir John bowed.

"May I inform him of your Highness's intentions?" he asked.

"It is unnecessary," she replied.

"Yet," he persisted, "it might be prudent, Princess, under the
circumstances----"

"It is unnecessary," she repeated, peremptorily. "I will see Doctor
Hofer during the ball to-morrow night. Where and how are questions that
need trouble neither you nor him."

"I am satisfied, of course, to leave the matter entirely in your
Highness's hands," Sir John said. "Only I would venture to point out
that there will be many eyes watching the movements of Doctor Hofer
to-morrow night."

"You mean that he will be guarded?"

"Under the circumstances, no doubt, with redoubled vigilance."

"If he comes at all," the Princess said, haughtily, "I presume it will
be as the Empress's guest, not as a State prisoner. In any case,
provided he does come, I shall not fail to gain speech with him. With
what result," she added, "you will learn in due time."

The tone of the last words meant that Sir John Templeton's audience was
at an end, and bowing profoundly he withdrew.

There was that in the Princess's manner towards him that told plainly of
some inner struggle which was tearing her heart; a struggle between
doubt and belief, trust and mistrust, resentment and love. She had
received her visitor as a friend, claiming his support and asking his
advice. She dismissed him more like a foe whom she suspected than an
ally in whom she confided.

Sir John Templeton felt all this, and pondered over it as he went. But
the smile it evoked from him was one of intelligent sympathy rather than
disappointment or perplexity.

Outside in the vestibule he was received once more by the officer who
had conducted hither, and who approached him now with an expression of
mingled curiosity and respect. Saluting him again in the usual
stereotyped fashion, he placed two letters in his hand.

"For you," he said, in his curt, military tone, "The matters are urgent,
I believe."

Sir John Templeton glanced at the letters. One was sealed with the
official seal of the Chancellor of the Empire, and bore above the
address the superscription; 'On Business of the State, Urgent.' The
other bore the seal of the British Embassy surmounted by the Royal Arms
of England. Opening the latter first, to the evident surprise of the
Imperial guardsman, Sir John rapidly perused the few words it contained.
They were written by her Majesty's Ambassador, Sir Edward Hammer, and
ran as follows:----

"Private advice from London. The Duke of Cumbermere reached Noveria
safely yesterday afternoon, and has placed himself at the head of the
rebel troops. The news is official."

Sir John Templeton crushed the note in his hand with a peculiar smile,
and proceeded to open the second one.

It merely contained a tersely worded request that Sir John Templeton
would repair with convenient despatch to the Ministry for Foreign
Affairs, where a communication of importance awaited him. The document
was signed: 'Von Capricius, Chancellor of the Empire.'

Sir John read it without betraying any surprise, thanked the officer,
and quickly made his way out of the palace.

It was nearly half-past 9 when he found himself once more in the street.
Here a fresh change had come over the aspect of things generally; for
instead of the quiet which usually reigned at this end of the great
boulevard, there were now signs of some considerable commotion
noticeable. Excited groups were clustered round lamp-posts and other
rallying points, reading evening papers or eagerly discussing some
absorbing piece of intelligence. A constant stream of foot passengers
was hurrying westward towards the opposite end of the Avenue, where, in
the distance, Sir John, as he stood for an instant upon the slightly
elevated ground outside the Empress's palace, could distinguish at a
glance that a vast concourse of people had gathered. The gestures of
those in his more immediate neighbourhood indicated the existence of
some strong excitement. But it was evidently a pleasant excitement.

Accosting a passer-by, Sir John asked the reason of the unusual stir.
The man, whose appearance bespoke him to belong to the class of superior
tradesmen, regarded his interlocutor with some surprise.

"Eh, eh," he cried, "haven't you heard the news? Prince Ottomarck has
arrived in Berolingen, and has taken up his quarters at the Hotel
Victoria, just off Willibald-street. I fear there is no getting near the
place to catch a glimpse of him."

He saw the impression his tidings produced, and added with a gleeful
laugh:

"Eh, my friend, that's a piece of news for you? We shall have a man at
the helm at last."

And he hurried on to join the crowd flocking in the direction of
Willibald-street.

Prince Ottomarck at Berolingen? It was news indeed. The great
ex-Chancellor, who had never set foot in the Imperial capital since the
famous rupture which had caused him to quit the service of his
autocratic young Sovereign, was once more returned to the scene of his
glorious past. The people, it was evident, greeted the event as if it
signalised the end of all anxiety and suspense. To them, for the moment,
such was the confidence they reposed in their great statesman, it meant
that all immediate danger was over.

Sir John Templeton knew that it meant something altogether different.
Indeed, had any doubt still existed in his mind as to the seriousness of
the crisis in which Arminia was now involved, nothing could have more
effectually dispelled it than this one unlooked for event--the return of
Prince Ottomarck to Berolingen.




CHAPTER VII.--A Midnight Conference.


Until far past midnight the famous Willibald-street--the Downing-street,
only on a somewhat larger scale, of Imperial Berolingen--was packed
throughout its entire length by a jubilant multitude.

Prince Ottomarck, an hour after his arrival in the capital, had driven
straight to the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, where he remained for some
while in close conference with the Imperial Chancellor, the President of
the Council, and several of the greater Arminian sovereigns now in
Berolingen, who had hurried post haste to join in the conference upon
receipt of the news of his Highness's arrival.

These latter had stayed, some a quarter of an hour, others somewhat
longer, and had then driven away again--as the imaginative populace who
observed them thought--with chagrin and disappointment writ large on
their countenances; a circumstance which was hailed as a proof that the
Iron Chancellor had promptly sent them about their business, as,
figuratively speaking, he had so often done in the good old days of his
greatness and glory.

But alas for the highly-strung sentiments of loyal Berolingen! Their
hero was a hero indeed. But in this instance they credited him with
achievements that were beyond even his powers. He had come to Berolingen
at the urgent desire of the King of Wettinia, his unfailing friend and
admirer, and, though cordially welcomed by the Arminian Ministers, who
had joined in the invitation of the King, he was there to advise only,
not to dictate. None knew this better than the great statesman himself.

Twice during the progress of the conference, the ex-Chancellor had
appeared on the balcony of the room in which it was being held, in
response to the vociferous call of the crowds outside. But he had merely
bowed a silent acknowledgment of the homage paid to him, and withdrawn
again at once. What was passing inside that room remained a secret to
the expectant people without; nor, indeed, had they known it, would it
have left them any wiser than they were before. All they cared to learn
was what had become of their Emperor, and if the truth must be told,
this was a matter which at that moment had almost ceased to occupy the
minds of those in whose deliberations they were so deeply interested.
The Ministers had the immediate situation to grapple with, and to do it
effectually it was imperative that they should accept the fact of their
Sovereign's absence as definite and unalterable. This, at least, was the
view of the Imperial Chancellor, and recent events had tended to
strengthen it.

Count Capricius was a military commander of some eminence. He had also
given proof of considerable administrative powers. Yet, when all was
said and done, he was a soldier still, not a statesman. And what chafed
him most in his present difficult position was the enforced inactivity
to which he saw himself condemned. Noveria was in revolt, and he dared
take no measures to quell it. Franconia was advancing the most insolent
demands, and he was compelled to submit patiently to their discussion
until such time as he would be in a position to sternly repel them. His
sovereign's absence crippled him everywhere. In whatever direction he
looked, he dared take no decisive step for fear of the consequences that
might ensue to the Emperor, of whose whereabouts no one knew anything.

Amid all these difficulties his one hope was concentrated upon the
meeting of the Arminian princes. He had hailed the plan with eager
approval, and had so far carried it through in the teeth of all
opposition, even that of the Imperial family itself, confident as he was
that by this means alone the Empire could be saved.

And was he now to be checked by the threats of an unreasoning Berolingen
mob? Was he to delay what he believed to be of paramount urgency to suit
the fads of some foreign meddler, whose ignorance of matters
military--an almost convertible term in the Chancellor's opinion with
'matters Arminian'--was simply appalling? Sir John Templeton, whose
services he had never desired, who had been forced down his throat, as
it were, by the combined insistance of so many illustrious personages
whom he could not afford to displease, treated the most burning question
of the hour, the offensive attitude of Arminia's hereditary foe,
Franconia, as if it were a mere trifle, to be disposed of off-hand
whenever a convenient opportunity might offer. Noverian affairs scarcely
awakened this man's interest--in fact, beyond making one or two absurd
propositions, and raising up bugbears in which his Excellency had no
belief, he had scarcely acquainted himself with any of the true
difficulties of the situation, but had gone his own way, consulting no
one, and keeping his ideas and plans, if indeed he had any, strictly to
himself.

All this was a sore grievance with the Imperial Chancellor, and it
formed the burden of his eloquence when he found himself alone with
Prince Ottomarck after the departure of the Royalties who had come to
assist at their conference. He had never believed in Sir John
Templeton's ability to fathom a secret which had baffled the united
intelligence of every official military and otherwise, in the country;
and, moreover, such knowledge of his doings as he had elicited excited
his disapproval, if not his grave suspicions.

He now held in his hand what he considered irrefragable proof of the
incompetence of the man whose presence in the capital, modest, and
unobtrusive as it appeared, had nevertheless hampered him and interfered
with his policy at every step. He knew that Prince Ottomarck had been
chiefly instrumental in bringing Sir John Templeton to Berolingen, and
it afforded him a sort of grim satisfaction to be able to disconcert the
sage old diplomat, in whom so many placed their trust, before the eyes
of his most stanch admirer.

Prince Ottomarck was pacing the room in which their conversation was
passing with giant strides, silent and thoughtful. From the street below
there sounded every now and then a low roar, as some one started a cheer
in the hope of its inducing the idol of the hour to show himself once
more at the brilliantly-lighted window. But the expectation was a vain
one.

It was now 11 o'clock, and still Sir John Templeton, whose arrival the
two statesmen were awaiting, remained absent.

In outward personal appearance a certain faint resemblance might be
detected between the ex-Chancellor and his successor. But it is a
resemblance of form only. Count Capricius is a fine soldierly figure,
with an imperious look and a dignified bearing--every inch of him a
warrior. The Prince, too, as is well known, possesses all the
characteristics of one born and bred, so to speak, in military
surroundings. Only in him the soldier is but the one-half--and in deed
the lesser half--of the man. So far, then, and no farther, the likeness
goes. In every other respect a greater contrast could scarcely be
conceived than that existing between the veteran statesman who built up
the great Arminian Empire and the man who has taken his place at the
helm of affairs.

Indeed, many a more striking figure than that of the worthy Count would
dwindle into pigmy insignificance when placed side by side with the most
imposing personality the century has brought forth. Only those who have
been brought into actual personal contact with the great Chancellor can
realise the impression of colossal power which he produces upon his
fellow men. Nor is this impression due exclusively to the intellectual
superiority which distinguishes him from his kind. It is the weightiness
of the whole man, physical as well as moral, that creates it. The
ponderous figure, towering far above the average human height, with its
martial bearing and the firm, almost massive, features; the great
fearless eyes, overshadowed by thick bushy eyebrows, beneath which their
glance shoots out straight at the object before them, like the quick
flash of a search light, sudden and disconcerting; the proud, determined
lips, breathing irresistible energy and resolution--all these outward
characteristics seem but the external shape and form, the corporal
expression, as it were, of the commanding genius which men have learned
to regard as identical with the very name of Ottomarck.

At this moment the countenance of the ex-Chancellor was slightly flushed
with the excitement consequent upon the discussion in which he had just
taken part. The precarious state of Imperial affairs had, of course,
been generally known to him. Yet, when regarded in detail, the gravity
of the situation had exceeded even his worst expectations.

Was it indeed, he reflected, no longer a question of "Where is the
Emperor?" but rather of "What is to be done without him?" Again and
again, whilst the Imperial Chancellor in loud strident tones was
explaining such details of the position of affairs with which his
companion was of necessity still unacquainted, the Prince took up and
perused a much-handled document which lay in a conspicuous position,
among a heap of maps, charts, and official papers of every description,
upon the huge square table in the centre of the room. His mind seemed
concentrated upon the contents of this one document, and it is to be
feared that the Chancellor's eloquent discourse fell upon deaf or
unheeding ears.

At last the door opened, and the long expected visitor was announced. A
moment later Sir John Templeton entered.

As he tarried for the space of an instant upon the threshold, his keen
eyes wandered with an inquiring glance from one to the other of the two
statesmen. The one, he was well aware, regarded him with anything but
friendly feelings. The other he knew to be his friend and well-wisher,
and his instinct, or perhaps the knowledge he had gained since he
quitted the palace of the Empress, told him that he might have need of
his weighty support.

Prince Ottomarck greeted him with great cordiality. The Chancellor, on
the other hand, received him with a stiff and somewhat haughty
inclination of the head, which Sir John Templeton acknowledged with a
smile and a respectful bow.

"If I have not been able to obey your Excellency's summons earlier," he
said, in a tone of easy apology, "it is chiefly due to the fact that the
approaches to Willibald-street are at this moment practically impassable
to all but Royalty."

The Chancellor received this explanation with the shadow of a frown and
a wave of the hand. It was not pleasant to him, as may be conceived, to
be reminded of a fact which, among other things, emphasised rather
invidiously the respective positions held by himself and his great
predecessor in the estimation of the people of Berolingen.

"I have desired your attendance here, Sir John Templeton," he began with
characteristic abruptness, "in order that you may have an opportunity of
communicating to his Highness the results of the investigation you have
been conducting at the Court of Berolingen."

Even a less quick ear than Sir John's would have caught the sarcastic
intonation of the last words. He understood the challenge they conveyed,
and accepted it.

"These results, as your Excellency is well aware," he replied, "are as
yet scarcely of such a definite nature as to permit of my recounting
them to a third person with any profit to him or myself."

"Yet, such as they, are," the Chancellor pursued, "they appear to have
warranted you in arriving at certain deductions."

"Which are not shared by your Excellency," Sir John broke in, drily.
"Precisely. Perhaps for that very reason I am acting wisely in
maintaining my own counsel until such time as I may find myself in
possession of facts convincing enough to prove the correctness of those
deductions even to your Excellency's satisfaction."

"You still adhere, then, to these deductions?" the Chancellor asked.

"If your Excellency means whether I still adhere to my opinion that it
would be expedient to release his Majesty's private secretary from his
present position of semi-captivity--yes. I have seen no cause, since I
last had the honour of suggesting this course, to alter a view which, as
your Excellency knows, is based on the conviction that no man is less
deserving of the suspicion that rests upon him than Doctor Georg Hofer."

"The friend of the Duke of Cumbermere?"

"The friend of the Duke of Cumbermere, if your Excellency so pleases."

"Ha," the Chancellor exclaimed, struck by something in Sir John's tone.
"Do you now doubt this friendship?"

"By no means. I am convinced that his Royal Highness the Duke of
Cumbermere possesses no stancher friend in the world than Doctor Georg
Hofer."

The Chancellor cast a significant glance across at the Prince, who stood
listening to this conversation with his arms crossed and a look of
curious interest on his iron countenance.

"Since this is your deliberate conviction, Sir John Templeton," Count
Capricius said, approaching the table and taking up the document that
had so deeply engaged the Prince's attention just before the old
diplomat entered, "I would commend the contents of this despatch to your
earnest consideration."

And he placed the document in Sir John's hands, with the air of a man
who, having carefully laid a mine and applied a match to the fuse that
is to fire it, retires calmly to a distance to watch the explosion.

Sir John Templeton took the paper and read it quietly. I ran thus:

"Headquarters of the IV. Imperial Army Corps in Noveria."

"The Duke of Cumbermere has succeeded in passing through all lines and
has assumed command of the rebel forces now encamped in a strong
position two miles from Celle. Unless we advance promptly, the situation
may become serious. Impossible to temporise any longer. The Duke's
proclamation, which has been posted throughout the province, in spite of
our vigilance, has excited the people to fever-heat. All the old
resentment has broken out afresh. Thousands are daily flocking to the
rebel standard. Disaffection is increasing by leaps and bounds, and
there are indications that it is spreading to our own troops. Our
inactivity is interpreted as weakness. Rumours still persistent that
rebels hold important captive. Solicit immediate orders to attack.

"VON GROBEN, General in Command of the IV. Noverian Army Corps."

"A truly interesting document," Sir John said, when he had perused it.
"And what, may I ask, does your Excellency propose to do?"

The quiet interrogative tone incensed the Chancellor.

"I will tell you, Sir John Templeton," he said, planting his somewhat
burly form squarely before the old diplomat. "It is the opinion of the
Government that the time has arrived for them to adopt stringent
measures against the man whom his Majesty the Emperor has left in our
custody for a very obvious reason. If we are obliged to proceed with due
caution in our dealings with the rebel Prince who has dared to lay hands
on the person of his Majesty the Arminian Emperor, there is at least
nothing to hinder us from dealing summarily with this audacious friend
of his, whose complicity in the treasonable scheme no sane man can now
doubt. Do you follow me?"

"Perfectly," Sir John replied. "Your Excellency alludes to Doctor Georg
Hofer. I understand, then, that it is the intention of the Imperial
Government to proceed against his Majesty's secretary as a rebel and a
traitor?"

"Exactly."

Sir John Templeton reflected a moment.

"This is a definite and final decision?" he asked. "I mean, the
Government have already resolved irrevocably upon this course?"

"A council of Ministers is summoned for 11 o'clock to-morrow morning,
when the necessary order will be issued."

"Then," said Sir John, simply, "I would beg that your Excellency at the
same time to inform the council that, upon the issue of this
contemplated order, I shall withdraw my services and return to Vienna."

The Chancellor bit his lip angrily, and Prince Ottomarck, who had
meanwhile seated himself and remained silent during the whole
conversation, rose with a gesture of concern.

"You disapprove of this course, then?" the Chancellor asked.

"Totally," Sir John answered curtly.

"Why?"

"For two reasons. Firstly, because I know it to be conceived under the
fatal misapprehension that Doctor Hofer has anything to disclose worth
learning by his Majesty's advisers, and secondly, because I am
particularly interested in the welfare of his Majesty's private
secretary. Sir," he went on impressively, "I can only repeat once more
that there is no man who has less knowledge of the Emperor's fate and
whereabouts than Doctor Georg Hofer."

"Very good," the Chancellor exclaimed angrily. "We shall see if he
persists in this profession of ignorance when he learns what such
persistence may cost him."

Sir John Templeton inclined his head gravely.

"Your Excellency," he said, "is of course the best judge of your own
affairs. I have expressed my views, and have nothing more to say."

Prince Ottomarck now advanced, in order to interpose a few words. But
before he could carry out his intention he was interrupted by the
Chancellor's secretary, who entered the room hurriedly, and placed a
letter in his Excellency's hands.

"From the Minister of Police, Baron von Ellermann," he said; "to be
delivered to your Excellency without delay."

The Chancellor hastily broke the seal, and read the note. As he did so,
a look of triumph lighted up his face, and, turning to Sir John
Templeton, he exclaimed, almost roughly----

"Now, sir, read this, and if you should then still be desirous of
discussing the question of Doctor Hofer's innocence, you will find me at
your service."

Sir John took the note, which contained an enclosure, and read as
follows:----

"I have to inform your Excellency that the accompanying communication
addressed to Doctor Georg Hofer, his Majesty's private secretary, was
delivered this evening at the Royal Castle by a man professing to be an
ordinary street messenger. The individual, who declares the missive was
handed to him for instant delivery by a person unknown to him, has been
arrested and subjected to a rigorous examination; so far without result.
He is now in the police cells awaiting your Excellency's pleasure."

The communication referred to, which Sir John Templeton merely glanced
at with a curious smile, contained these few words:----

"The Duke of Cumbermere has reached Noveria and placed himself at the
head of the rebel forces. Take no step to-morrow night without
consulting him who sends this, or you will imperil a life more precious
to you than that of Doctor Georg Hofer.

"A Friend."

"Well?" the Chancellor exclaimed, as Sir John quietly returned the
documents to him.

Sir John glanced up at him with a half-amused smile.

"The police are wary, indeed," he said. "I have only to deplore the
harsh fate that has befallen the unfortunate messenger; for, in truth,
no man ever suffered more innocently."

"Have the goodness to explain your meaning, Sir John Templeton," the
Chancellor said, with a dawning suspicion that there was a mistake
somewhere.

"I mean, sir," Sir John said, "that your Excellency need not put
yourself to the pains of seeking for the sender of this seemingly
dangerous missive. He stands before you."

Prince Ottomarck gave vent to an audible chuckle, and resumed his seat.

"You?" the Chancellor cried, half in astonishment, half in anger. Then,
flinging the letter passionately upon the table, he added, after a
pause: "You knew, then, of the Duke's appearance in Noveria before you
entered this room?"

"I did," Sir John replied,

"From what source?"

"From a source, sir, to which I have owed most of the information his
Majesty's Government have thought fit to withhold from me? Had I known
the contents of that despatch twelve hours ago, when it was already in
your Excellency's hands----"

"Well, what then?" the Chancellor asked haughtily.

"I should now be twelve hours nearer the solution of the problem on
which the fate of Arminia is hanging, that is all," Sir John replied.

The Chancellor was silent; perhaps because he felt at a loss what to
say. He had conceived an intense dislike of old Sir John, which grew the
deeper the more conscious he became of his inability to worst him. It is
not pleasant to be corrected, especially if you happen to be an Imperial
Chancellor: and somehow all Sir John's actions had a tendency to put the
Imperial Government in the wrong, a position conceivably intolerable to
so august a body.

"For what purpose," Count Capricius asked at last, "did you communicate
this news to Doctor Hofer?"

"Because I believe him to be as deeply interested in it as the
Government to whom it is addressed," Sir John replied.

"It appears to me," the Chancellor observed, "that you are playing a
dangerous game, sir, which may involve trouble to others besides the
person who plays it."

"The game I am playing, since your Excellency pleases so to term it,"
Sir John retorted, "is not of my seeking. It has been forced upon me by
circumstances, of which no one is better aware than your Excellency. It
rests, of course, with the Imperial Government to decide whether they
will once more reject the advice I have tendered them. If they do so, I
shall, as I have already intimated, resign my task into the hands of
those who intrusted me with it."

There was no mistaking the ring of determination with which those words
were delivered. Sir John Templeton was in earnest, and both Count
Capricius and Prince Ottomarck recognised the fact. The latter had
watched the play of the old diplomat's features throughout this somewhat
heated discussion with keen attention. Turning to him now, he said:--

"One question, Sir John, which may save many others. Are you quite
assured that you will succeed in accomplishing the task you speak of?"

"Quite."

"That is to say, to bring his Majesty the Emperor safely back to his
capital?"

"Precisely."

"This in spite of what you have just learned here?" the Prince pursued,
lifting up the despatch from the Noverian headquarters, and letting it
fall back upon the table.

"In spite of it."

"You attach no importance, then, to the Duke of Cumbermere's action,
which, assuming that the Emperor is really still a free agent, can only
be regarded as that of a man?"

Sir John Templeton paused before he replied.

"Your Highness," he said, "touches a question of vital interest, on
which I would prefer to maintain silence. The Duke of Cumbermere's
arrival upon the scene of action alters the whole complexion of affairs.
I had scarcely dared to expect it," he added, almost reflectively.

"Then you admit at last," the Chancellor interposed, "that this fact is
at variance with the conclusions upon which you have hitherto been
acting?"

"Your Excellency," Sir John said, "unfortunately credits me with that
which I have never possessed. It was precisely a conclusion which I
wanted. And the despatch I have just read has supplied it in the most
unexpected manner."

"Ha," the Chancellor ejaculated, taken somewhat aback. "And this
conclusion is?"

"This conclusion," Sir John answered, with a whimsical look at his
interrogator, "is that his Majesty the Emperor Willibald, your
illustrious Sovereign, is at this moment master of the political
situation."

Even Prince Ottomarck could not help giving vent to an exclamation of
incredulous surprise at this seemingly extraordinary statement.

"With all due respect for your opinions, Sir John," he said, in a tone
of slight raillery, which was peculiar to him, "that sounds under
present circumstances almost like a Franconian despatch. But, even
assuming what you say is correct, the chief question, it seems to
me----"

"The chief question is, and always remains: where is the Emperor?" Sir
John said. "Indeed, your Highness is right. Yet even that question is
now nearer solution. Were less at stake, I would venture to recommend an
experiment which might end all further suspense. But in view of what may
possibly be his Majesty's intentions, I dare not risk it without the
certainty of success."

"Well?" the Prince asked. "And what is it?"

"The arrest of Baron von Arnold, the husband of Doctor Hofer's sister,"
Sir John answered.

"Ah," cried the Chancellor with some animation, "there we meet on more
congenial ground, sir; though, for my part, I confess, had I the choice,
I would rather arrest the wife than the husband. Commend me to a woman
for downright rabid partisanship. This fair Noverian spitfire is more
likely to be concerned in whatever hidden conspiracy we may be dealing
with than either her brother or her husband."

"Your Excellency knows her, then?" Prince Ottomarck inquired.

"I know her from her letters," the Chancellor replied, "and they prove
her to be inspired with a hatred of Brandenburg and its royal house
which would do credit to the Duke of Cumbermere himself."

"Her letters?" the Prince asked, "To whom?"

"To His Majesty's secretary, Doctor Georg Hofer," the Chancellor
rejoined. "We have a fair collection of these precious documents; and
they afford interesting reading, as Sir John Templeton will no doubt
testify."

"And was his Majesty," the Prince pursued, "aware of these sentiments of
hatred which his secretary's sister harboured against the country whose
sovereign he was serving?"

"Baron von Ellermann assures me," the Chancellor said, "that his Majesty
has been repeatedly warned; within the last four months, both against
Doctor Hofer and his sister, whose relations with this Baron von Arnold
had aroused the Minister's suspicions. But--you know the Emperor. He
sent his warners about their business, took the matter entirely into his
own hands, ordered every letter written to or despatched by Doctor Hofer
to be submitted to him, and told Baron von Ellermann in plain words that
he was 'an ass,' and that before long he--his Majesty himself--would
teach him a lesson in his own profession, from which he trusted that he
would benefit."

"This sounds interesting," Prince Ottomarck observed. "What does Sir
John Templeton say to it? You have read these letters of Demoiselle
Hofer, now Baroness von Arnold?"

"I have," Sir John said, "and I can confirm his Excellency's statement
that they afford most interesting and instructive reading. Only,
politically speaking, I should say they have about as much value as the
sentimental outpourings of any average Berolingen schoolgirl."

"Schoolgirls may prove dangerous in circumstances," the Chancellor
observed. "At any rate, there can be no doubt that the sentiments
entertained by Demoiselle Hofer against the illustrious sovereign whose
bread her brother is eating are genuinely sentiments of the deepest and
bitterest hatred."

"That is beyond question, of course," Sir John answered. "But I think
his Majesty was perfectly alive to the fact that he possessed no friend
in the beautiful Demoiselle Hofer. Under these circumstances, her
marriage with Baron Frederick von Arnold becomes significantly
suggestive."

"It is on account of this marriage, I conceive," Prince Ottomarck asked,
glancing curiously at the speaker, "that you would advise the arrest of
this Noverian Baron?"

"Partly," Sir John answered. Then, turning suddenly to the Chancellor,
he said, with an apparently abrupt change of the topic, "the Emperor and
his secretary fell out some months ago. Has your Excellency any
explanation to offer for this sudden estrangement?"

The Chancellor raised his eyebrows slightly. "It has been attributed to
various causes," he replied. "Possibly one of them may have been the
unfortunate gossip which whispered Doctor Hofer's name in connection
with that of her Imperial Highness the Princess Margaret."

"I have been too long absent from Court to be au courant of these
things," said the Prince. "Pray explain. Do I understand that this
bourgeois secretary, who appears to have infatuated his Majesty in an
extraordinary degree, has dared to lift his eyes to the Emperor's own
sister?"

"My dear Prince," the Chancellor said, "the history of this Imperial
infatuation, as you rightly term it, is wrapped in a good deal of
obscurity. The Emperor's acquaintance with this man Hofer, as you know,
commenced at the university, when his Majesty was still simple Prince
Willibald. Already there, in spite of his open espousal of the cause of
the Noverian Pretender, he appears to have made a strong and abiding
impression upon the Sovereign. When his Majesty came to the throne, he
offered his old university comrade a position in his service, which was
declined. They are known to have corresponded very frequently, but all
inducements held out by his Majesty to this strange personage were
unavailing. He would accept no favour at the Emperor's hands. At last,
about a year ago, the Court was startled by the sudden appointment of
Doctor Georg Hofer as private secretary to his Majesty. It is
averred--with what truth I am unable to say--that the suggestion in this
instance came from Doctor Hofer himself, who, yielding to the Emperor's
repeated and pressing invitation, declared himself willing to accept a
confidential position in his Majesty's immediate entourage, on the
condition that by doing so he should forfeit neither his character as
his Majesty's friend nor the right to hold his own independent political
views. It must be acknowledged that during the period of his office he
has proved himself singularly free from the usual faults of those who
enjoy Imperial favour. At least, there are no indications that he has
ever used his Majesty's friendship for the purposes of his own
advancement. But presumably this reticence was a mere cover to hide a
loftier and more daring ambition, which, when discovered by his Majesty,
led to the estrangement that culminated three weeks ago in the
secretary's practical arrest."

"And the Princess Margaret?" Prince Ottomarck inquired.

The Chancellor shrugged his shoulders. "The Princess, as you know, was
removed from Berolingen for a time," he said. "And here is the strangest
marvel of all. As suddenly as she had been banished, she was recalled to
Court again, and up to the time of Doctor Hofer's arrest there was not
the faintest sign to show that his Majesty suspected the fact of a tacit
attachment existing between her Imperial Highness and the man in
connection with whom her name had once been mentioned."

"Which would appear to negative the alleged reason for her Imperial
Highness's absence from Berolingen," the Prince remarked. "But to return
to this interesting lady, the present Baroness von Arnold," he went on,
addressing Sir John Templeton. "Did she accompany her brother to the
Court of Berolingen?"

"By no means," Sir John answered. "Demoiselle Hofer, who has been
brought up in the strictest seclusion, has steadfastly refused to set
foot in the Arminian capital. Although apparently full of affection and
reverence for her brother, she never approved of what she termed his
weakness towards the man who had deprived his lawful Sovereign of his
inheritance. Consequently, when Doctor Hofer accepted the office he now
holds, he was compelled to leave his sister under the care of the lady
who had been intrusted with her education at Friedrichsdorf--a townlet,
as your Highness possibly knows, situated not many miles from the estate
of Arnoldshausen, of which Demoiselle Hofer has since become the
mistress."

The Chancellor regarded the speaker with some astonishment.

"Whence do you derive this knowledge, pray?" he asked. "You speak as if
you had seen and conversed with this Demoiselle Hofer."

"I have studied the correspondence between her and her brother, that is
all," Sir John replied; "perhaps, however, with greater care than your
Excellency and others have bestowed upon the task."

"Do you not think it possible," the Prince asked suddenly, "that his
Majesty possessed some secret intelligence, known to himself alone,
incriminating his secretary and proving his complicity in the
treasonable occurrences in Noveria?"

"I am convinced, on the contrary, sir," said Sir John, "that Doctor
Hofer is totally innocent of any participation in the rising in
Noveria."

"Yet his correspondence with the Duke of Cumbermere proves----"

"It proves him in one respect at least to have been the dupe, not the
deceiver," Sir John said.

"But how about his sister, the Baroness von Arnold?" the Prince asked.
"Do I gather that, in spite of the violent sentiments she has given
proof of, you hold her incapable of being implicated in any conspiracy
against his Majesty the Emperor?"

"I believe, on the contrary," Sir John rejoined, "that she has even been
the means of thwarting certain designs upon his Majesty--unwittingly, of
course, but none the less surely."

"In what way?"

"By marrying Baron von Arnold."

The Chancellor, who had moved away, turned round sharply at these words,
and darted a look of keen interest at the speaker. The Prince, to whom
the reply came quite unexpected, remained silent.

"What you have just said," the Chancellor remarked, addressing Sir John
Templeton for the first time in a tone of some consideration, "is
interesting. It is a singular fact," he went on, turning to the Prince,
"that his Majesty himself should apparently have held a very similar
opinion on the subject of Baron von Arnold's marriage. When this man
Hofer succeeded in persuading his Majesty to reinstate Baron von Arnold
in his possessions----"

"Is your Excellency so sure," Sir John here broke in, "that this
reinstatement was the work of Doctor Hofer?"

"Do you doubt it?"

"I do not doubt that Doctor Hofer welcomed with gratitude the clemency
extended by his Majesty to so fervent a patriot and adherent of his
Royal Highness the Duke of Cumbermere. But I have reason to believe that
the act was entirely spontaneous on his Majesty's part."

"Well, be it so," the Chancellor conceded, with unusual graciousness.
"It matters little now who was the originator of Baron von Arnold's
recall. But it is a fact that his Majesty, although to all appearances
exceedingly incensed with his secretary on learning that the first fruit
of this act of grace was the alliance of Demoiselle Hofer with the
Noverian Baron, declared to me on more than one occasion with his own
lips that this contemplated marriage only confirmed him in his opinion
of Von Arnold's honourable intentions towards the Arminian Government,
which had reinstated him in his possessions."

"Though the lady he had married was admittedly so implacable a foe of
everything and everyone Arminian that she even declined to set foot in
the capital?" Prince Ottomarck asked in astonishment.

"It sounds strange, yet so it is," the Chancellor affirmed. "Indeed, but
for the extremely strong views entertained by his Majesty on the subject
of his newest Noverian protege, I should not have hesitated to adopt the
very measure Sir John Templeton has just hinted at, and to have both
Herr yon Arnold and his precious wife brought to Berolingen."

"And now," Sir John asked, "does your Excellency see any reason to waive
these scruples?"

"I do not, sir," the Chancellor replied. "In recalling Baron von Arnold
his Majesty can have had but one purpose, that of conciliating the still
powerful faction which has hitherto steadily refused to recognise the
new order of things in Noveria. To arrest Baron von Arnold would be to
certainly frustrate that purpose, whilst the advantage to be gained by
such arrest is at best a very problematical one."

Sir John Templeton bowed.

"And Doctor Hofer?" he continued. "Does your Excellency see fit to
reconsider the contemplated proceedings against his Majesty's private
secretary?"

The Chancellor was about to reply, when an interruption occurred of an
unforeseen kind. While Sir John Templeton was still speaking, the clock
of a neighbouring church had chimed out the hour of 1. Prince Ottomarck,
who had been pacing the room in silent thought, stopped at the sound,
approached the window, and, drawing back the heavy curtain that hung
before it, gazed out.

A loud roar from without, continuing for fully a minute after the
statesman had hastily replaced the curtain, showed that outside in the
streets the multitude was still standing on guard patiently waiting to
see, perhaps even to hear, some reassuring words from the man whose mere
presence in the capital had momentarily at least lifted the weight of
anxiety from their breasts.

Suddenly, high above the vociferous cheering and the persistent cries of
"Ottomarck! Ottomarck!" a stentorian voice rang out the words, "Give us
back our Emperor!" A moment's total silence ensued. Then the words were
taken up, echoed and re-echoed, again and again, by thousands of
throats, frantically, deliriously.

The three men listened, each with a different expression--the Chancellor
with curling lip, but his countenance just a shade paler than before;
Sir John Templeton grave and pensive.

The Prince stood with brows slightly contracted, grim, yet startled. The
sudden demonstration outside had struck him almost like a comment upon
his own thoughts, confirming and amplifying them. All he had heard that
night was practically new to him, and though he was unable to piece it
together, he knew him from whom he had learned it too well to doubt
that, if any man were capable of doing so, he was that man.

As the din in the street slowly subsided and died away in the distance,
his Highness strode gravely across the room towards the Count, and
laying his hand upon his arm, said----

"If your Excellency follows my advice, you will not disregard that
warning."

And he pointed with his left hand significantly towards the street.

"Your Highness thinks----"

"I think," the Prince went on, "that he who would save Arminia from the
most hideous of the dangers now threatening her must bring the Emperor
back to his capital. I know not if it still be possible. But, if mortal
man can accomplish it, rest assured that it is he who stands before us."

The Chancellor glanced across at Sir John Templeton, hesitated, and
frowned. He, too, had his pride allowed him to own it, was at heart
shaken by what had passed that evening. But there was still a lingering
obstinacy within him, which prevented him from yielding without some
show of resistance.

"Your Highness's recommendation," he said, "is, of course, of the very
gravest weight. But in consideration of the very grave evidence that has
accumulated against this man Hofer."

"I would myself take the very course your Excellency has proposed," the
Prince said quickly; "only not at the cost of losing services which I am
convinced will prove of more advantage to Arminia than any knowledge
that this man Hofer may be forced to disclose. Surely," he added, "the
Imperial Government have enough to do to keep the ship of State afloat
among the political breakers that are surging around it. Let them not
add to their troubles by blindly rushing into new dangers."

Almost unconsciously the Prince had drifted into the emphatic, dictatory
tone which years of unlimited power had rendered natural to him. Count
Capricius, now his successor, had formerly been his subordinate, and
had, perhaps, not forgotten the habit of bowing to the decision of one
who had once been his chief--and, indeed, what a chief!

"Well," he said at last, reluctantly, "be it so, then. If Sir John
Templeton is satisfied with this concession to an opinion which is, to
say the least, strangely at variance with the facts, I am willing to
suspend the contemplated proceedings against Doctor Georg Hofer until
the Sovereigns shall have met in council. But that is all I can and will
do. Grant heaven I may not have to regret it!"

Thus ended an interview, the result of which was destined to have a more
important bearing upon the future of Arminian affairs than the
conference of crowned heads and Ministers that had preceded it.

Five minutes later Sir John Templeton was driving with Prince Ottomarck
through the still densely-packed Willibald-street, amid the wildest
demonstrations of the excited crowds, towards the Victoria Hotel in the
Avenue of Limes.

It was half-past 1 o'clock when they reached the hotel. When Sir John
Templeton left it again, the first rays of the morning sun were already
glistening through the rich foliage of the trees in the Avenue. But the
city was now quiet, and its inhabitants were wrapped in peaceful
slumber.




CHAPTER VIII.--The Empress's State Ball.


All the world knows of the famous ball which took place at Brussels on
the eve of Waterloo. How many of those who danced gaily that festive
night lay stiff and stark, crippled or mangled, a sight of blood and
horror, within a few hours of that strange, ill-timed frolic. The mind
is curiously fascinated by contrasts of this description, however dire
and terrible they be, and it has clung to this one with peculiar
tenacity, and will no doubt continue to cling to it and dwell upon it as
long as history lasts.

If one were to seek for an event to compare with the doings of that
fateful night, one might do worse than fix one's choice upon the no less
historical festivity of which it is my purpose now to speak: the State
ball given by her Majesty the Dowager Arminian Empress in honour of the
five and twenty sovereigns who had assembled in Berolingen to discuss
the fate of the much threatened Empire of her absent son.

Here, too, a contrast is afforded of a nature scarcely less striking
than the one just dwelt upon; and yet how different, both in character
and in circumstance. There, the contrast we now contemplate with a
feeling of curious awe was that of black night following upon sunny day,
of blood and battle succeeding the sweets of happy revelry. Those
revellers of eighty years ago made merry with the zest of beings for
whom the future is as a thing unborn--gray, indistinct, and intangible;
yet they knew of that which was to come, surely, inevitably. Here,
present and future mingled, were blended together, as it were, in one
incongruous picture. The grim demon of war--ay, and of worse than
war--stood, visible to all, threatening upon the threshold; yet none
knew whether he would cross it, nor when. And the merrymaking was a
feint, a sorry show of gaiety hiding hideous doubt and gnawing anxiety.
Not outwardly a sorry show, indeed; for nothing could have surpassed the
splendour of the function, nor the dazzling display of rank and wealth
and power and beauty which graced it, making it stand forth unique even
in the annals of a court renowned for such brilliant spectacles.

Two thousand four hundred guests all told thronged the halls of the
Imperial Palace that night, and among them were five-and-twenty crowned
heads, each with their attendant suites and noble following. Almost
every species of gorgeous uniform known in the civilised world, every
variety of fashion in dress and costume, was to be met with in this
motley, ever-moving crowd that filled every available space in the vast
palace.

To describe anyone individually and in detail would be an impossible
task. Even had the eye had time to rest upon any single toilette amid
this kaleidoscopic movement of colour, colour everywhere, it would have
been too much dazzled by the blaze of light that was reflected back from
the countless jewels glittering in the hair or shining on the dress of
the fair wearers to arrive at any adequate judgment of its individual
taste and beauty. Nor were matters mended in this respect by anything in
the nature of quietness and simplicity in the dress of the sterner sex.
The agreeable relief usually afforded by the sober, if sombre, black of
the ordinary male evening dress, or even the comparatively simple court
dress worn, at least by the general crowd of male guests, on similar
State occasions in this country, was here sought for in vain. Indeed, in
respect of colour and brilliancy of personal adornment, the men vied
with the ladies, and presented an almost equally dazzling spectacle.

Ambassadors and diplomatists in their gorgeous full-dress uniforms.
Ministers in their tight-fitting court attire, thickly weighted with
gold braid; military attaches of foreign Powers, wearing the more or
less picturesque uniforms of their respective regiments; Arminian court
dignitaries and State officials, with the badges and insignia of their
office; and last, not least, in number as well as in quality, military
grandees of every rank and description in the Arminian Army, most of
them with their breasts covered with stars and orders, plumed helmet in
hand, resplendent in cuirass or double-coloured cloth, pomaded,
betasselled, and ubiquitous; of such and their like was the male
contingent of the brilliant assembly composed.

The general company had the freedom of every room and hall excepting one
apartment reserved for the Empress and her circle; in the present
instance a Royal circle in a truly multiple sense. Here her Majesty,
assisted by her three daughters, several Princes and Princesses of the
house of Brandenburg, and the foremost officials of her court, did the
honours of the festival to her Sovereign guests, before commencing her
progress at their head through the rooms thrown open to her lesser
guests. From this central point--for the apartment was open on both
sides, disclosing a long vista of rooms blazing with light and thronged
with eager and expectant crowds--the initiated onlooker versed in the
mysteries of heraldry and the Golden Book might have observed a kind of
graduating decline in the social status of the multitude, these who
occupied the rooms nearest the Imperial presence doing so by a kind of
tacit right and privilege in virtue of their superior blood, whilst the
farther one wandered from this august centre the less distinguished
became the throng--to the well-instructed observer, of course, for the
ordinary unaided eye would have detected but little difference.

Punctually at a quarter-past 10 her Majesty, giving her arm to the King
of Wettinia, and preceded by her Chief Court Marshal, led the way to the
ballroom, where the dancing was, as usual, to be formally inaugurated by
the performance of a Royal polonaise. Immediately behind her Majesty
followed the Prince Regent of Wittelsbach with the Emperor's eldest
sister, whilst a line of more than twenty-couples, in strict order of
precedence according to the sovereign rank of the guests, brought up the
rear.

As the Royal procession passed through the wide lane formed by the
bowing crowd in the adjoining apartments, the strains of orchestral
music could be faintly heard in the distance, where the musicians
stationed in the grand ballroom had now struck up the first bars of the
national march. Responding graciously right and left to the respectful
greeting of her guests, her Majesty proceeded slowly on the arm of her
Royal partner, interrupting her conversation with him every now and
again to bestow a glance of recognition or a kindly smile on this or
that favoured personage whom she met and distinguished among the bowing
throng on her way.

A more queenly figure than that of her Imperial Majesty of Arminia it
would not be easy to find. Although in stature, like her venerable
mother, rather below than above the normal height of women, she
possessed that which neither height nor shape, nor, indeed, any other
mere external physical attribute can bestow--a truly regal presence.

Her dress was a magnificent robe of black satin and velvet, veiled with
priceless old Venetian point, which was caught up at the side with white
ostrich plumes and carried down the immense black train that flowed in a
graceful curve from her right shoulder. She carried a bouquet of the
rarest mauve orchids in her hand, and among other costly jewels she wore
in her hair a tiara of rubies set with diamonds, which flashed forth a
red fire as she swept along, proud and stately, the cynosure of every
eye.

There were many, more gay of attire and youthful in appearance, that
followed in her wake; but they scarcely attracted more than a passing
notice. The murmur of admiration which buzzed through the assembly as
the procession wended its way through, lasting for some time after it
had vanished from view, was unmistakably called forth by this picture of
Imperial Majesty at its head.

Notwithstanding, there was one among that admiring throng on whom its
effect was apparently lost; a solitary figure--distinctly solitary even
in the midst of the crush that surrounded him--standing half concealed
behind a gigantic marble statue of the Greek Apollo in the grand
corridor leading to the State ballroom. He was one of the few whose
costume was simple evening black; a circumstance which in itself would
have marked him out among the rest. But there was something beyond his
costume that made him conspicuous in spite of his half concealed
position.

The most casual of observers would have recognised at a glance from the
mien of those in his immediate neighbourhood that he was a personage
whose presence was shunned. He was aware of it, too; not sensitively or
resentfully. The disdainful curl of the lip, and the proud half-smile
that settled on his handsome face, when this or that individual whom the
pushing, hustling crowd had brought unawares into immediate contact with
him shrank back again startled and concerned, proved the contrary.

As the Royal procession approached the spot where he stood, he bent
forward impulsively, and his eyes rested for the fraction of a second
upon the illustrious pair who headed it. Then, with a quick, almost
nervous movement, they wandered anxiously along the line of those who
followed behind, returning again and halting abruptly at the couple that
came fourth in the order of precedence: her Imperial Highness the
Princess Margaret of Brandenburg on the arm of her uncle, the Grand Duke
of Zahringen.

The Princess, her head slightly inclined, and a pensive look on her
countenance, was listening with apparently deep interest to her
partner's earnest conversation. But there must have been something
magnetic in that steady gaze which rested upon her; for of a sudden,
with a scarcely perceptible start, she raised her head, and turned her
eyes slowly in the direction from whence it came. A faint flush tinged
her cheeks, fading away again as quickly as it came. That was all.
Before even he who had thus attracted her notice was conscious that her
eyes had met his, she had passed by.

A few minutes later, when the rush of the guests who immediately closed
up behind the procession and followed it to the grand ballroom to
witness the Royal polonaise, had subsided, leaving the corridor
comparatively deserted, a distinguished-looking personage, with an
unmistakably British type of countenance, detached himself from a small
knot of men, comprising one or two noted diplomatists, who had not
joined in the general rush, and deliberately crossing the space that
separated him from the solitary figure beside the pedestal of the Greek
statue, greeted him in English.

"I was told that I should meet you here to-night, Doctor Hofer," he
said. "May I express the pleasure I feel in doing so?"

Doctor Hofer turned to him as he spoke, half-surprised, half-annoyed.
But he took the hand extended towards him, and responded with a smile
that had even something of cordiality in it.

"You are very good, Sir Edward Hammer," he said. "Your informant, I
presume, was the person to whom I owe the unlooked-for privilege that
has been accorded me."

The Ambassador nodded an assent.

"Shall we seek a cooler atmosphere?" he said, with a wave of his hand in
the direction whence the royalties had just come. "These closed rooms
are stifling at this season. The terrace is more inviting."

The Doctor cast a furtive glance towards the ballroom, where the stately
opening dance was now in full progress. Then he looked inquiringly into
the Ambassador's face.

"You have something to say to me?" he asked, without stirring.

"Nothing of importance," Sir Edward answered. "Shall we go?"

The invitation was too pointed to be declined without some definite
reason, and Doctor Hofer was fain to accept it with a good grace.

As they walked along side by side through the various rooms which had
just been traversed by their Imperial hostess and her royal guests, many
a curious look was cast upon them by those whom they passed. Sir Edward
noticed them and smiled. But Doctor Hofer was too much absorbed in
thoughts of his own, either to heed the attention bestowed upon him, or
even to reply to the light and chatty observations which his companion
addressed to him on the way.

It was not until they had left the more or less crowded apartments of
the inner palace and passed through the handsome winter-garden, which
forms almost a separate wing of the building, covering an area of
considerably over fifty square yards, and opening out about midway on to
the terrace which stretches the entire length of the palace on the
garden side, that the Doctor apparently awoke to the consciousness that
he had a companion at his side.

"Why am I here to-night, Sir Edward Hammer?" he asked, almost brusquely,
when they had stepped out into the cool and fragrant night air.

"I have not the remotest idea," Sir Edward replied.

"To be watched and spied upon, I presume," he continued, rather sternly
than bitterly, and scarcely awaiting the answer to his question. "As if
all their watching and spying could drag that from me which I do not
possess. If it is indeed Sir John Templeton whom I have to thank for
this questionable privilege----"

The Ambassador interrupted him by laying his hand lightly upon his arm.

"I think there is no doubt," he said, "that you have to thank Sir John
Templeton for this privilege, Doctor Hofer. Perhaps, you have to thank
him for even more. If I may so far presume upon our acquaintance as to
offer you a word of friendly advice, I would urge you not to despise the
friendship of a man in whose perfect sincerity you may place implicit
faith."

"You would render me a still greater service, Sir Edward Hammer," Doctor
Hofer rejoined, "if you would inform me to what circumstance I am
indebted for this unsolicited display of interest on the part of a man
whom I never saw until four days ago, and who, I understand, is serving
the Government that holds me here a captive contrary to all law and
justice."

"If you knew Sir John Templeton as I do, Doctor Hofer," Sir Edward
replied, "you would not need to be told that whomsoever he serves he
serves for the purposes of truth and right, and for none other. To what
circumstance you are indebted for his friendly interest I do not know.
That you possess it is proof abundant to me that you are not undeserving
of it."

"Are you so sure, then, that I possess it?"

"As sure, sir, as I am of the fact that you owe to it the very air you
are now breathing."

Doctor Hofer started.

"You mean that I owe my life to this man?"

"You owe it to him at least that you have not been obliged to purchase
that life at a cost dearer perhaps than it is worth--to yourself."

Doctor Hofer gazed at the speaker long and searchingly.

"Has Sir John Templeton commissioned your Excellency to tell me this?"

"The question is perhaps natural, Doctor Hofer, but it is scarcely
courteous," Sir Edward retorted drily.

Doctor Hofer felt the rebuke and coloured.

"Moreover," the Ambassador went on, "Sir John Templeton, I can assure
you, is not the man to employ a mouthpiece--were it even a British
ambassador," he added with a smile, "to proclaim that which, if he so
desired, he could proclaim with his own lips. I know that but for him
you would yesterday have been arraigned before an Arminian court-martial
to answer a charge of conspiring with the Duke of Cumbermere against the
liberty and the life of his Majesty the Arminian Emperor; with what
result, in view of the fact that his Royal Highness is at present waging
war against his sovereign, I need hardly stop to explain. I was of
opinion that this piece of news would interest you, Doctor Hofer. If I
have been mistaken I have only to regret my mistake, and apologise for
troubling you with so insignificant a matter."

"You punish me somewhat severely for a hasty utterance, Sir Edward,"
Doctor Hofer answered, with an air of quiet dignity. "But perhaps I may
not unfairly plead my exceptional position in extenuation of an offence
that was certainly not intentional. I can only repeat that I find it
difficult to understand this display of interest in a comparative
stranger on the part of a man whose alleged purpose is to serve those
who distrust and persecute him. Does it not occur to you that Sir John
Templeton, in bestowing so much unmerited attention upon my humble
person, is perhaps neglecting the chief duty he has taken upon himself
to perform at the Court of Berolingen: that of restoring the Emperor to
his loyal subjects?"

"I think not," Sir Edward answered simply. "I have never known Sir John
to act without the most cogent of reasons. In this instance it happens
that he believes his Majesty the Emperor is safe and that you are not."

"By heaven," Doctor Hofer exclaimed, with an earnestness that startled
his companion; "I wish I could share this happy view."

"Of the Emperor's safety, or your own peril?" Sir Edward asked.

"Sir," Doctor Hofer said, almost passionately, "to be assured of his
Majesty's safety I would--but pshaw, we are trifling with words. I
appreciate your solicitude, Sir Edward, fully and sincerely," he went on
more calmly, "but rest assured that it is not in Berolingen, nor from
the quarter you imagine, that the gravest danger threatens me. Of this,
pray acquaint Sir John Templeton. It may save him much fruitless
trouble. Meanwhile, if he would not go hopelessly astray and jeopardise
the safety of the Emperor, whom it is his desire to serve, bid him
beware of Noveria. There is more villainy afoot there, Sir Edward
Hammer, than either he or those whom he advises dreams of."

With which warning, solemnly uttered, he turned abruptly on his heel,
and left Sir Edward standing alone on the terrace.

"Singular," the Ambassador murmured to himself, as he gazed after the
Doctor's retreating figure. "A profession of ignorance and knowledge in
the same breath. What if Sir John should be mistaken after all."

This reflection, as he slowly wandered back into the palace, pursued
him, filling him with a sense of uneasiness which he could not shake
off. He had intended to convey a well-meant warning to a man with whom,
during the short time he had known him, he had always stood on friendly
terms, and for whom, in spite of all appearances against him, he felt
still a genuine esteem. Instead of this, he had himself received a
warning, and it was one that could not shake his faith in the innocence
of him who had uttered it.

When Sir Edward Hammer rejoined the crowd in the general reception
rooms, the royal polonaise had concluded and dancing was in full swing
in the apartments reserved for that purpose. The atmosphere was close
and oppressive, in spite of open windows and other more ingenious
contrivances to moderate the temperature, and the languid air and
flushed countenances of those who moved in it proved that its effect was
telling with unpleasant consequences. Indeed, more than one member of
the fair sex had only saved herself from total collapse by a timely
recourse to smelling salts and other reviving remedies, and it was even
whispered--with what truth probably few knew--that one of the Imperial
princesses had been suddenly overcome by the heat and been obliged to
retire to her private apartments.

Sir Edward Hammer was anxious to gain a few minutes' speech with Sir
John Templeton, with whom he had conversed for a short time at the
beginning of the evening. But he found it impossible to accomplish his
purpose. A British Ambassador at a State ball is not a free agent, and
he had scarcely shown himself near the Royal circle, when he was espied
by the Empress, who sent for him and engaged him for some time in
conversation. Later on, when he was again at liberty to follow his own
bent, he chanced at last upon the object of his search, but only to find
him engaged in close conference with his Majesty the King of Wettinia.

While he was wafting at a respectful distance in the hope that their
conversation would soon end, he was startled by a merry little voice
close beside him, which accosted him with these words----

"Will you be my cavalier for three minutes, Sir Edward?"

The light, sparkling blue eyes that gazed, half roguishly, half
deprecatingly into his face, as he turned quickly to respond, would have
proved irresistible to an older and sterner man than our Sovereign's
distinguished representative at the Court of Berolingen. Sir Edward
Hammer was the most perfect courtier imaginable, and though he did so
with an inward sigh, he acceded to the request from these fair lips
without a moment's hesitation.

"Certainly, Comtesse," he said; "until you weary of me or dismiss me.
Where may I conduct you?"

"I do not know," she answered demurely, placing her little hand in the
arm he offered her. "Let us walk. Exercise is so refreshing."

The assertion, under the prevailing conditions, had certainly a smack of
originality about it. But Sir Edward possessed far too much tact to
express surprise at it. He merely sighed once more--only inwardly, of
course--and obeyed.

There was not one among all the men present that night, however high his
rank, who would not have envied him the unlooked-for distinction that
had been conferred upon him; for the charms of the Comtesse Renee von
Seckendorf, the inseparable companion of her Imperial Highness the
Princess Margaret, to whom she acted as lady-in-waiting, constituted in
the most literal sense of the word a power in the household of her
Majesty the Empress. Comtesse Renee could dare to do what no one else at
the Imperial Court could dare to do; and she did it with a grace which
none could withstand. She stood in high favour with the Empress, whose
wrath, much feared by those who had experienced it, was rarely proof
against one of the Comtesse's penitent smiles. Indeed, so potent were
these that it was even said the Emperor himself had for their sake once
overlooked what he had never been known to overlook before--a breach of
military discipline. In the strict sense of the term the Comtesse was
not a beauty; but she had that which is often far more effective than
beauty pure and simple--a strikingly pretty cast of countenance, and a
charm of manner which, as I have already indicated, was as difficult to
resist as it is to define. Though already twenty-one, and consequently
by two years the senior of her Imperial mistress, she might easily have
passed for younger than the Princess, more perhaps by reason of her
great vivacity and frolicsome temperament than her actual looks.

Sir Edward, as he escorted his fair companion from one apartment to the
other, moving, as he was directed, in the most erratic manner,
apparently without plan or purpose, found himself very much in the same
predicament as once before during that evening--that is to say,
conversing with one who was too preoccupied to heed what he said. The
Comtesse's eyes seemed to be everywhere at once, now sweeping the whole
length of a crowded room which they had just entered, now glancing
searchingly into some remote corner, and scanning the faces of those who
occupied it, as if they afforded an absorbing subject of study.

"Are you looking for some one, Comtesse?" Sir Edward asked at last,
finding that all his courtly eloquence awoke no response. "Perhaps I can
aid you."

The Comtesse looked up at him archly.

"Am I tiring you, Sir Edward?" she said, quietly ignoring his question.
"I fear you find it troublesome ploughing your way through these crowded
rooms."

Sir Edward knew how to interpret an answer in whatever guise it came,
and hastening to repudiate the notion that he could feel any fatigue
under such enviable circumstances, he once more resumed his ungrateful
task of entertaining a half-listening partner.

"Is it true, Comtesse Renee," he asked, presently, "that Princess
Margaret has been taken ill to-night?"

The Comtesse gave a little start of alarm.

"The Princess?" she exclaimed, looking at him with an air of innocent
surprise.

"I heard it rumoured that she had been seized with a sudden faintness,
immediately after the Royal polonaise, and had been obliged to withdraw
to her apartments."

"If that were so, I must have heard of it," the Comtesse said. "I am not
in attendance upon her Highness to-night, but--why, to be sure," she
exclaimed, "I have seen and spoken with the Princess within the last ten
minutes, Sir Edward. People have been fabling."

They had now entered the apartment immediately adjoining the ballroom,
whence at that moment, a rush of couples emerged, crowding the space
before them and bringing their strange pilgrimage to an abrupt stop.

Suddenly the Comtesse made a quick side movement, as if to avoid being
hustled in the crush. Then, with a little cry of annoyance, she detached
her arm from that of her escort, and looked with a rueful countenance on
the floor in front of her.

"What a plight!" she exclaimed, in a tone of dismay.

Following her look, Sir Edward saw to his surprise that a large length
of the billowy lace flounce of her gown had been wrenched off, and lay
trailing on the ground in front of her. How it could have happened
puzzled him somewhat, for he had been careful to protect her from the
crush, which proceeded entirely from his side of the room, and,
moreover, he had heard no sound of a tear, such as might have been
reasonably expected under the circumstances.

However, the thing had occurred, of that there could be no doubt. The
Comtesse's little cry had at once attracted the notice of those in their
immediate neighbourhood, and before Sir Edward could come to his
partner's assistance, a dozen officers had rushed up precipitately, all
eagerness to be of service to the pretty Comtesse. One of these, an
Arminian lieutenant, wasp-waisted and profusely bear-greased, like most
of his kind, instantly produced a handful of pins and a dainty pair of
scissors from some hidden recess behind the flaps of his uniform, and
picking up the precious length of lace, was proceeding to pin it deftly
to the gown from which it had been torn, when the Comtesse, declining
his offices with a petulant little air, declared that she would have no
pins; the lace must be properly sewn on.

"Ah, you can help me, Doctor Hofer," she exclaimed, of a sudden, taking
an impetuous little start forward towards that personage, who, as Sir
Edward now noticed for the first time, had been standing a few steps off
watching the incident with a smile of amusement. "Will you kindly give
me your arm and take me away. But quick, quick, please! I must have this
repaired at once by proper hands."

Doctor Hofer flushed perceptibly, and his large grave eyes lighted up
with a sudden gleam of comprehension. He bowed, stepped forward, and
before Sir Edward quite realised what was passing, the Comtesse,
gathering up the trailing length of lace, had placed her arm in his and
was moving away through the throng that drew aside to let her pass.

As she did so, she caught the eye of her late cavalier, and stopped for
an instant with a comic gesture of regretful apology.

"I am dismissed, then, Comtesse," Sir Edward said, in a half-whisper,
glancing meaningly at her new partner.

"Not dismissed, Sir Edward; only relieved," she answered, with a
bewitching little smile; and the next moment she was gone.

Sir Edward was still gazing after her with a perplexed air, when he felt
a hand lightly laid upon his shoulder, and, turning round, saw Sir John
Templeton standing beside him.

"I believe you have something to say to me, Sir Edward?" he said.

"I have, indeed," the Ambassador exclaimed, with animation, linking his
arm in that of the old diplomatist.

"Then I am at your service," Sir John said. And, threading their way
through the festive crowds, the two men went in quest of a convenient
corner where they could converse without fear of being interrupted.




CHAPTER IX.--The Mending of a Torn Flounce.


Meanwhile the Comtesse Renee, on the arm of her newly-chosen cavalier,
had passed out of the room into the grand corridor where Doctor Hofer
had stood earlier in the evening to watch the royal procession on its
way to the ballroom.

"Quick, through that door on the right!" the Comtesse whispered,
accompanying her words with a slight pressure on the arm she was leaning
upon.

The doctor obeyed silently, and steering for the spot indicated, passed
swiftly through the door, which communicated with a short passage
leading direct to the great entrance hall of the main building. Instead
of traversing the hall, however, the Comtesse, now leading her
companion, turned abruptly to the left on entering it, and passing along
at the side of the grand staircase, disappeared with him a minute later
into a corridor at the back, which was curtained off from the hall, and
guarded by an Imperial lacquey, stationed there apparently to prevent
the intrusion of unprivileged visitors.

The man bowed profoundly as the Comtesse approached, and drew the
curtain aside to let her and her escort pass.

As it closed again behind them, the Comtesse gave a little sigh of
relief, and momentarily, slackened her pace. The stillness here was
soothing and the coolness most refreshing after the rush and bustle in
the heated rooms they had just left. The passage, which was carpeted
with a thick pile of British manufacture, led, as Doctor Hofer knew, to
what had once been the private apartments of the late Emperor Fritz. At
its furthest end it opened out into a kind of vestibule, from which a
flight of stairs mounted to a similar vestibule on the first floor, with
the aspect of which the reader is already familiar.

As they approached these stairs, Doctor Hofer, who had not spoken a word
since they started, turned his head and looked down inquiringly at his
fair guide.

"Will you tell me what is our destination, Comtesse?" he said, in a
voice which betrayed the speaker's excitement.

She looked up at him with a little moue.

"We are going to get my gown mended, sir," she said. "If you have
anything to mend in the meanwhile, it would be well to lose no time
about it. It will take my maid exactly fifteen minutes to readjust this
strip of lace, and I can afford to wait no longer."

With these words she tripped lightly up the stairs, and Doctor Hofer
followed with a quick-beating heart. When she had reached the top step
she paused until he was at her side again. Then, pointing straight in
front of her, she whispered:--

"The door opposite, which stands slightly ajar, leads to a room where
you can wait for me, Doctor Hofer. I shall be here again in fifteen
minutes, and shall expect you to escort me back. Do not fail me."

And without stopping for him to reply, she hurried on and vanished into
one of the numerous apartments that gave on to the vestibule.

With a few quick strides Doctor Hofer had reached the door she had
pointed out to him, and entering closed it noiselessly behind him. One
glance around him, and a cry of pleasure escaped his lips.

In the middle of the room, in an attitude of anxious expectancy, with
her body slightly bent forward and her lips parted as if in dread or
suspense, stood her Imperial Highness Princess Margaret of Brandenburg.
A deep flush suffused her cheeks for an instant, and was followed by a
pallor which seemed by contrast almost deeper still. But she did not
stir when he entered. Attired as she was in her full ball costume of
cream white and silver brocade, daintily trimmed with costly lace and
lilies of the valley, she looked, as she stood out motionless against
the background of green palms immediately behind her, like some fair
creation of an artist's imagination rather than a living being of flesh
and blood.

Doctor Hofer gazed upon her in silent admiration.

"Margaret," he murmured, at last.

The word came from his lips in a whisper only, but it caught her ear,
and she raised her hand with an impulsive sweep, as if to expunge its
unwelcome record.

"Where is my brother, Doctor Georg Hofer?" she asked, in a low, stern
voice.

"God knows it, Princess. I do not know it," he answered, earnestly.

"If you do not know it, who, then, shall know it?" she said, coldly.

He looked at her with a pained expression.

"You believe me guilty, Princess," he said, "of this hideous crime which
the world imputes to me?"

"Are you not the faithful servant of the Duke of Cumbermere?" she
answered, shortly.

"I have never denied it," he replied.

"The Duke," she went on, "is levying war--nay, not war, but black,
treacherous rebellion--against the Emperor."

Doctor Hofer was silent.

"Are you still his faithful friend, Doctor Hofer?" the Princess
continued.

"If I am," he answered, slowly, "that does not prove that I would not
give all I possess, my life itself--all, Princess," he added, with
sudden passionate ardour, "save one thing alone, to see his Majesty
safely back in his capital."

"You know, then, that the Emperor is in Noveria?" she asked, with a
little gasp of dismay.

"I fear it," he answered, sadly.

"A captive in the hands of his bitterest foe, of him whom you serve and
uphold?" she exclaimed, with flashing eyes. "And you would have me
believe that you are innocent of this shameful betrayal of one who had
loaded you with favours, who has trusted you and honoured you, and made
you his friend?"

"Let me prove it, Princess," Doctor Hofer replied. "Great God," he
cried, "were it under any circumstances conceivable that I could have
lent my hand to this dastardly thing, can you, dare you, believe I would
have done so knowing it would cost me that which I prize above all
earthly things--the one sweet hope which has become the breath of life
itself to me? Margaret," he went on, seeing her tremble and half-avert
her head to hide the effect his passionate speech produced upon her, "I
had hoped and prayed for this interview--not to plead my cause before
the only tribunal whose sentence I dread--but for a purpose which you
alone can aid me to achieve."

"I?" the Princess exclaimed, turning to him with a start. "What is it?
Speak."

He bent a look upon her full of proud yet tender reproach.

"If you really, truly, believe me culpable of what would render me for
ever dishonoured in men's eyes, Princess," he said, "it would be useless
for me to name it. For the favour I have to crave you can grant only to
one in whose faith and honour you place firm trust."

He waited for her response. But none came. She stood struggling with
herself, and watched the result, silently, expectantly.

"Why are you not free, Doctor Hofer?" she said at last, in a softened
tone, "you are here to-night, but as a prisoner to whom a brief respite
has been granted. Can I believe that my brother suspects your loyalty
without some just cause?"

"Princess," he said, "for that which the Emperor has done he can account
to himself alone. I know of no offence--save one--by which I may have
forfeited his pleasure; and for that offence I will gladly answer before
a whole world of Emperors, so long at your lips do not condemn it."

"You are bold, too bold," the Princess answered, with a tremor in her
voice. "If I thought it possible that some mad desire of realising a
hope that can never be realised had misled you thus to cast truth and
honour to the four winds and become a traitor to the brother who is
dearer to me than my own happiness."

"Margaret," he interrupted her once more, almost sternly. "Your lips
utter what your heart does not believe."

"Disprove it, then," she cried passionately. "Have I not a right, a
sister's right, to demand such proof? If you know the fate that has
befallen the Emperor, you must know by what means he has been
treacherously lured to it; and if you possess that knowledge----"

"What if I do indeed possess it?" he broke in eagerly. "What if I
possess it since last night, Princess, and am yet powerless to use it?
Powerless for want of one day's freedom to act at will?"

"Ah," the Princess cried, stepping back, with a look of cold suspicion,
"is it this you have come to ask of me? To assist you in regaining your
liberty?"

"If I thought it were in your power to procure it for me, Princess," he
replied, "I would not hesitate to ask it of you boldly. But I know it is
not. All I desire is the means of communicating the knowledge I have
gained to one who will use it as I cannot use it."

"And how can I aid you in effecting such a purpose?" the Princess asked.

"You can do so by consenting to despatch this letter under your Imperial
seal, Princess," he answered, drawing a letter, as he spoke, from his
breast pocket. "If I dared intrust it to the tender mercies of the
Arminian post office," he went on, seeing her start back and change
colour, "or if I had one solitary friend upon whose faith and integrity
I could place reliance, I would not ask this favour of you. If you
refuse it, nothing rests for me to do----"

He stopped short.

"But what?" the Princess asked.

"But to suffer in silence, Princess, a wrong far greater even than that
which his Majesty the Arminian Emperor has done me. I can say no more,"
he continued. "My life, I know, and more than my life, is in peril, in
grave hourly peril. But, by the love which governs my heart, and which I
have sworn to live for--in spite of all obstacles, in spite even of your
pride, Margaret, which is as sweet and precious to me as the love it
would crush, yet contends with in vain--I swear that I would willingly
yield up that life, if by sacrificing it I could undo what I believe has
been done, basely, treacherously, indeed, but without my knowledge or
connivance."

"But how can you hope to undo it?" the Princess said. "Can you bring
life and liberty to another, you who are yourself deprived of liberty
and in imminent peril--for you are in peril," she added, clasping her
hands with sudden desperation. "I know it, I know it too well."

"I know not what may be in my power to do," he answered. "But rest
assured, if anything can be done, this letter, and nothing else in the
world, will accomplish it. Ah, the folly of it!" he broke out. "Could I
only have dreamed of this! The Emperor, in depriving me of my freedom,
has unwittingly constituted me, not his prisoner, Princess, but his
gaoler."

"His gaoler?" she murmured, looking at him with an expression full of
bewilderment.

"You cannot understand me," he said.

"But you can believe me--you alone, Princess. Margaret," he continued,
in a soft, appealing voice, "I ask you to trust me--nothing more. Can
you see me look into your eyes--thus, and believe me capable of wronging
you, my Princess? Is there no memory left of that one precious moment
when those eyes made confession to me of that which your lips would fain
have denied? I treasure that memory, and revere it as my costliest
possession, Margaret; nor shall I cease to treasure it until I hold what
will render it more than a memory: an abiding fulfilment of the hope it
promised."

There was a ring of proud assurance in his voice which thrilled her. Yet
it awoke no responding emotion in her own breast. She knew she had given
her heart to this man, but she knew, also, that she had done so without
that hope and faith which rendered the gift a gain to the giver. She had
wrestled with her pride and her sense of duty, and had not conquered
them. Alas, it had not needed the stern fiat of the Emperor to blast her
hope of future happiness. That hope had not survived its birth; nay, it
had been stillborn.

"Why remind me of that which is best forgotten," she said, in a low,
almost plaintive voice, which tried to be calm, failed. "Have I not
suffered enough for this one moment of weak folly?"

"Suffered, Princess?" he said. "Suffered since when? Since this cruel
suspicion entered your heart, poisoning its faith in him who has won
it--ay, won it, Margaret, for all you may say to the contrary, won it
where the greatest of the earth, suing in all their power and glory and
splendour, have failed to win it. That is my pride, Princess, and I
would not part with it for the most coveted crown in Christendom. Would
I then deceive you in that which I know to be nearest and dearest to
you? You do not believe it, you have never believed it."

Something like a tear glistened in the girl's eyes, and she turned away,
afraid of her own weakness. He spoke the truth, and she knew it. Had
she, indeed, ever really doubted him? The proud, fearless tone she loved
so well, the manly dignity, and the simple ease of his bearing towards
her, which contrasted so favourably with the air of humble deference,
the constrained respect she was accustomed to meet with from all who
approached her, which had, as it were, bridged over the immeasurable
distance that separated her, the Royal daughter of Brandenburg, from
this obscure son of a Noverian chaplain; could it be a mere outward
veneer, hiding a soul as base and treacherous as mind can conceive?

There was a soft tapping at the door, which gave warning that the time
was flying. Doctor Hofer heard the sound, and knew its meaning. Countess
Renee was waiting, and there was danger in further delay.

"Princess," he said softly, "my time is spent. Have I pleaded in vain?"

She turned and looked full into his eyes.

"Go," she murmured. "Heaven forgive me if I do wrong to trust you."

He bent low, and, raising her hand to his lips kissed it with silent
passion.

"And the letter?" he said.

"Oh, no, no," she cried, shrinking back with an air of sudden
repugnance. "Not to me. The Comtesse will take it. You may trust her; it
will be safest in her hands."

The door opened, and Comtesse Renee looked in.

"For heaven's sake," she whispered, "delay no longer. You will ruin
everything."

Doctor Hofer hesitated an instant, as if there were something he had
still left unspoken. But the Princess motioned him anxiously to leave
her, and, resigning himself, he bowed and withdrew in silence.

As the door closed behind him and the Comtesse, the Princess dropped
wearily on to an ottoman, and sat there long with clasped hands, gazing
dreamily into the space before her.

Had she done right? She knew not. She only knew that she had followed
her heart's instinct; and if that had lied to her, what would the rest
matter?




CHAPTER X.--A Fateful Letter.


The reappearance of Doctor Georg Hofer among the company below had
meanwhile been watched for by more than one person with considerable
anxiety. The Empress's unexpected commands that he should attend the
State ball had placed those intrusted with his safe custody, which
recent events had rendered almost an affair of national importance, in a
position of some embarrassment. There was nothing in the Emperor's order
to prevent his secretary from partaking in whatsoever pleasures, social
or otherwise, he might feel an inclination for, provided only that he
was, under no circumstances, permitted to quit the capital. Indeed, his
Majesty had expressly commanded that Doctor Hofer should receive all the
consideration due to one holding his much-envied office.

It was this that made the responsibility resting upon those concerned
with his charge peculiarly harassing, and the sense of relief they felt
when his tall, manly figure once more became conspicuous among her
Majesty's guests was proportionately great.

The Comtesse Renee was keenly alive to the discomfiture her absence had
occasioned, and she enjoyed it with a mischievous relish. Yet, with all
her love of romantic adventure, combined as it was with a spirit of
mischief which would have done credit to the immortal Puck himself, the
Comtesse had by no means light-heartedly undertaken the task she had
just brought to a successful issue. She knew its perilous nature far too
well.

While the excitement lasted it had afforded her a certain pleasure; when
it was over, a reaction set in, and she felt the need of a few moments'
quiet and seclusion, to recover herself--perhaps, too, to ponder at
leisure over the sequel by which the interview she had been the means of
bringing about had been followed.

Alas for the little Comtesse! She had hardly selected a suitable spot
for her musings--a window niche in one of the rooms overlooking the
terrace, and too far from the ballroom to be much frequented--when she
was disturbed in a manner she had little dreamed of.

She was sitting half-concealed behind the curtain which hung before the
window recess, dreamingly drinking in the cool air which came in
breezily through the open casement, when she became aware of some one
approaching her, and heard herself addressed by a familiar voice.

Looking up with a light start she saw Sir Edward Hammer standing beside
her, and close behind him a personage whose countenance was unknown to
her.

"Pardon the intrusion, Comtesse," Sir Edward said blandly. "Sir John
Templeton is desirous of a few minutes' conversation with you. May I
commend him to your kind notice? He has an important favour to ask of
you."

And without awaiting her reply he bowed and retired, leaving her alone
with the stranger.

There was something in the manner of the introduction, and in the grave
tone with which it was accompanied, that sent a slight chill to the
heart of the little Comtesse. She knew Sir John Templeton's name, if not
his face, and a faint apprehension seized her as she thought of a
possible connection between his appearance at this particular moment and
the occurrences of the last half-hour.

"I shall be very pleased to be of service to a friend of Sir Edward
Hammer's," she said, half rising in response to Sir John's profound bow.
"What favour is it you have to ask of me, Sir John Templeton?"

"The same favour, Comtesse," he replied, in the most ordinary tones,
"that you have just bestowed upon Doctor Georg Hofer; that of procuring
me an interview with her Imperial Highness Princess Margaret."

The Comtesse sprang up as if electrified. The suddenness of it all took
her speech away.

"Do not be alarmed, Comtesse," Sir John went on in his gentle,
reassuring way. "I was perfectly well aware that this meeting was to
take place. But it is imperative that I should see the Princess at once.
Will you conduct me to her?"

The Comtesse stared at him with wide eyes. But she had now regained some
of her usual self-possession, and replied, with a little laugh:

"What you ask is impossible, Sir John Templeton. I am not privileged to
grant interviews with the Princess without first obtaining her
Highness's consent."

"That is a pity," Sir John said; "for in that case I shall be obliged to
obtain the required interview by applying direct to her Majesty the
Empress; a step which, for the Princess's sake, I would have gladly
avoided."

"The Empress?" Comtesse Renee exclaimed, turning pale. "Do you mean----"

She stopped short, and continued after a moment:

"For what purpose do you wish to see the Princess?"

"That, Comtesse," Sir John replied, looking at her steadily, "is perhaps
hardly a fair question. But I will tell you. I merely desire to obtain
possession of a letter which Doctor Hofer has just confided to her
Imperial Highness's keeping."

The Comtesse sank back into her seat with a scared expression.

"The letter?"

A quick flash of intelligence lighted up Sir John's face.

"Ah, Comtesse," he said, "that, of course, alters the matter. Since this
letter is in your hands, it will not be necessary for me to trouble her
Imperial Highness. You will give me the letter."

"Sir," exclaimed the girl, "this is pure insolence! I have no letter.
And if I had, by what right do you claim what is not yours?"

"By a right which it would take too long to explain to you, Comtesse,"
he answered. "But rest assured that it is a right which Princess
Margaret would be the first to recognise and respect.

"Then claim the letter of her," the Comtesse said pertly, with a flash
of defiance in her blue eyes.

"When I know that you hold it, Comtesse?" he rejoined, with a smile. "It
will take less time and cause less trouble than to claim it from her
Majesty the Empress, which I shall certainly do without a moment's
delay, unless you comply with my request. Believe me, Comtesse," he
added quietly, "I mean to have this letter. Will it ease your mind to
know that my only purpose in obtaining it is to return it to the person
who wrote it?"

"Why?"

"Because it will be safer in his hands than in yours."

"Then I can return it to him myself," the Comtesse said quickly.

"Doubtless. But I have my reasons for desiring to undertake the task
myself."

"You intend to acquaint yourself with its contents," the Comtesse
exclaimed.

"You are mistaken, Comtesse. I know its contents."

"You know them?"

"As well, I think, as if I had written the letter myself."

The Comtesse was puzzled. To yield up this letter which had been
intrusted to her on behalf of her Imperial mistress, and for the safe
despatch of which she had solemnly answered, seemed a base betrayal of a
sacred charge and a crime against the Princess herself. Yet what could
she do? The man who stood before her was obviously as stern of resolve
as he was courtly in speech.

She tried all the wiles she could think of to escape from the cruel
dilemma in which she was placed. But Sir John Templeton proved
invulnerable. He remained polite but firm.

Tears of anger rose to the girl's eyes.

"My God!" she exclaimed. "What shall I do?"

"I grieve to distress you so deeply, Comtesse," Sir John said kindly.
"But I cannot act otherwise. Let it console you to know that you can at
this moment render no greater service to Princess Margaret than by doing
as I bid you."

"But what can I say to her? How shall I explain----"

"Tell her Imperial Highness what I have said to you," he answered. "It
will suffice."

"You are inflexible, then?" the Comtesse asked, with a sudden gleam of
resolution in her eye.

"I have no other choice," he replied.

"Then I at least have another choice," she cried, stepping back, "and I
will take it."

And with a swift movement she snatched the letter from her bosom, and
grasping it for an instant with both her hands, stood defiantly before
him.

"You can force me to deliver up this letter, Sir John Templeton," she
said, in a dry, disdainful voice. "But you cannot prevent me from first
tearing it into fragments."

"I shall certainly not prevent you, Comtesse," he rejoined without
stirring, "because it will not be necessary for me to do so."

"You mean----"

"I mean that you will give me the letter intact. You forget that my
intention is to restore it to its rightful owner, and I desire to place
it in his hands unopened."

His simple tone of quiet assurance baffled her, and she stood
irresolute.

"Will you now give me the letter, Comtesse?" he said.

He held out his hand, and slowly, almost mechanically, she placed the
letter in it. Then, with an hysterical sob, she sank back into her seat,
and covered her pretty little face with both her hands.

Old Sir John stood for an instant regarding her with an expression of
kindly pity.

"Comtesse," he said, touching her arm softly, "in a quarter of an hour,
if you so desire, you can learn from Dr. Hofer's own lips that I have
spoken the truth, and that the man to whom you have delivered this
letter is his friend."

When she looked up, he was gone.

Two minutes later Sir John Templeton was swiftly making his way towards
the winter garden adjoining the Palace-terrace. A startling change had
come over his countenance. The soft, kindly light that had shone in his
eyes when he left the Comtesse Renee von Seckendorf had vanished, and a
stern, angry look had taken its place.

"The fools," he murmured as he glanced ever and anon contemplatively at
the cover of the letter he held in his hand. "To have concealed this
from me! Was it crass stupidity or design?"

The address on the letter was harmless enough; or, at least, it was
apparently not such as could have caused its present possessor much
surprise. The envelope, in fact, was directed to her Imperial Highness
Princess Margaret of Brandenburg, and it was not difficult to detect
that it covered another sealed letter inside. Doctor Hofer, as will be
readily conceived, had not been able to foresee that the opportunity
would be afforded him of holding private converse with the Princess; all
he had dared to hope had been that he would succeed in contriving some
means during the evening of conveying his request to her in writing,
either direct or through the medium of the Comtesse Renee.

Notwithstanding, harmless as it appeared, it was plainly evident that
there was something about this letter which had deeply impressed Sir
John Templeton, and it was not until he entered the winter-garden that
his brow relaxed, and his face resumed its usual serene and tranquil
expression.

The huge conservatory, owing to the close and somewhat vapoury
atmosphere which prevailed there, was not a spot to attract loungers at
this season, and save for one or two solitary couples, whose desire for
solitude outweighed the discomforts of a heightened temperature, and the
few passers who used this means of egress to the cool terrace beyond,
the place was almost deserted.

Sir John Templeton had scarcely advanced more than half-a-dozen yards
along the middle walk when a tall figure emerged swiftly from a side
path and confronted him. It was Doctor Georg Hofer.

Sir John Templeton stopped.

"I trust I have not kept you waiting, Doctor Hofer," he said. "The delay
has not been entirely of my making."

"I have come here at the request of his Excellency Sir Edward Hammer,"
Doctor Hofer said stiffly, ignoring the old gentleman's courteous
apology. "I understand from him that you have a communication of
importance to make to me. What is it?"

The tone was distant and haughty. But Sir John appeared not to notice
it.

"It is merely to return to your hands a letter," he said, "which I
believe at this present juncture is better there than in the custody of
the Arminian Post Office officials, even though intrusted to them under
the seal of her Imperial Highness Princess Margaret of Brandenburg."

Doctor Hofer stood for an instant speechless, astonishment and anger
depicted on his face. Then something like an expression of despair swept
across it, and he said in a hard, toneless voice:

"You have intercepted this letter, then. By what means?"

"By the simplest," Sir John Templeton replied. "I asked for it,"

"And you know to whom it is addressed?"

"I know to whom it is not addressed, Doctor Georg Hofer," Sir John
answered, looking him steadily in the face.

"You have read it?"

In lieu of replying. Sir John handed him the letter in silence. He
seized it eagerly, and a sigh of relief escaped his lips as he observed
that the seal was intact.

"Why have you done this?" he asked abruptly.

"To prevent a catastrophe greater than that which this letter was
designed to avert," Sir John replied.

Doctor Hofer glanced once more quickly at the letter, and back again to
the speaker.

"You tell me this, and yet you pretend not to have gained knowledge of
its contents?" he said in a tone of angry suspicion.

"Why should I pretend?" Sir John rejoined. "It is a knowledge I do not
require. It is sufficient for me to know, what indeed the merest child
would have divined, that this letter contains an enclosure of an
important nature, which it was your purpose to convey to Noveria."

"Well?"

"The means you adopted for its transmission were singularly ill-chosen.
You could scarcely have devised a surer method of placing the Arminian
Government in possession of that knowledge which you have been so
anxious to conceal from them than by transmitting it under the Royal
seal of a daughter of the house of Bradenburg."

"They would dare to tamper with her Imperial Highness's correspondence?"
Doctor Hofer exclaimed.

"They would assuredly dare what they have dared before, and that upon
more slender grounds. We are not living in ordinary times. Extraordinary
circumstances may justify extraordinary measures."

"Measures which it seems you have thought fit to thwart."

"In this instance, yes."

"You have chosen a curious method of serving the Government that trusts
you," the Doctor said, with a curl of his lip.

"I have chosen this means of serving you, Doctor Georg Hofer," Sir John
Templeton retorted. "Is it possible that you have not considered what
would be the fate of the sender of that letter, if those into whose
hands it would be certain to fall were to share the belief that prompted
him in writing it?"

Doctor Hofer shot a quiet, searching glance at the speaker, who,
however, went on without heeding it:

"That belief I know to be erroneous. The Emperor Willibald is not in the
hands you think him in, Doctor Hofer."

"You speak with great assurance," the Doctor replied. "It is a pity your
knowledge does not enable you to say what has become of his Majesty."

"I shall know even that," Sir John answered, "before the world is a few
hours older."

The stern tone of his words startled his listener more than the
assertion they conveyed. But before he could reply, Sir John Templeton
resumed his usual manner:

"I repeat, we are not living in ordinary times. I warned you to take no
step to-night without first consulting me. My first warning was
intercepted, my second must have reached you. You have disregarded it.
But, whether you acknowledge the service I have rendered you or not, of
this you may rest assured: had this letter been posted it would never
have reached the hands of the personage for whom it was intended."

"What do you know of this personage?" Doctor Hofer asked, darting
another quick look of suspicion at the speaker.

Sir John Templeton paused deliberately before he answered.

"I know this, sir, that the personage to whom the enclosure in this
letter is addressed is not his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumbermere."

There was a moment's silence, during which the two men stood regarding
each other fixedly. But the name pronounced by Sir John Templeton seemed
to have produced a strong effect upon the Doctor. He crunched the letter
fiercely in his hand, and something of the desperate expression which
had settled on his face when he first learned of its interception swept
over it once more.

"Ah, this is insufferable," he murmured at last. "Come what may, I will
make an end of this doubt and suspense. You have made it your object to
thwart and foil me, Sir John Templeton--to what end I know not," he went
on, in a firm tone. "But there is still one means left, which even you
cannot prevent me from employing, to open the eyes of his Majesty's
advisers to that which I alone can see. Since none other will avail, I
will employ it. The Imperial Chancellor will not deny me a hearing."

He turned away abruptly, and the next moment he would have gone. But Sir
John Templeton was at his side in an instant, and detained him.

"One word, Doctor Georg Hofer," he said, "before you do that which may
be irreparable. Doubtless you will have no difficulty in obtaining a
hearing of his Excellency the Imperial Chancellor. Grant heaven he may
not believe what you tell him. If he does----"

"If he does?"

"If he does," Sir John went on, "the consequences be upon your head. It
is not I, believe me, but you who are blind--blind to the friendship of
the man who is serving you, and blind to the folly of an act which would
have been more than venturesome three weeks ago, but will now of a
certainty be fatal."

"Fatal? Pshaw," Doctor Hofer exclaimed, impatiently; "to whom? The
Emperor?"

"Not to the Emperor, sir, but to one whose life is at this moment as
precious to his Majesty as that of his own flesh and blood, and to save
whom from the fate you would blindly invoke he would sacrifice--perhaps,
even the Kingdom of Noveria itself."

Doctor Hofer gazed at him in astonishment.

"To whom do you refer?" he asked.

Sir John glanced cautiously around him. Then, bringing his lips close to
his companion's ear, he whispered a few words into them.

The effect was extraordinary. Doctor Hofer staggered back as if he had
been struck by a bullet. At the same moment a female figure entered the
winter garden, and advanced quickly toward the spot where they were
standing.

It was the Comtesse Renee von Seckendorf.

As she recognised the old diplomatist she stopped abruptly within a few
feet of the two men, and looked from one to the other with an air of
mingled alarm and confusion. Sir John Templeton greeted her with a
courtly bow, and casting a significant look in the direction of his
companion, drew back without a word, and passed out of the garden by the
same door through which the Comtesse had just entered.

Once more traversing the crowded reception rooms, where the
festivity--if the term is not misapplied--was still in full progress, he
made his way swiftly to the grand entrance, and two minutes later had
left the palace.

Meanwhile Comtesse Renee stood looking with a troubled expression at the
pale and disturbed face of Doctor Georg Hofer. Sir John Templeton's
parting words, when he left her with the ill-fated letter in his hands,
had filled her with a vague hope that after all everything would be
well. What she had just witnessed caused her heart to misgive her again.

"Is the letter safe?" she asked at length, in an anxious whisper. "Has
he returned it to you?"

Doctor Hofer nodded affirmatively. He was still struggling to regain his
self-possession.

"Who is this extraordinary man?" the Comtesse asked. "And how did he
know----"

Doctor Hofer turned quickly, and laid his hand on her arm.

"It is useless to discuss this, Comtesse," he said. "What he knows, he
knows. How or whence he obtained that knowledge who shall say? It is
his, and better his, I think, than another's."

He added the last words in a subdued tone, reflectively.

"You trust him, then?" the Comtesse inquired, with some surprise.

"He is a friend," he answered, shortly.

Although her curiosity was sorely piqued, Comtesse Renee recognised that
further questions would be useless. She had been driven hither by her
anxiety to assure herself that Sir John Templeton had really not
deceived her, and, having satisfied herself of the safety of the letter,
she was just as anxious to escape again, with the least possible delay.
To prolong the interview, after the incidents that had preceded it, was,
she well knew, undesirable--not on her own account, for she herself
cared little for the gossip of evil tongues, but for the sake of her
Imperial mistress, whom her presence here might compromise by
implication.

Doctor Hofer was so much wrapped up in himself that the Comtesse was
gone before he noticed that she had turned away and left him, and he
only bowed in a half-conscious, mechanical way as she swept along
towards the door by which she had entered a few minutes before.

For some time he remained alone in the winter garden plunged apparently
in deep and engrossing thought. When he once more mixed with the company
in the palace, the expression in his face was again stern and haughty,
and all trace of the unusual agitation which had recently possessed him
was gone.




BOOK III. THE REVELATION.




CHAPTER XI.--Arnoldshausen.


There are many estates in Brandenburg more magnificent than
Arnoldshausen, but none more prettily situated. The village itself,
which forms part of the domain, lies in a quiet valley opening out in
the west on to a vast plain that stretches hence almost without break or
undulation to the range of diminutive hills behind which the great city
of Berolingen lies sheltered--a distance of over thirty miles. On the
brow of the hill above the village stands the Mansion, a building of
some antiquity, with its quaint turrets, verdigrised with age, gleaming
out between the green tops of the trees that conceal the main structure
from view. It had been in the possession of the Von Arnolds, who were
originally a Brandenburg family, for the better part of two centuries.
But it had rarely happened that one of its proprietors had honoured the
estate by selecting it even temporarily as his residence; certainly not
within the living memory of the present villagers.

Consequently, when the news reached them that the young Baron had
decided to take up his abode in the old place, it caused a flutter of
excitement in the little hamlet such as it had scarcely ever
experienced. The villagers were simple, hard-toiling folk, who depended
for their knowledge of the outer world and its doings upon such scraps
of news as occasionally reached them from this or that absent member of
the younger male community who happened to be serving his regulation
three years' term in the Imperial Army. Newspapers were a rare curiosity
to them, to be passively admired as a marvel of human ingenuity rather
than actively studied as a source of profitable information. The nearest
town was three miles off, and it was seldom visited except on grand
market days, on the occasion of the annual fair, and once or twice
during the year, perhaps, by some of the more enterprising spirits among
them on a particularly fine Sunday afternoon; it contributed little to
the enriching of their knowledge and general intelligence beyond
temporarily widening the tiny circle of their ideas and interests.

The re-entry of the lord of the soil upon his long-vacated property had
been followed by various changes round about them, not only in the
direction I have particularised; nor were these changes altogether such
as met with their unqualified approval. In fact, to say the truth, they
had been somewhat disappointed in the young Baron. So long as the estate
had been the property of the Crown of Brandenburg, to which it had
fallen by forfeit, together with the Arnold estates, in the fateful year
1866, the villagers had been obliged to prefer whatever petitions or
complaints they had to make to the Crown Steward, by written documents
drawn up and executed in the officially prescribed form; a process
wearisome in itself, and especially disheartening to men whose want and
grievances rose readily enough to their lips, but became extremely
puzzling when required to be put in due shape and form on a piece of
official parchment.

The advent of an individual landlord, visible in the flesh and
accessible in person, should, they thought, have relieved them of this
grave and long standing difficulty. But, young though he was, and ever
ready to listen to whatever his dependants had to bring before him,
Baron Frederick von Arnold was by no means the man to grant off-hand
what they chose to request of him, nor to rest content with the mere
verbal assurance that matters were exactly as they pleased to represent
them to him. He had proved, in short, as inexorable in regard to the
formality of documentary procedure as the Crown Steward himself, and
while his personal relations with his people were characterised on his
side by great affability and solicitude for their well-being and
prosperity, they really left the village very much in the same position
as it had been in before, which, by-the-way, was a tolerably fair one.

This circumstance, then, met with their disapprobation. But there was
another which perhaps troubled them even more. The Baron's presence at
the Mansion had not been attended by any appreciable increase in the
intercourse between the Arnoldshausen domain and the estates of the
neighbouring gentry. Some few of the surrounding landed proprietors had
called at the Mansion, but it had been invariably when Baron Frederick
was absent inspecting his Noverian possessions, which had generally been
the case before he brought his young wife home, and as none of these
calls had been returned, these attempts at establishing visiting
relations were soon discontinued.

On the other hand, however, the village appeared to have become a centre
of attraction to gentry of quite another description, whose undisguised
interest in the owner of the property and his doings was a source of
much speculation on the part of the inhabitants.

Who these strangers were, and what prompted their inquisitive
proceedings, no one was able to say; but they were looked upon with
strong suspicion, which was increased by the fact that Herr von Arnold
had issued strict orders to the village elders enjoining them to make
daily reports at the Mansion, giving a description of every stranger who
passed through the village, and stating the nature of every question and
inquiry such passer made with reference to the inmates of the Mansion.
These orders were duly obeyed. But they were felt to be unusual and
irksome.

It is not to be supposed for an instant that the villagers of
Arnoldshausen, who were loyal Brandenburgers and faithful subjects of
their sovereign, would under any circumstances have countenanced in
their very midst proceedings of a character inimical to the interests of
the Empire of which they formed an infinitesimal part. But if anything
could have induced them to wink at doubtful loyalty on the part of their
more immediate lord, it would have been the circumstance that he was
thus spied upon by officious nondescripts whose suspicions, if they were
such, were in their opinion a direct insult to the Emperor who had
restored him to his own. They resented this espionage, and regarded it
as an imputation upon their own credit and honour. To their minds, the
Von Arnolds, in spite of their long connection with Noveria, a
connection of which the good village folk had but a very hazy and
confused notion, were sterling Brandenburg stock, and hence above all
debasing suspicion. They had never quite understood the reason for the
expulsion of the family from a soil which had been theirs ever since the
remote dark ages, which to the folk of Arnoldshausen meant any period
that transcended the memory of the oldest member of the community. In
short, the rights of the case had always seemed extremely doubtful to
them, and they had regarded the sudden reinstatement of the young Baron
much in the light of a tardy recognition of this fact on the part of the
sovereign whose ancestor had arbitrarily expropriated him.

In view of this state of feeling, it is scarcely a matter for surprise
that the information obtained in the village regarding Baron von Arnold,
his mode of living, the visitors he received, and other such like
details, by those whose curiosity tended that way, was of a very limited
kind, and even, such as it was, very grudgingly bestowed. Latterly,
although the number of strange faces to be seen in the vicinity of the
estate had by no means decreased, the inquiries in the village had
almost ceased; probably because the inquirer recognised the futility of
pursuing their investigations in this direction.

It caused quite a little stir, therefore, among the villagers when early
one morning a post chaise from Friedrichsdorf, the nearest station-town,
drew up before the humble inn at the entrance to the village, and mine
host was summoned forth to reply to a few queries addressed to him by
its occupant.

Mine host was as surly a devil as may be met with on a fine summer's day
either in this or any other part of the world, and he came forth
prepared to polish off the newcomer in his usual curt and defiant
fashion. But he reckoned this time, to transpose a homely phrase,
without his guest.

The questions put to him by the stranger were few, short, and precise,
and the manner of the man who put them was unmistakably one that
commanded respect. Moreover, there was nothing about them to rouse
feelings of resentment in the most sensitive of breasts, although they
undoubtedly gave rise to a certain amount of bovine surprise on the part
of the worthy innkeeper.

The first inquiry the latter was called upon to answer was as to whether
the Mansion could be reached more quickly on foot than by the carriage
drive which wound round the hill. Learning that, if one knew the way,
the distance on foot through the wood was shorter by fifteen minutes
than the drive round the hill, the stranger leaped from the chaise, and
delivered a series of sharp, short questions as to this quicker route,
which fairly bowled mine host over.

"Can you provide me with a trustworthy guide?" the stranger asked,
cutting short the man's confused explanations.

Mine host scratched his head, and then, beckoning to a youth standing
among the small group of gaping women and children who had gathered in
the road near by, intimated that he was one whose knowledge of the
locality might safely be trusted.

"But," he added, "if you have any message for the Baron, you may as well
save yourself the trouble of climbing up the hill. He sees no one,
unless he knows him."

This was said in a tone implying a query, to which, however, the
stranger, who was already preparing to start off with his newly acquired
guide, made no reply.

"May be," the host continued, tentatively, "a note or a message left
with me would do as well, and be likely to reach the Baron all the
sooner."

"Does Herr von Arnold usually visit the village in the morning?" the
stranger asked, turning suddenly.

The man shook his head, and smiled as if to say, "If you can't
understand me, it's not my duty to say any more." But he made no audible
reply.

The stranger glanced at him for a moment keenly, then turned on his
heel, and, accompanied by the youth, proceeded at a brisk pace along the
road towards the hill beyond the village.

The chaise remained behind to await his return; and mine host, having
seemingly no better occupation, fell into conversation with the driver,
whom he treated to a bumper of small beer and sundry other delicacies,
which, seeing that his fare had given no authority for the display of
such magnificent hospitality, astonished the recipient most agreeably.

Mine host, it may be mentioned, was one of the village elders, and among
the duties that had recently fallen to his lot was that of reporting at
the Mansion as accurately as his intellectual means would permit
whatever information he could elicit as to the objects and intentions of
those who passed through the village or honoured it with their presence
in a more permanent manner; from which it may be gathered that, if Baron
Frederick von Arnold was subjected to a species of espionage, he
apparently retaliated in kind.

Yet there was nothing in the aspect of the Mansion, or in that of its
owner, as he sat that morning with his young bride on the beautiful
garden terrace overlooking the green valley below, which could have led
anyone to suppose that apprehensions of a serious kind were entertained
regarding the security of the one or the safety of the other. A more
frank and fearless countenance than that of the young Baron it would be
impossible to find. There was at this moment, it is true, a shade of
anxiety upon it, which seemed to grow deeper as his eyes rested ever and
anon questioningly upon the somewhat pensive features of his beautiful
companion. But it detracted in no way from the manly openness which
characterised it; on the contrary, it rather set it off in more striking
relief.

The Baroness Marie von Arnold, once Demoiselle Hofer, the sister of the
man on whom so many grave suspicions now rested, bore a strong
resemblance to her brother. Her beauty was of that rare kind which is
beyond all question of individual taste and opinion. An artist would
have pronounced it perfect, a type in itself of absolute feminine
loveliness. But it required no sense of artistic perfection in the
beholder to enable him to appreciate, at a glance almost, the full power
of its exceptional charm. Indeed, all the art in the world could never
have succeeded, either in fixing it upon canvas, or revealing it by any
other method of artistic reproduction. Like a beautiful landscape over
which the travelling summer clouds, alternating with the bright and
brilliant sunlit sky, cast innumerable hues of light and shade, and
reveal at every moment some fresh undreamed charm and beauty, its aspect
was for ever changing, and remained for ever new. It was here that the
likeness between the brother and sister ceased. The features were the
same, indeed, but it was the sameness of form only, such as may be seen
to exist between a shape hewn out of hard, cold granite, and its
counterpart executed in the softest and warmest of marble. The
commanding brow, the large, startlingly expressive eyes, and the proud,
dignified poise of the head; none of these peculiarities were missing.
But they were blended with such infinite feminine grace as to give them
a stamp entirely their own.

One would have thought that upon a creature of such surpassing
loveliness life could have bestowed nothing but smiles. And yet there
was that in the expression on her fair face at this moment which told of
some hidden unrest, some haunting care agitating her spirit. There was a
curiously apprehensive look in her eyes, as they wandered dreamily over
the green expanse of the valley beneath her, and the nervous play of the
slender white fingers that rested idly upon the terrace balustrade
beside her betokened a mind harassed and at war with itself.

Presently she became conscious that her husband's gaze was upon her, and
she turned her head with a start and a half-smile.

He rose, and stood beside her, placing his hand caressingly upon her
fair hair.

"Why so sad and pensive. Marie?" he said, tenderly.

She sighed.

"I was thinking," she said.

"Thinking?" he echoed.

She suddenly rose, clasped her two arms about his neck, and looked long
and searchingly up into his face.

"Tell me," she said, "why did you accept this gift from the
Brandenburger? I should feel happier and easier had it never been
bestowed."

"Do you regret it, Marie, that I accepted it?" the Baron asked.

"Regret it?"

"Would our paths have met, had I acted otherwise? Whatever sins
Brandenburg may have to answer for in the past, it is at least to her
King, the Emperor, that I owe--this."

"Ah, that it should be so," she exclaimed, with a little flash of
petulance. "But is it really so?" she continued. "Had you not seen and
loved me, though I never knew it, before all this happened? And why----"

"You forget," he said, "that it was when you had no eyes for such as me,
Marie. What if I had sought this favour as the one and only means to
realise what I could never hope to realise by other means?"

She averted her head with a troubled look.

"It is what I have long feared to believe," she murmured.

"Feared?"

"My brother always said it. He wrote it again and again. He thought you
had forsaken the cause for--for this. It was the reason of his vehement
anger, his distrust. Oh, why does he thus distrust you?" she exclaimed,
with a little burst. "He is so good, so tender."

He took her hand in his, and kissed it lovingly.

"If you trust me, Marie, and my love and loyalty," he said, softly, "all
will be well. Rest assured, I shall yet make my peace with him."

"Perhaps, had you gone to Berolingen and seen him, as he desired," she
said, "he might have relented. It was unwise to refuse."

"He will still relent," the Baron answered.

"Not if you oppose him," she said, thoughtfully. "You have other plans
than his, is it not so? And he knows it. What if those plans should
fail? Is it safe to be so trustful? Think of the past, and the cruel
wrong done to a Prince whose rights are rooted in the soil of ages. What
trust can be placed to a Sovereign who claims possession to the fruit of
that grevious wrong? Ah, you smile," she added, with an impetuous little
toss of her head. "Perhaps men may find it easy to unlearn the creed
with which they were born. I am only a woman."

"You mistake me, Marie," he said, gravely. "God forbid that I should
wish you to forsake a creed which is part of your very being. But no
creed, however sacred, can alter accomplished facts; and it is with
these we have to reckon; to reconcile what we desire, ay, perhaps even
what is right, with what is possible."

She shook her head slowly and resolutely.

"Ah," she said, with a sigh, "how it always pains me to hear you speak
thus. There can be no question of compromise between the house of
Noveria and that of Brandenburg. The idea is hateful to me. You place
trust in this young Emperor. Yet how does he requite that trust? By
watching you, and setting his police spies to dog your every footstep.
They are here, about us now. They surround and pry upon us wherever we
turn. I know it, and I fear them."

She spoke quickly and nervously, and her hand, which had stolen into his
as she proceeded, trembled perceptibly.

He drew her tenderly towards him.

"Fear nothing," he said. "These men cannot harm us."

"But your actions may be misinterpreted," she went on, with increasing
ardour; "nay, they have already been misinterpreted. Are there not those
who believe that you have had private dealings with this man, that you
have held secret, dangerous intercourse with him? But it is not so; you
can assure me that it is not so."

She looked into his eyes, wistfully, almost fearsomely. He smiled, and
gently stroked her forehead.

"Why let these fears harass you, Marie?" he said. "Such thoughts are for
men only. Let them strive and struggle. It is man's province, not
woman's."

"It would kill me if they should ever doubt you," she murmured. "Have I
no part in you and your fair fame?"

"Such part, indeed." he said, with sudden intenseness, "that I will
accept no other judge of my actions than you, my own. But it must be
your heart that judges me, Marie. May I claim, whatever comes, to plead
alone before that one supreme tribunal?"

She glanced at him in mild surprise at the earnestness of his tone.

"My heart?" she said softly. "Has not that judged you already? And could
its judgment, once pronounced, ever be reversed?"

"Let me hear it," he exclaimed. "How does your heart judge me?"

She paused an instant, as if wavering between doubt and resolve. Then
she raised her eyes once more, and fixed them with a sweet, earnest
expression upon his face.

"I judge you," she said, in a low, vibrating voice, "as I shall ever
judge you, as long as I hope to live: spotless in honour, unswerving in
faith; as loyal to the Prince you serve as true to the woman you love."

The shadow of a cloud passed over his face. She observed it, and a look
of wonder crept into her eyes. It was for a moment only; then she smiled
upon him again, serenely, confidently.

"You are silent," she whispered.

Her voice seemed to thrill him. He clasped her to his breast with a
sudden impulse, and held her there in a passionate embrace.

"Marie," he said, "what if I told you----"

But the sound of footsteps approaching quickly along the gravel path
leading from the house checked him, and he stopped abruptly.

It was the servant, who came to announce a visitor. The Baron frowned,
and waved the man off with an impatient gesture.

"I will see no one," he said angrily. "Why are my orders not obeyed? I
do not receive strangers."

The man hesitated.

"The gentleman says he has a communication of the utmost importance to
make to you, sir," he stammered, "and I thought----"

"I know of no communication important enough to interest me," his master
replied. "Tell him so. If he has a message, let him leave it. Go."

The servant retreated quickly, and the Baron, ruffled by this
inopportune interruption, paced the terrace with angry strides.

He had not recovered his composure, when the man reappeared, this time
with every trace of surprise and alarm upon his countenance. Without a
word, he placed a card in his master's hand, and retired a few steps to
await his orders.

The effect of the card upon the Baron was a strange one. He took it,
glanced at it, and gave a sudden start of surprise. Then a perplexed
look came into his face, followed by one of disquietude, and letting the
card drop upon the table, he gazed for some moments thoughtfully into
vacancy.

"I must see this man at once," he said at last, shaking off the mood,
and speaking hurriedly to the Baroness. "I trust our interview will be
short."

And followed by the servant he left the terrace, and passing quickly
along the gravel walk disappeared a moment afterwards into the house.

The Baroness pursued him with her eyes until he had vanished. Then she
took up the card he had left behind him from the table, and looked at
it.

On its face it bore the usual inscription of the owner's name, which,
however, conveyed nothing of especial significance to the mind of the
Baroness. What riveted her attention were the words which had been
hastily scrawled in pencil beneath it, and which apparently explained
the servant's alarmed countenance and her husband's concerned manner.

"Sir John Templeton?" she murmured at last. "On the business of his
Majesty, the Arminian Emperor?"

For fully a minute she stood staring at these words, without uttering a
sound or making a gesture. But her face had grown paler, and her lip
quivered tremulously. Slowly the card glided from her fingers and fell
to the ground, where it lay unnoticed; and still she stood, now gazing
out over the hill-side into the far, far distance with that same sad,
earnest expression that had settled upon her face when, ten minutes
before, her husband first broke in upon her silent musings.




CHAPTER XII.--The Meeting of the Arminian Sovereigns.


Berolingen in its time has been the scene of many strange and impressive
events, but it may be safely asserted that no more strange and
impressive spectacle has ever been witnessed within its walls than that
which it presented on the memorable 26th of June in the year of the
young Emperor Willibald's disappearance.

I may claim to speak on the subject in some degree with the authority of
personal experience. I was in Berolingen, then the capital, not of the
great Arminian Empire, but of Brandenburg only, when his Majesty King
Willibald I., standing on the balcony of his palace between his great
Minister and the wiry old strategist whose fame will last as long as
that of his venerable Sovereign and his fellow-servant, addressed his
people assembled below in their thousands on the eve of the great
Fanco-Arminian war. By a piece of singular good fortune, due chiefly to
my diplomatic position, I chanced within a year afterwards to be an
eye-witness of the reception of his Majesty, now Arminian Emperor and
King of Brandenburg, when he re-entered his capital at the head of his
incomparable army fresh from the stupendous victories in far-off
Franconia.

Both these events have remained indelibly impressed upon my memory, as
they doubtless have upon the memory of every one who witnessed them. The
scenes on both occasions have been described again and again by better
and more able pens than mine, and if I mention them here, it is merely
by way of comparison with the strangely different spectacle I am now
about to bring before the reader. Strangely different indeed! and yet in
many respects remarkably similar.

The morning of the 25th of June, the day following the State ball
described in previous chapters, had broken in all the glory of a
magnificent summer tide, and almost simultaneous with its dawn the
entire city of Berolingen was astir. A kind of instinct seemed to have
seized the people that the event they had so long apprehended with so
much sullen suspicion and suppressed resentment was about to take place.
The contemplated meeting of the Arminian Sovereigns in council had been
kept a profound secret. Yet the intelligence had spread abroad, and
there was scarcely one among Berolingen's million souls who was not
accurately informed of the time and place of the meeting. The precise
effect of the tidings upon the temper of the masses was as difficult to
gauge as were the intentions with which they appeared suddenly to have
become inspired. For, that this extraordinary spirit of watchfulness
which caused them to leave their beds at earliest dawn on a summer's day
and parade the streets was the outcome of some deliberate intention,
could admit of no doubt it was in all save the actual fact a rising,
methodical, premeditated, and silent, but none the less ominous and
threatening; and the authorities knew and recognised it to be such.

Rumours as to the unruly spirit pervading the city had reached the
Government the day before, and precaution had been taken to provide for
a sufficiently early display of the forces of law and order to prevent
the elements of subversion, which were believed to be at work among the
citizens, from gaining anything like a point of vantage in the contest
that was likely to ensue. But when it came to the execution of the
well-laid plans of the authorities, the latter were met at the outset by
a difficulty upon which they had not counted.

It had been supposed that the centre of the trouble, if any, would be
the heart of the metropolis; that is to say, that the people would
congregate, as a matter of course, in the Grand Avenue of Limes, the
Castle Square, and the adjacent quarters, where the chief events of the
day were to pass, and it was in these parts of the city that the police
had mustered at an early hour in strong bodies. But towards 8 o'clock
communication reached headquarters from every part of the immense city,
giving notice of the outbreak of more or less serious disturbances, and
asking for immediate reinforcements. Even in the outlying suburbs
disorderly crowds had massed, threatening violence, and necessitating
the despatch of extra constabulary to maintain peace and quiet. The
consequence was that before noon the ranks of the police in the streets
and squares in the immediate vicinity of the Royal Castle had become
alarmingly thinned, and although by this time all the principal routes
leading to this great centre had been occupied by the mounted troops
ordered out ostensibly to do honour to the Sovereigns who were to pass
along them on their way to the council, considerable disquietude was
felt as to the possible results, should unorganised attempt be made by
the riotously disposed to attack or break through this military cordon.

The anxiety experienced on this score increased markedly towards 1
o'clock, the hour fixed for the assembling of the Sovereigns in the
Royal Castle, when a strange thing happened, which entirely disconcerted
the authorities. As if on a preconcerted signal, the inhabitants of
every suburb of the capital, men and women alike, suddenly commenced to
swarm in endless crowds towards the Avenue of Limes, the streams from
all these distant quarters converging and meeting in this already
crowded centre and hopelessly blocking every street and thoroughfare in
a circumference of several miles. This manoeuvre, for it can scarcely be
regarded otherwise, was accomplished so simply and with such rapidity,
that long before the contingents of police which had been drafted into
the various suburbs during the morning could communicate with the
central authorities and receive orders to quit the evacuated quarters,
they were practically cut oft from all access to the main body in the
heart of the town.

Let the reader, in order to fully conceive the meaning of this
occurrence, imagine for a moment that the entire inhabitants of greater
London were to flock at a given signal from every corner of the vast
metropolis towards one particular centre, say, the vicinity of
Buckingham Palace, for instance, on the occasion of a grand court
pageant, thus swelling the crowds already assembled in that
neighbourhood to an extent unprecedented even in the history of London
mobs; and this after fully half the police force of the great city had
been withdrawn to maintain order in the suburbs. The picture presented
to his mind will convey something at least faintly resembling the
spectacle I am endeavouring to describe.

Berolingen differs, however, from London in this respect, that it is not
studded with large open parts, wherein congregated masses of this
description may find breathing spaces even under such extraordinary
conditions as here related. It was consequently in the streets that the
crowds gathered, and from the Grand Avenue of Limes, whence some dozen
of the principal thoroughfares of the inner town radiate towards all
quarters of the city, every street was soon densely packed for a
distance of miles in all directions.

In the Grand Avenue itself, and the two or three chief adjoining streets
along which the route of the various royalties lay, the crush was
naturally the greatest, and it extended hence like one unbroken sea of
humanity as far as the Castle Square, where strong detachments of
cavalry were drawn up, barring the way to all save those privileged to
enter the Castle.

Here there were every now and then ugly rushes on the part of some among
the countless multitudes that filled every inch of space outside the
military cordon. But no organised assault was attempted. Indeed, the
marvel was the comparative self-control exercised by these dense
throngs, not only here, but everywhere, even in the surrounding streets,
where, had anything in the nature of a serious disturbance arisen, the
police would have been altogether powerless to grapple with it. In
short, one spirit seemed to pervade everyone, and it was a spirit of
calm resolution. Not that the elements of disorder and lawlessness were
by any means wanting. Indeed, they made their presence felt in all parts
of the city. But they found themselves, to their surprise, confronted
and controlled by a power they had not reckoned with. Wherever they gave
the slightest sign of activity, they were immediately suppressed,
sternly and resolutely, not by the usual forces with which they were
accustomed to wage interminable war, but by the people itself.

It was plainly evident that a tacit determination existed on the part of
the populace to countenance no ruffianism. The Berolingers had a fixed
purpose, and, strangely enough, in spite of all the many indications to
the contrary, that purpose seemed to be to carefully avoid any conflict
with the representatives of the law--for the present.

Such, then, was the general aspect presented by the Arminian capital at
the hour when the monarchs of the Empire were preparing to leave their
various quarters and proceed in state to the Royal Castle to deliberate
on the momentous question of electing one amongst their number to assume
the functions of supreme head and leader in place of the vanished
Emperor.

The authorities, military and executive, were utterly puzzled. There was
no mistaking the attitude of the people. It meant defiance, and
something more. But this self-possessed, almost dignified demeanour
seemed so strangely out of keeping with the revolutionary sentiments
that were supposed to underlie it, that it was difficult to grasp its
meaning. In vain the Government waited throughout that morning for
reports of hostile outbreaks in this or that quarter, which might afford
some indication as to where the central seat of the threatening
disturbances lay, or a clue as to the ultimate intentions of the mob.
None of any importance came. The people were waiting, waiting steadily,
patiently--for something; what, no one was able to say.

At the stroke of 1 o'clock the first Royal carriage, preceded at a
distance of fifty yards by two mounted police officers, and accompanied
by a small escort of the Imperial Guard, left one of the palaces in
Willibald-street, and rolled rapidly through the double row of troops
that lined the course towards the Avenue of Limes, along which it
proceeded at the same rapid pace in the direction of the Castle.

Its occupants were the Kings of Suabia and Neckarstadt, and their
countenances, as they glanced occasionally right and left over the sea
of faces upturned to them on either side of the great Avenue, gave
unequivocal evidence of the uneasiness prevailing in their minds. A low
murmur, sounding like the rumble of distant thunder, greeted them along
the entire route. Otherwise the reception they met with was in all
respects similar to that which had been accorded them on the day of
their arrival in the capital. There was no actively hostile
manifestation, not even in Castle Square itself, where an incessant stir
and movement among the crowds was now perceptible, like the seething and
bubbling that may be observed on the surface of an immense cauldron just
prior to the moment when its contents reach the boiling point.

In rapid succession the rest of the Sovereigns now followed one another
from all directions. The King of Wettinia, the Grand Dukes of Zahringen
and of Castel, the three Dukes of the Thuringian States, the Sovereigns
of Mecklenthal and Strelitzburg, and the host of smaller Sovereign
Princes, each with his attendants and outriders, and accompanied
according to his rank and consequence by a more or less imposing
military escort, passed into the Avenue within a few minutes of each
other at different points, the accompanying cavalcades in some cases
meeting and mingling into one.

For the space of a quarter of an hour, as all these splendid corteges
proceeded towards the Castle Square, the spectacle in the streets was
one of imposing grandeur. Between the various points where the carriages
issued into the Avenue mounted dragoons and orderlies could be seen
galloping to and fro, conveying orders and directing the movements of
the individual parties in such manner as to prevent them from clashing
and obstructing each other. At the street corners along the route the
extra contingents of police stationed there to prevent any sudden rush
on the part of the crowds that blocked these thoroughfares as far as the
eye could reach drew closer together as each cavalcade passed, backing
their steeds the while into the compact wall of human beings behind them
until the animals reared from sheer astonishment at the living
obstruction they met with. But the precaution was unnecessary. In no
single case was an endeavour made by these stolid spectators to oppose
the restraint thus forced upon them, or otherwise to interfere with the
customary order of things. They merely watched the pageant, recognising
the occupant's of each carriage as it passed before them and rolled on
its way to its ultimate destination--the Castle Square.

Here the scene was somewhat different. As one cortege after the other
arrived and passed through the ranks of the cavalry drawn up in front of
the Castle entrance in a strong phalanx curving crescent-like from one
end of the Square to the other, the movement among the assembled
populace increased perceptibly; though under ordinary conditions it
might have been ascribed to nothing more serious than the natural
excitement which always pervades large congregations of this description
when the moment of supreme interest arrives. There was a certain tension
noticeable, however, on the countenances of those whose position was to
the front, nearest the troops, which could scarcely be accounted for by
the eager interest they felt in the proceedings before them. Indeed,
their intention seemed to be attracted elsewhere, and once or twice,
when a momentary interval occurred in the precession of carriages
entering the archway to the inner castle yard, their eyes could be seen
to wander anxiously in the opposite direction towards some spot on the
other side of the Square facing the Castle.

This curious attitude of expectancy on their part was a subject of
considerable speculation to many who were viewing the scene below from
various coigns of vantage in the Castle itself. The windows of the Grand
Council Chamber on the first floor of the main building, where the
monarchs were now assembling, overlooked the Square, and from here a
vast bird's-eye view was afforded, not only of the multitude gathered
there, but also of the streets beyond, where the people stood in seried
masses, the sea of heads extending between the houses in all directions
to an immense distance, like living streams all converging to one common
centre.

The sight was indeed one to strike a thrill to the boldest heart. Such a
congregation of the populace had never been known within the history of
Berolingen, and its meaning could scarcely be misconstrued. In the few
moments since the first members of the Sovereign Council had entered the
chamber, where they stood in groups near the large windows gazing
anxiously upon the extraordinary spectacle outside, some foreboding of
the events that were preparing seemed to have seized their minds, and
the air of suspense which pervaded the room deepened from minute to
minute as the number of those present gradually increased until it was
nearly complete.

In the embrasure of the middle window stood King Albert of Wettinia and
Leopold, Prince Regent of Wittelsbach, engaged in earnest conversation.
The former looked grave and concerned, the latter stern and somewhat
contemptuous. The Prince, being quartered in the Castle itself, was the
only one of the monarchs who had not taken part in the procession
through the streets, and his view of the temper of the populace was
therefore merely based upon what he now saw from the window. His arrival
in Berolingen, too, it will be remembered, had passed almost unnoticed,
and he had not had the opportunity, like his fellow sovereigns, of
gauging the feelings which their presence evoked by the nature of the
reception accorded to them on that occasion. In consequence he was
inclined to treat the misgivings to which the Wettinian monarch was now
giving expression very lightly, and to scout the notion of there being
any intention on the part of the people to interfere with the Council or
its illustrious members.

"What your Majesty regards with so much concern," he said, "is, I think,
merely the result of ordinary popular curiosity. The mob has come out to
gape and stare, not to threaten."

"Your Highness forgets," the King replied, "that no intelligence of
to-day's proceedings has been officially vouchsafed to the public. Mobs
of this size do not gather at a moment's notice. This one has
unquestionably assembled premeditatedly, and in accordance with a
long-determined plan. All Berolingen is astir."

"Are we to expect a revolution, then?" the Prince said. "Such movements
do not generally commence in this fashion. Moreover, the troops are in
any case a sufficient safeguard. Where would these sansculottes be in
case of a conflict?"

"I think the result would be more than doubtful," the King rejoined.
"Although the troops are mustered in considerable force, they are
scattered over an immense area, and their positions are extremely
disadvantageous. The streets were virtually already in possession of the
populace before any of the troops had left their barracks. This
unforeseen circumstance has materially interfered with the dispositions
of the military commanders, and if it was deliberate design it has
certainly effected its purpose. A glance from that window will convince
your Highness that in case of need no reinforcements could reach the
precincts of the Castle save by the one route which we have just
traversed."

The Prince cast a quick look across the square and into the densely
packed streets beyond, and was silent.

"But heaven forbid," the King went on, "that any conflict should ensue.
The consequences would be too fearful to contemplate. It is this we
should avoid at all costs."

"If it be forced upon us the responsibility will rest with the people,
not with us," the Prince said. "But, frankly, I do not share your
Majesty's apprehensions. Were there any deliberate design in this
extraordinary conflux of idle crowds there would surely have been some
evidence of it by this time. It seems, at least, that there has been no
attempt to prevent our assembling. The Council, as your Majesty sees,"
he added, casting his eye over the sundry groups in the chamber, "has so
far been permitted to reach the scene of its deliberations in safety.
Our number is nearly full."

Indeed, just as he spoke, the last of the procession of the Arminian
Princes entered the Castle Square, and a minute later, passing through
the cordon of troops, disappeared into the archway entrance below.

At that moment, visible to the monarchs at the window, a small white
flag suddenly shot out of the topmost story of one of the houses
opposite. The occurrence, insignificant in itself, had a startling
efface upon those who witnessed it from the Castle. But the effect upon
the people below was more startling still.

The appearance of the flag was followed by a moment of complete
stillness outside. The confused babel of tongues, the din and the
uproar, to which the ear had gradually become almost insensible from the
sheer persistency of the sound, ceased with a suddenness that was more
surprising to those assembled in the Council Chamber, by contrast with
what had gone before, than if a cannon-shot had been fired off in their
midst, and one and all stood gazing at each other alert and attentive.

The interval of silence can scarcely have lasted longer than two or
three seconds. Then followed a general roar, accompanied by a curious
shuffling noise, like that which attends the quick movements of a body
of soldiers at exercise when carrying out their drill officer's
commands, only on a far larger scale.

What it meant no one knew. There was certainly something out of the
common going on below, as was evidenced by the excited looks of the
multitude, and the attitude of surprise assumed by the troops, who were
still stationary in the same position they had been occupying for hours.
But to all appearances it was nothing of a serious or alarming nature.
Other sounds, of a far more ominous kind than those proceeding from the
Square, had become audible to the occupants of the Council Chamber; and
not only to them, but also to the surging throng outside. They came from
the distance, and were heard in various directions far above the voices
of those immediately below.

Could the white flag have been a signal, not to the crowd in the Square,
but to the people in other parts of the town? The simultaneity of its
appearance with the cries and shouts that could now be heard resounding
in the distant portions of the city admitted of but one interpretation;
the two incidents bore some relation to one another, what relation it
seemed not difficult to guess.

There is a peculiar ring in the voice of vast multitudes, however far
distant they may be, which conveys, even to the untrained ear,
unmistakable evidence of the passions that uplift it. The distant sounds
now wafted across to the Castle by the wind were undoubtedly the sounds
of rushing, struggling masses; and of masses that were triumphing.

The Prince Regent of Wittelsbach himself, with all his contempt for mob
organisation when opposed to military discipline, could hardly pretend
to be deaf to this unmistakable note of triumph, though he affected to
regard it with unconcern. The noise in the distance rose and fell with
the breeze, and, though it continued without interruption, it appeared
for the moment to be stationary. At least there was no sign that the
disturbance, if it was such, was extending in the direction of the
Castle. After all, it seemed impossible to believe, if the populace had
intended any hostile manifestation against the Council, that they would
have chosen some remote portion of the town to make it in, after
allowing the monarchs to pass through the streets unmolested.

The Council was now assembled in its full number, and whatever might be
passing in the city outside, there was nothing to prevent it from
proceeding to its deliberations. Its first business--which, according to
the views of certain pessimistic minds, would probably prove to be its
only business, and that, too, abortive--was the election of a president.

The King of Wettinia, it was known, had laid claim to this office by
right of seniority, a right which the Wittelsbacher, as was equally well
known, was resolved to contest. A flutter of excitement, therefore,
passed over the august assembly, causing it momentarily to forget the
incidents which had just engrossed its attention, when the Prince
Regent, leaving the side of his royal rival, was seen to approach the
Chief Secretary of the Council, Prince Hohenburg, and after a short
conversation with him silently take his place at the table. It was the
signal for the rest to follow suit, and in a few moments every member
present had taken his seat at the huge horseshoe-shaped table which
occupied the middle of the chamber.

After a short, impressive pause, the Secretary of the Council, who was
seated with his three assistant secretaries at an oblong table drawn
across the space between the two ends of the horseshoe, and who thus
faced the five and twenty Sovereigns, rose to read the summons convening
the conclave, issued, as the document formally put it, by two
illustrious members of the Council, to wit, his Majesty King Albert of
Wettinia and his Royal Highness the Prince Regent of Wittelsbach.

The reading of this momentous document, however, had scarcely commenced,
when it was unceremoniously interrupted by the hasty entrance of an
officer in the uniform of a colonel of the Imperial Guard.

The intrusion was so extraordinary, and the expression on this man's
countenance was so grave and full of concern, that the assembled
monarchs with one accord half started up from their seats, and the
Secretary of the Council broke off in his reading with a snap that
sounded almost as if his jawbone had suddenly sustained a fracture.

Outside in the Square the din of voices had risen to a pitch that no
longer left any doubt as to the attitude of the mob collected there, and
the uproar in the distance had now assumed dimensions which indicated
that the disturbance was rapidly extending towards the Square.

One glance at the stern face of the officer sufficed to enlighten the
King of Wettinia as to the nature of his errand. The Prince Regent was
the first to recover his voice.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion, sir?" he asked, regarding the
colonel with a frown.

"The meaning, your Royal Highness," the officer replied with military
bluntness, "is that revolution has broken out in Berolingen, and I have
thought it my duty to inform your Majesties and Highnesses of the fact."

"A revolution!" exclaimed the Prince. "But where are the troops? Are
they incapable of coping with a 'mere mob?'"

The colonel coloured.

"Sir," he rejoined, "if you are pleased to issue any commands to me they
shall be promptly obeyed, whatever the cost may be. My orders, however,
are to guard the precincts of the Castle."

"Well?"

"It will become impossible to fulfil that duty unless I receive speedy
reinforcements. I have five hundred men under my command. We are walled
in by a multitude numbering a hundred thousand."

"Walled in? Do you mean that the Castle is practically at the mercy of
the mob?"

"This is no ordinary mob, sir," the officer replied gravely, "but the
entire populace of Berolingen. And they are in deadly earnest."

"But the troops, man, the troops," the Prince cried in astonishment.
"Two-thirds of the whole garrison, thirty thousand men at least, are in
the streets."

"And well occupied, if one can judge by sounds," the officer retorted
dryly, glancing significantly towards the street.

"Then what is to be done?" the King of Wettinia exclaimed. "Do you
anticipate an attack upon the Castle?"

"Within ten minutes, unless help arrives, or,"--he hesitated--"or your
Majesties and Royal Highnesses will consent to agree to the terms of the
people."

"Terms?" cried the Prince. "Are we beleaguered by an army? What are
these terms?"

"They demand, firstly, that the Council of Sovereigns shall instantly
break up, in which case your Majesties and Royal Highnesses, with two
exceptions, who shall remain in Berolingen as hostages pending his
Majesty the Emperor's safe return, will be permitted to leave the city
unharmed. The second condition is that the Emperor's private secretary,
who is a Noverian, and believed to be implicated in a plot against his
Majesty, shall be at once delivered up to the representatives of the
people."

For an instant the illustrious assembly to whom these words were
addressed stood speechless with amazement. Then the Prince Regent sprang
to his feet in an access of rage.

"Do you," he exclaimed, in a voice trembling with passion, "an officer
holding his Majesty the Emperor's commission, dare to present yourself
before us with such an insolent message?"

"I have done my duty, sir," the man replied, simply, "and I merely
request your Royal Highness's commands as to the nature of the answer I
am to take back."

"And if we refuse to comply with these insolent demands?" the King of
Wettinia asked.

"The Castle will be stormed," the officer replied.

"And you, sir?" the Prince Regent said sternly.

"I shall defend it as long as I remain alive," the colonel answered,
with quiet dignity. "I am responsible for the safety of its occupants."

"Then go, sir, and do your duty," the Prince said coldly. "We are men,
not women; and if there is dying to be done----"

But the rest of the sentence was drowned in the terrific tumult that now
arose outside. It came with a burst so sudden that the stoutest heart
might well have quailed before it.

Rushing to one of the windows, the colonel gazed out, and fell back
instantly, pale and aghast.

"They have broken faith, the scoundrels," he murmured wrathfully. "But,
by heaven, we will sell our blood dearly."

And without another word he darted from the room and was gone.

Several of the monarchs had followed him to the window. But the sight
that met their view caused them to retreat again hurriedly. The entire
Square and the streets beyond presented one mass of struggling humanity,
all pressing or being pressed relentlessly towards the Castle. The
cries, shouts, and shrieks were deafening, and seemed to come from every
imaginable quarter at once. The Square alone, roughly computed, must
have held at least 30,000 persons, on whom the pressure of perhaps
fivefold that number was now being exerted from the mob in the adjacent
streets.

And between this overwhelming multitude, and with excitement and
apparently unreasoning fury, and the five and-twenty Sovereigns
assembled in the Council Chamber there was a paltry body of 500 mounted
troops--a mere handful when compared with the fearful numbers opposing
them.

The events of the last fifteen minutes had followed one another, in such
quick succession that they had left those whom they most nearly
concerned no time to realise the significance of each successive stage.
But here was a situation which it required not a moment's reflection to
grasp. The storming of the Castle could, under the circumstances, be a
matter of a few minutes only, and what it meant to these five and-twenty
crowned heads was perfectly plain.

No one spoke; every ear was strained to listen to the sounds outside.
The large folding-doors of the Chamber opened on to the grand staircase,
at the foot of which stood two officers on guard. At the door itself
another two officers were stationed, whilst in the gallery running round
the staircase and in the lobby immediately adjoining the Chamber the
adjutants and officers in attendance upon the individual Sovereigns were
scattered in several groups. Gradually this space became more and more
crowded, as the servants and officials from all parts of the Castle
came, pale and terror-stricken, to seek refuge and safety where, alas!
had they only reflected, they must have known that it was least likely
to be found, in the proximity of the illustrious Sovereigns.

Below all was commotion and confusion. Officers, lacqueys, grooms,
gentlemen of the Imperial household, were hurrying to and fro asking
questions or shouting commands. Doors were being opened or slammed in
all directions; the muffled shrieks of terrified women sounded from the
remoter regions of the Castle; and mingling with all these sounds of
alarm and dismay in the building, the roar and the turmoil outside rose
higher and higher, approached nearer and nearer. It was a scene of
indescribable excitement.

In the Castle courtyard the ordinary guard was drawn up, and the
glittering helmets of the men could be seen opposite the great archway
entrance leading to the Square almost immediately beneath the windows of
the Council Chamber itself. Here, too every one, save the soldiers
themselves, who stood stolidly awaking events, seemed beside himself
with panic and amazement. Bewildered officials were flying aimlessly
across the courtyard stumbling, colliding, impeding each other's
movements. Cries were raised to close the archway gates. But even had
these huge, ponderous masses of iron been so easily movable at a
moment's notice, the thing was already impossible. The archway itself
was blocked by a heterogenous crowd of civilians and soldiers, all
struggling to resist the tremendous pressure of the on-rushing multitude
outside.

All this time not a shot had been fired, not a stone flung at the Castle
windows; a circumstance that emboldened the King of Wettinia and two or
three of his fellow-sovereigns once more to survey the scene in the
Square. But they had hardly shown themselves at the window when they
were recognised by those below, and a perfect storm of triumphant yells
rent the air, causing them for a second time to fall back precipitately.

At the same moment several of the officers-in-waiting outside burst into
the Chamber, the foremost exclaiming that the Castle was taken. And,
indeed, across the lobby and beyond the grand staircase, over the heads
of the groups of servants, officials, adjutants, and others, now thickly
clustered there, the people could be seen in the distance pouring into
the courtyard in one tumultuous, unbroken stream. On came the rush, the
fiercely jubilant shouts now resounding both within and without the
Castle walls, filling the spacious yard and the entrance hall below.

"They are making for the Chamber," cried several voices. "Stand by the
Princes."

But on came the torrent, rising, rising. The staircase was one
overwhelming mass of shouting, cheering, struggling human beings. On
they came, carrying everything before them. What could that puny body of
men before the entrance to the Council Chamber hope to accomplish
against the tremendous impetus of such numbers? Before they could take
measures, either for defence or attack, they found themselves jostling
one another, compressed into a narrow space, a seried, compact group--a
mere temporary impediment, a paltry barrier, that might perhaps stem the
surging tide for an instant, but no longer.

In the Council Chamber stood the five and twenty Sovereigns grouped in
threes and fours, pale, erect, and silent, waiting for that which they
told themselves must come. They were soldiers every one of them, trained
in the severe discipline which has made the Arminian army the great,
almost invincible body it is. Whatever might occur, they would comport
themselves as became their military honour and their ancient lineage.
Their hands were on their sword-hilts, and slowly, resolutely, as the
onrush grew more terrific, they drew the weapons from their scabbards
ready for action.

The spectacle was impressive in its dignity, and almost grandly simple
in its contrast with the mad scene of excitement outside. The resolute
knot of men in the doorway, standing firm and determined, shoulder to
shoulder, every face set sternly, and every muscle exerted to resist the
onflow from without, was all that could be seen from the interior of the
room. But the clamour beyond told the ear what the eye could not
perceive.

For the space of a few seconds it seemed as if the incoming rush was
checked, and a voice from among the group at the door raised a faint
cheer of encouragement, which, however, was instantly drowned by counter
cheers from countless throats in the distance. Then some one cried:

"Stand fast. The guards have cleared the courtyard. They hold the
archway."

But the reassuring news came too late, so far as those to whom it was
addressed were concerned. The pressure upon them had become
irresistible. They now yielded, and came tumbling, stumbling, pell-mell
into the Chamber, followed by the rush.

A strange and startling sight was now witnessed by those in the Chamber.
Once the barrier removed, the van of the storming party came to a
temporary halt. Whether momentarily daunted by the presence of these
five and twenty pale and determined men who stood, sword in hand, in an
attitude of military firmness waiting to receive their assailants, or
whether, in obedience to some prearranged plan, they advanced only a few
steps into the room, arraying themselves on either side of the door, and
thus forming a wide lane through which those who followed behind them
came pouring in, but again only to deploy, as it were, in the same
manner as the others, with necks straining backwards, and eager,
expectant faces, as if watching for some sign or coming event outside.

Suddenly the influx ceased. The hubbub of voices was hushed to a low
murmur, and through the now open lane, which reached as far as the eye
could carry, the solitary figure of a man was seen advancing from the
staircase with a quick, dignified step.

One moment of breathless silence and intense suspense, then a great gasp
of amazement, audible even above the ceaseless roaring of the multitude
without, burst from the august assembly in the Chamber. The next
instant, with that sudden revulsion of the feelings which causes men to
pass from the extreme of one emotion to the extreme of another, these
five and twenty Sovereign Princes raised their swords high aloft and
sent forth a cheer that would have done credit to the throats of any
picked thousand men among their subjects.

And indeed well might they cheer.

The figure that now stood upon the threshold of the Council Chamber,
surveying the scene before him with a calm, critical smile, was his
Majesty Willibald II., Arminian Emperor and King of Brandenburg.




CHAPTER XIII.--How the Revolution of Berolingen Was Averted.


Until this day it has never been exactly ascertained how the famous
Berolingen rising of 25th June, which ended in so strangely dramatic a
manner, came about, nor whose was the master mind that planned it. For
that it had been planned in its every detail, with a care and a
foresight worthy of the finest tactician history has shown, admits of no
doubt.

The most astonishing thing about it to the circumstance that the plan
itself can have been known to comparatively only a few people, and that
those who executed it when the critical moment came, blindly,
unquestioningly, were admittedly taken as completely by surprise as the
authorities against whom it was directed. It is true, of course, that in
the excited state of the public feeling it required but the tiniest
spark to ignite the flame of revolution. But to control and direct it to
the manner in which it was controlled and directed, towards one stern,
distinct purpose, was a work of a very different kind, the
accomplishment of which is by no means so easily explained.

That the riots in the suburbs and the outlying districts of the capital,
which broke out in the course of the morning, were the outcome of a
deliberate manoeuvre to divert the attention of the authorities and
necessitate the withdrawal of a large portion of the police forces from
the centre of the town, is beyond question. The accumulation of vast
masses of the populace in all the streets adjoining the Castle Square,
whereby the troops stationed there were cut off from all communication
with the rest of the town, was also no less certainly the result of
deliberate design. No such movement could have been foreseen, and the
police in these thoroughfares, which lay quite out of the route of the
day's proceedings, proved utterly powerless to cope with the
overwhelming crowds that began to stream into them from the most
unexpected quarters of the city within an hour only of the procession of
Sovereigns through the chief streets of the capital.

Both these incidents, it is needless to say, had occasioned great
disquietude at headquarters, and were the cause of much perplexity on
the part of the authorities, whose arrangements they hampered in so
unforeseen a manner. Still, in themselves they had given no cause for
serious apprehension. The Government had been perfectly alive to the
possibility of some hostile demonstration on the part of the populace;
they had even anticipated an active attempt at mob violence in certain
quarters. But the point of attack, if any, would, they had imagined, be
the Castle Square, or perhaps some particular portion of the route along
which the Princes passed on their way to the Council, the object of the
party of discontent being avowedly to prevent the meeting of the
Sovereigns at all cost.

While, therefore, the procession of the Princes was on its way, the
anxiety of those responsible for their safety was strained to the
highest pitch, but once it had passed over without untoward incident of
any kind happening, all apprehension for the moment ceased. No one
dreamed of danger now. The Square itself had been closely packed with a
comparatively quiet and orderly mob since the earliest hours of the
morning, and even the concourse of people that stretched from here over
the wide bridge which spans the river between the palaces, the Grand
Opera House, and the Museums, and for quite a mile and a-half along the
entire length of the Avenue of Limes to the Arch of Victory at its
farther end, huge and vast though it was had given no actual signs of
threatening trouble, or at least certainly none that could have led to
the assumption on the part of the military and police authorities that
these crowds of sightseers were animated by the one joint purpose of
attacking and overpowering the guardians of the law at a given signal,
after the procession had passed.

Yet such was, indeed, the plan; and it would have succeeded to
perfection--with what ultimate consequences to those against whom it was
more particularly directed, who can say?--but for one event, which
altered with one stroke the whole aspect of affairs, and surprised
attackers and attacked alike.

To attempt to describe with any approach to accuracy the precise
sequence of the incidents which culminated in the closing scenes of the
last chapter is, I fear, an impossible task. Among the thousands and
thousands who were eye witnesses of them there is probably not one whose
testimony would be found to tally exactly with that of his neighbour.
Under the circumstances, therefore, I perhaps cannot do better than
select from the conflicting mass of evidence at my disposal, the
experience of one single individual, and, while supplementing it where
feasible by the independent accounts of others, make it the basis of
this part of my narrative.

I trust that it will not detract from the reliability of this testimony
when I say that the single individual in question is the humble author
of these pages himself. My duties had, of course, necessitated my mixing
with the crowds in the streets on that eventful day, and for a very good
reason I had taken up my position in the Castle Square. The reason was
this. Late the previous night I had received the following somewhat
mysterious note, written, however, in a hand with which I was not
unacquainted:--

"If you desire to witness the most interesting part of to-morrow's
proceedings, station yourself at an early hour well in view of the Royal
Castle. You will not regret it."

The note was signed "A journalistic friend," and guessing the identity
of my informant I did not hesitate to follow his advice. I have since
often regretted having done so; for, stirring though the scenes were
which I had the good fortune to witness from my coign of vantage in the
Castle Square, my kind and well-meaning friend was after all destined to
prove a false prophet, inasmuch as the particular interesting event he
was doubtless alluding to did not come off, as the reader now knows,
whilst the real centre of interest was unexpectedly transferred to other
parts of the city.

Indeed, the people in the Square, and first and foremost the ringleaders
of the movement which took place there, were as utterly mistaken as to
what was actually occurring elsewhere as the inmates of the Castle
itself. Had they been less excited, it is possible that the simultaneity
of the appearance of the white flag in one of the windows opposite the
Castle and the outburst of triumphant shouts and cries in the more
distant portions of the town would have struck them as capable of a
different construction from that which they placed upon it. The hoisting
of the flag was undoubtedly intended to serve two distinct purposes. The
one was to announce to the mob in the Square that the last member at the
Sovereign Council had passed into the Castle. It was the pre-arranged
signal for the crowd, prompted by the few initiated ones distributed
amongst it, to swerve suddenly, as it did, in such wise as to close up
the route through which the procession had come, and consequently
deprive the troop of cavalry drawn up before the Castle entrance of this
only means of communication with their comrades in the streets beyond.
The other purpose was to convey tidings of the successful accomplishment
of this manoeuvre to those assembled along the route itself, with the
view to their commencing the sudden attack upon the troops lining it
which was to form part--and, indeed, no unimportant part--in the day's
revolutionary programme.

Thus, while the great bulk of the military forces in the city were
engaged in repulsing the fierce onslaughts made upon them simultaneously
in all possible quarters, the mob in the Square, separated from the
actual scene of strife, and backed by the almost limitless crowds
filling and blocking the thoroughfares north of the Castle, would
practically hold the Castle and its gallant little band of defenders at
their mercy, and be able to deal with both at their leisure.

The plan, it must be acknowledged, was an excellent one, and, so far as
its first part was concerned, it proved an unqualified success. Hearing
the sudden hubbub in the distance, and judging from the jubilant tone of
the shouts that burst upon them that all was progressing satisfactorily
in that direction, the ringleaders in the Square, who had formed
themselves into a compact body to the front of the huge crowd facing the
troops, proceeded to carry out their programme in the most deliberate
and methodical fashion. No violence was attempted, nor had any been
intended in this quarter, unless the small troop guarding the Castle
entrance should resort to desperate measures of defence, in which case
it is to be feared that a quick and terrible fate would have overtaken
them. The officer in command was merely approached by the spokesman of
the group, a citizen of considerable standing in the capital, who, after
tersely informing him of the true position of affairs, demanded firmly
but respectfully to be conducted with three of his companions to the
presence of the Arminian Princes.

A short parley ensued, during which the officer at first sturdily
refused to budge. But recognising the utter helplessness of his
position, and concluding from the rapidly increasing sounds of the
disturbance in the distance that he could look for no immediate help
from other quarters, he finally consented with great reluctance to
convey the demands of the people to the Sovereigns in Council, provided
an undertaking were given that the mob would be held in check pending
his return. With the stipulation that the limit of his absence should
not exceed fifteen minutes, these terms were agreed to, and he went.

The conduct of this officer has been impugned by some who affect to be
particularly well versed in the code of military honour. But, inasmuch
as the subject of their structures was subsequently tried, and not only
honourably acquitted, but actually commended for his behaviour, by a
court-martial presided over by one of the fiercest disciplinarians in
the Arminian army, it is scarcely necessary for me, a mere civilian, to
take up the cudgels in his defence. In an emergency of the extraordinary
kind I have described, with such tremendous interests at stake, time was
obviously the only thing to be gained, and it was to gain it that the
officer in question acted as he did. Had he acted otherwise, it its
almost certain that Sir John Templeton's sombre prediction recorded in a
former chapter would have been fulfilled to the letter; that is to say,
that the Arminian Emperor would have re-entered his capital to find
himself the only Sovereign left in the Empire.

During the worthy colonel's absence the pact entered into by the party
in the Square was kept religiously. The sudden transformation of the
comparatively quiet and orderly multitude assembled there into a
surging, plunging sea of wildly excited beings, as witnessed by the
astonished officer from one of the windows of the Council Chamber, was
not due, as he supposed, to a breach of faith on the part of those whom
he had trusted, but to a very different cause. The news that the Emperor
was in Berolingen, and on his way to the Castle, had spread like
wildfire through the city. The occupants of the Square were the last
whom it reached, and preoccupied as they were with the events that were
passing under their eyes they had at first treated it as a myth, with
incredulity and derision. When, however, the whole truth flashed upon
them, and they saw that what they had mistaken for the triumphant cheers
of an insurgent mob had been in reality the people's wild manifestation
of joy at the long-despaired--of return of their Emperor, incredulity
made way for amazement, and amazement for such transports of jubilant
delight that the very castle walls shook as from a sudden concussion.

It was this yell of exultation, sent forth simultaneously from tens of
thousands of throats, which had suddenly interrupted the determined
speech of the Regent of Wittelsbach, and startled the gallant colonel
into fancying himself and his men basely betrayed.

How it had all happened--where the Emperor was first seen and
recognised, and by whom--it is impossible for me on anyone else to say
with any certainty. There are hundreds of Berolingers, each of whom to
this day proudly claims to have been the first to recognise and hail
him, as he entered the Avenue of Limes by the Arch of Victory in an
ordinary open carriage drawn by two horses. One thing only is certain,
that some time before any portion of the populace as a body became aware
of his presence in their midst, he was already surrounded by a strong
guard of soldiers, under whose escort he was proceeding as rapidly as
circumstances would allow along the same route which had just been
traversed by his fellow-Sovereigns.

But far faster than horses could gallop travelled the news of his
arrival. The magic words, "The Emperor is coming," flew from mouth to
mouth. Necks were craned, hands upraised, handkerchiefs waved, caps and
hats thrown up into the air--in short, every imaginable demonstration of
frantic joy was indulged in. Roar followed upon roar, until the clatter
of the horses' feet could no longer be distinguished. The people jostled
and hustled and trampled upon each other in their frenzied anxiety to
get near the carriage and catch a glimpse of the man for whom they had
been mourning, plotting, scheming, and vowing vengeance for more than
three sad weeks. No troops in the world could have safeguarded their
charge from the headlong onrush of these shouting, screaming, cheering
crowds, mad with the maddest of all excitements, senseless, exuberant
joy.

But the troops were by this time long supplanted and replaced. A body of
some hundred resolute citizens, the very men who had been selected for a
task of quite another description, which the reader will have no
difficulty in divining for himself, had now surrounded the carriage on
all sides, and by offering a determined front to the howling mob which
rushed in upon it from every quarter, prevented the carriage and its
illustrious occupant from being overwhelmed and torn to pieces from the
very excess of loyal affection. This band of self-appointed guards was
swelled as it proceeded at each street corner by others of a like stamp,
who, seizing the situation at a glance, rallied to the side of their
sorely pressed comrades, and kept back the struggling, fighting crowds,
which had they not been so restrained, would have swept them away
instantaneously, as a torrent sweeps away a dam when once the bursting
point has been reached.

Such, then, was the escort which accompanied his Majesty the Emperor
Willibald through the streets of Berolingen to his castle on the day of
his long-looked-for return; and a safer escort no monarch has ever been
able to boast of. His progress was of necessity slow and much impeded.
But he reached the Square at last, and--but the rest the reader knows.

Indeed, what more could I add? What passed in the Council Chamber of the
Royal Castle after the Emperor's entry would doubtless be supremely
interesting to record, were it only possible to obtain one single
authentic account of that memorable scene which is not flatly
contradicted by some other account of equal authenticity. The versions
vary again here in a hopeless fashion, and probably no single one is
quite correct.

Those who know the character of the young Emperor--and he is pretty well
known to the world at large at the present day--may be safely left to
conclude for themselves what kind of welcome he gave his illustrious
guests, who had assembled under his roof much after the fashion of
Penelope's suitors--at least, we the public of Berolingen thought. That
he understood the position, and rightly appreciated the attitude of his
own subjects, may be inferred from the fact that when, in response to
the thundering acclamations of the crowd out-side, he appeared on the
balcony of the Castle a minute or two after his entrance into the
Council Chamber, he was alone, and stood there for fully two minutes,
with his hand raised in salute, gazing proudly and, as I thought--for I
saw him--approvingly at the vast multitude shouting and gesticulating
below. Suddenly a voice started the first bars of the Arminian national
anthem, with the music of which no loyal Englishman is unacquainted. It
was one solitary voice. But in a few seconds the whole immense gathering
had taken up the song. All discordant shouts ceased as of one accord,
and the grand, wonderful melody rang out to the skies in a strain that
must have thrilled every heart present.

Truly, it was the most stirring scene I have ever witnessed, and one
that I shall never forget.

I refrain from drawing a picture of the spectacle presented by the
streets of the capital during the rest of that extraordinary day. The
people for a time were beside themselves, and lost to all sense of
dignity and decorum. Excesses were committed upon which I prefer to
remain silent, and many a sad sight, too, was witnessed in those
portions of the city where the crush had been greatest and the
inevitable results consequent upon the dashing of excited and unbridled
masses had been most numerous.

Gradually something like order was established. But the general
excitement and jubilation lasted until the evening, when the entire city
burst into a flood of light, almost every house being illuminated by
such hasty means as could be provided on the spur of the moment. The
thoroughfares were now paraded by endless crowds of sightseers, and
giant processions and deputations, hurriedly improvised, wended their
way through the jubilant throng towards the Castle, all bent upon giving
some fresh and signal vent to their satisfaction at the termination of a
suspense that had become well-nigh intolerable. Numerous versions of
what the Emperor had said and done on confronting the Council of
Sovereigns, some of a most preposterous nature, were floated and eagerly
discussed among the people. Otherwise the sense of animosity against the
Sovereigns themselves, which the events of the last few weeks had
awakened in the population, seemed to have vanished completely, and some
of the more favoured ones were even greeted with lusty cheers when they
once more made their appearance in the streets.

Strangely enough, one thought appeared for the moment to have entirely
passed from the mind of the people. No one inquired now what had been
the cause of the Emperor's absence, or whence he had so suddenly and
unexpectedly reappeared. He was there, visible and in tangible shape, in
their midst again, and this sufficed.

During the evening it occurred to some of the enthusiastic souls to
finish up the day's excitements by proceeding in mass to the Victoria
Hotel under the Limes, and bringing Prince Ottomarck a grand ovation. In
their view the great ex-Chancellor, and no other, could have brought
about the happy event they were now celebrating, and it was meet that he
should be paid the honour which was his just due.

The idea was seized with avidity, and once more the mad torrent took its
headlong course, and the multitude collected in front of the Prince's
hotel. But this time disappointment was in store for the people, and
they clamoured in vain for their idol to appear.

Prince Ottomarck was no longer in Berolingen. He had left the hotel as
soon after the news of the Emperor's safe return as the condition of
things permitted, and driving in a closed carriage to the northern
railway terminus, had chartered a special train to convey him back to
Fritzensruh.




CHAPTER XIV.--The Arminian Emperor and His Chancellor.


In less than two hours after the reappearance of the Arminian Emperor in
his capital the news of his safe return had been flashed all over
Europe. In the tremendous international complications that had arisen
throughout the world since the day on which he strangely vanished from
sight, people had almost forgotten to speculate upon his fate. Having
given him up for lost, they had no longer reckoned with the possibility
of his return, and it took some time before the full bearing of the
event upon the political situation was realised.

Yet realised it was, perhaps soonest by those who had taken advantage of
the Emperor's absence to plan the downfall of the mighty Empire that
acknowledged his sovereignty. The position of these schemers had now
become one of considerable difficulty. Franconia, in particular, found
herself awkwardly situated. She had gone so far in her imperious demands
that she could hardly retreat with dignity, yet to embark upon a war
with a united Arminia was a contingency which she had never
contemplated, and which she now felt it necessary to avoid by every
means diplomacy could provide. Russia, too, whose attitude during the
last three weeks had been such as to cause alarm to every pacifically
disposed statesman in Europe, had her peace to make with the neighbour
she had used so ill. Whether and how it would be accomplished was a
question which was to exercise the minds of European statesmen in
general, and Russian, Franconian, and Arminian statesmen in particular,
for many days to come.

For the moment, however, the gravest question of all, and the one upon
which all these others hinged, seemed to be whether the return of the
Emperor would put an end to the troubles Arminia was beset with at home.
The situation in Noveria, so far as the immediate future was concerned,
remained unaltered. It is true there was nothing now to stay the
Government from proceeding with the utmost rigour to quell the rebellion
and annihilate the insurgent forces. But to do so effectually would not
be possible without the employment of a considerable portion of the army
required for the defence of the Empire itself--a fact to which its
enemies must of necessity be alive.

Such, then, was in brief the position the Emperor found himself called
upon to face upon his return to Berolingen, and he did so with
characteristic promptitude and energy. While the people were exulting at
the happy event which, according to their views, had with one stroke
settled all difficulties, his Majesty was closeted with his Chancellor
listening to the reports of the heads of the various Governmental
departments, who had been hastily summoned to the Castle for the purpose
of enlightening the Sovereign on the state of affairs generally.

In the Castle itself the aspect of things had meanwhile undergone a
marked change since the stirring scenes which had signalised its
Imperial matter's re-entry. By far the greater number of the Princes
were still within its walls, it being deemed unsafe for them to pass
through the streets until public feeling should have calmed down again.
There was consequently still much stir and bustle in all parts of the
building, but it was of a very different kind from that which preceded
it. In the corridors, at the grand entrance, and on the central
staircase a host of Imperial servants were busy removing the traces left
by the memorable events of the afternoon, whilst the constant to-and-fro
of officials between the various offices of the household, and the
frequent arrivals and departures of messengers and orderlies passing
between the Imperial Cabinet and the Ministerial Departments in the
town, lent the place a busy appearance which it had not known for many a
week.

In the palace, as well as in the cottage, there are certain not easily
definable signs which denote unmistakably the presence of the master,
and they were now visible here. Voices were hushed and footsteps
softened, whilst every one, and particularly those who moved about in
the proximity of the Imperial apartments, seemed to be on the alert, as
if they expected every moment might bring them under the keen scrutiny
of their Sovereign's eye. There was a good deal of curiosity, and
perhaps still more of anxiety, mixed with this general air of
expectancy. The people of Berolingen were content with the mere fact
that the Emperor had returned again, and did not trouble their minds--at
least, for the present--to inquire what had so long kept him away. But
here, in the immediate entourage of the monarch, the conditions were
different, and every mind was engrossed with the one thought: What had
happened? What was going to happen? The Emperor had reappeared as
mysteriously, if not as quietly, as he had vanished. But what had been
the cause of his absence, and what would follow upon it?

These questions formed the burden of every one's talk, wherever there
was talk going on in the Castle--that is to say, among the illustrious
guests who were still assembled under its protecting roof, as well as
among the lacqueys and serving-men in the kitchens and house-hold
offices; in the officers' quarters, as well as in the guardroom. They
were questions none could answer. His Majesty had as yet vouchsafed to
open his lips to no one on the subject, and there was no one who dared
question him. His first order, after bidding his Royal visitors welcome
and expressing--so one version has it--his profound regret that
circumstances should have prevented him from appearing sooner to do the
honours of his house in person, had been to despatch a messenger to the
Dowager Empress announcing his arrival, and informing her Majesty that
he would wait upon her as soon as the state of the streets permitted of
his leaving the Castle without fear of molestation. He had then thanked
and graciously dismissed those who had constituted themselves his escort
through the streets of the capital, and having turned to the assembled
Sovereigns and begged them, with a fine touch of irony, which must have
caused them some uncomfortable reflections, to excuse his further
presence at their deliberations, on the plea that they had been good
enough to provide him with business of a more urgent and pressing nature
to attend to, he had almost immediately withdrawn to his apartments,
leaving the members of the august assembly to recover from their
surprise and confusion as best they could.

In the Imperial Cabinet, meanwhile, Count Capricius was undergoing an
ordeal of an unenviable kind. His reception by the Emperor when, after
much difficulty, he reached the Castle in obedience to the Imperial
summons, had been ominously cold and contemptuous. His Majesty had
brusquely interrupted the warm speech in which he had endeavoured to
express his pleasure and relief at seeing his beloved master safe and
sound in his capital again, and had told him with his characteristic
bluntness to eschew idle sentiment, for which the present moment was ill
suited, and proceed at once to business. Report had then followed upon
report, to all of which the Emperor had listened attentively, but in
silence.

Occasionally an ominous frown gathered on his brow, and he darted an
angry look at the Chancellor, who stood by anxiously awaiting the result
of this trying audience. But one after the other of the Ministers and
Privy Councillors entered the Imperial Cabinet, fulfilled his duty, and
was dismissed with a wave of the hand, and still no word escaped the
monarch's lips that enabled the Chancellor to guess from what direction
the wind was likely to blow.

At heart Count Capricius had come prepared to witness a violent outburst
of wrath on the part of his Imperial master, whose displeasure when
things went awry was wont to vent itself in no measured terms. But this
calm was worse than the storm he had expected, and increased the sense
of misgiving which filled him.

It was strange to see this gray-headed Chancellor, with his fine martial
bearing and commanding figure, standing with a crestfallen air, humble
and faltering, before the youthful monarch, who, as far as years go,
might have been his grandson. Yet there was that about the latter which
made you forget his lack of years and only remember his exalted station.
The personality of the Arminian Emperor is perhaps as well known to the
world in general as that of any other prominent European ruler. He has
been described and dissected so often in the public prints of this and
other countries that there is scarcely anything now left to say about
him. Yet, curiously enough, one feature--and to my mind the most
striking of all--has rarely, if ever, been dwelt upon in these
multifarious descriptions. I mean the extraordinary resemblance he bears
to his late grandfather, the great Emperor Willibald I.

In stature he is, indeed, smaller than the illustrious founder of the
Armininan Empire. But in face his likeness to him is remarkable. The
keen, gray-blue eye, with its quick, penetrating glance, is the same,
though it perhaps expresses more of the indomitable energy and stern
will-power, and somewhat less of the exceeding kindliness of heart which
endeared the old Emperor, especially in his latter years, to everyone
who knew him. The proud lines of the mouth, with its characteristically
pursed underlip, and the graceful sweep of the fair moustache, the ends
of which, boldly upturned, lend the whole countenance a certain air of
manly resoluteness--all these traits recall the venerable monarch, whose
face is still indelibly engraven in the hearts of the nation which he
raised to a first power on earth.

Much has been said of the brusque manner of the young Emperor Willibald,
his contempt for what may be termed general conventionalities, and his
disregard of the feelings of those who serve him. Maybe it is all just
and true. But what of it? A character must be judged as a whole, whether
it be the character of a common toiler of the earth or that of a ruler
over forty odd millions of men. And taken as a whole, a finer specimen
of this kind than Willibald II., Arminian Emperor and King of
Brandenburg, may be sought for in vain. That he is intensely proud no
one can deny. But even if there be a spice of arrogance in his pride, it
is, on the other hand, leavened with a stern sense of duty, which raises
it immeasurably high above the mere vapid silliness of ordinary conceit
and vanity. Relentless of purpose, he spares himself as little as he
does others in his pursuit of that which he was once determined to
attain. Military to the core, like all his predecessors, with few
exceptions, he carries the strict principles of discipline and
subordination into every business that happens to engage his
attention--and to what kind of business, be it governmental,
administrative, military, or purely social, has he not at some time or
other given his personal attention? The world may sneer and snigger at
the spectacle of a modern Harun al Raschid appearing at this latter end
of our humdrum nineteenth century, or may affect virtuous indignation at
seeing a monarch, young, self-confident, able, and, untiringly active,
repudiate the notions of his time and, regardless of custom and the
claims and opinions of those who surround him, elect to stand forth
alone, without props, a sufficient support in himself.

After all, in this age of sovereign nonentities it is by no means an
unimpressive sight to see a king who is not merely content to possess
his crown, but is also determined to wear it, who not only performs the
formal functions of his exalted office, but also accepts all its burdens
and responsibilities. Such is the Emperor Willibald, and whatever
theoretical views his critics may entertain as to the most ideal form of
government and similarly abstruse questions, they must give him credit
for a personality as eminent and striking as any known in the world's
history.

No one was more keenly alive to the originality of the young Emperor's
character than the man who now stood before him in the Imperial Cabinet,
anxiously awaiting his judgment upon the conduct of affairs during his
Majesty's absence. That judgment came at last, and it was pronounced
with a pithiness that savoured almost of contempt.

"Well, my dear Capricius," the Emperor said, breaking silence at length,
after the last of the Ministerial reporters had accomplished his task
and had been dismissed, "considering the short time you have been at
work, you have certainly managed to make a pretty mess of affairs."

He stood, as he spoke, with his arms crossed, confronting the burly
Chancellor, with an expression on his face that was rather humorously
pitiful than angry or resentful.

"Your Majesty will be pleased to consider," the Chancellor stammered,
"that the extraordinary difficulties with which we were faced----"

"Nay," interposed the Emperor, "I see no extraordinary difficulties,
save those of your own creating. You have blundered, my dear Capricius,
blundered deplorably; and your first and foremost blunder was to suppose
your Emperor was a fool."

"Your Majesty----"

"What, sir, did you not lead the world to think I had gone blindly on
some fool's errand, to treat in my own person, forsooth, with a mere
handful of rebellious rogues, whom a company or two of my troops would
have easily swept from the face of the earth? You have accomplished the
feat of making your Sovereign the laughing-stock of Europe for the space
of three whole weeks, and I owe you little thanks for it."

There was an angry flash in his eye, and his lip curled disdainfully.
The Chancellor stood silent. These signs of storm rather relieved him
than otherwise. At least, he knew where he was. But he could scarcely
conceal his surprise at the Emperor's apparently accurate knowledge of
what had occurred during his absence.

"If your Majesty had only deigned to enlighten us," he murmured, after a
moment, respectfully.

But he got no further. The Emperor turned upon him like lightning.

"Deigned to enlighten you!" he cried, surveying him sternly from head to
foot. "Am I to render an account of my doings to my servants? When I
think fit to enlighten you, Count Capricius, you may be assured that you
will receive enlightenment as full and complete as you can desire. For
the present let it suffice you to know that I have been busy during
these three weeks in mending what you and your precious Ministers have
been at pains to spoil. Unfortunately," he added, "no mending will undo
the disgrace my Empire has sustained in the meanwhile. By heaven, to
think that a ragged and undisciplined Noverian rabble should have
succeeded for three whole weeks in bidding defiance to the entire forces
of Royal Brandenburg! I could forgive and forget everything but that."

The thought seemed to agitate him deeply, far more than the insolence of
Franconia, which he treated with contempt, or the animosity of Russia,
in whose friendship he had never believed. The Chancellor, an Arminian
soldier with all an Arminian soldier's instincts of blind submission and
self-repression, watched his Sovereign silently, as he strode angrily up
and down the room, venting his displeasure every now and again in
occasional exclamations and expletives, which were far from
complimentary to those to whom they were applied.

"I presume," Count Capricius at last ventured to remark, "that your
Majesty will order the troops concentrated in Noveria to proceed to
immediate action?"

"Will I do so?" the Emperor said, stopping short in his impatient
promenade. "I have done so, sir."

The Chancellor looked up with an air of surprise.

"But you remind me," his Majesty continued, "that it would be well to
ascertain whether my messenger has reached the Ministry of War in
safety. I made out the order en route for the Castle, and handed it for
instant despatch to the young lieutenant off the Third Uhlans who rode
next to my carriage. Let an orderly proceed at once to the Ministry. And
mark, I will have no treating or parleying with these insolent rebels. I
demand instant unconditional surrender and submission to such sentence
as the military courts may pronounce. Otherwise no quarter. You
understand me. Let this be seen to."

While the Chancellor hurried into the ante-chamber to carry out the
Imperial commands, the Emperor resumed his walking exercise with renewed
vigour. He evidently felt the necessity of working off the angry
feelings that had been accumulating within him. When the Chancellor
returned he wore a thoughtful took.

"Your Majesty is aware, of course," he said, "that the Duke of
Cumbermere himself has assumed the command of the insurgent forces?"

"Well?"

"It might give rise to awkward questions were his Royal Highness to fall
into our hands. Would it not be expedient, therefore, in view of
possible contingencies, to facilitate----"

"The Duke's escape?" the Emperor exclaimed. "On the contrary, I desire
that every means shall be adopted to prevent such a calamity."

"But if we secure his Royal Highness's person----"

"He shall be dealt with as traitors deserve," the Emperor said, sternly.
"Were my own brother guilty of the perfidy of which this precious Duke
has been guilty, I would make an example of him."

"But the courts of Great Britain and Austria," the Chancellor said,
dismayed at this inflexible determination, in which he saw fresh and
incalculable dangers; "has your Majesty reflected upon the inevitable
complications that must ensue in such an event?"

"Let us leave the courts of Great Britain and Austria to act for
themselves when the occasion arises," the Emperor replied, grimly. "I
fancy they will not be inclined to baulk me here. It surprises me
somewhat," he added, "to find that the Duke of Cumbermere possesses so
anxious a champion in the Imperial Chancellor. It used to be otherwise."

"Your Majesty can scarcely charge me with being the Duke's champion,"
Count Capricius answered, nettled by the ironical tone of the Emperor.
"Your Majesty must concede that I have never placed any trust in his
Royal Highness's sincerity in desiring an amicable settlement of the
questions pending between him and the Crown of Brandenburg. If your
Majesty has been deceived----"

"The fault is mine? Is that it?" the Emperor said. "On my faith. I
almost despair of ever convincing you that my head is better than yours.
Let me tell your Excellency, however, that if you do me but scant
justice, you certainly overrate both yourself and his Royal Highness the
Duke of Cumbermere. I am not so easily led by the nose as your
Excellency appears inclined to suppose. While his Highness has been
plotting and scheming, I have acted--with what success the result will
show."

There was a shade almost of doubt in the tone of these last words, which
struck the Chancellor, and emboldened him, perhaps, more than the
resentment he felt at the Emperor's scathing reference to his estimate
of his own efficiency, to hazard a piece of sarcasm, for which he might
have paid dearly.

"Your Majesty, then," he said, "has practically settled the Noverian
question single-handed?"

The Emperor regarded him for a moment with a severe glance.

"Your shrewdness does you credit, Count Capricius," he said; "but honour
to whom honour is due. If the Noverian question should indeed be
settled--and God grant it may prove so--it will not be my doing alone."

"I can only join heartily in your Majesty's prayer," the Chancellor
said, "that all may prove as your Majesty anticipates."

"But meanwhile you reserve your own opinion as to the likelihood of this
happy consummation?" the Emperor observed, with a good-humouredness that
surprised his Minister.

"I cannot deny," the Chancellor rejoined, "that the fact that the Duke
of Cumbermere is at this moment bearing arms against your Majesty seems
scarcely to augur well for the fulfilment of your Majesty's wishes."

"But if we capture and hang this venturesome Duke as a rebel?" the
Emperor asked, with a coolness that caused the Chancellor to start back
aghast.

"God forbid!" he cried. "Your Majesty cannot seriously contemplate such
an act. It would alienate every loyal heart Brandenburg has gained in
the annexed kingdom during all these years. Nay, it might-even be
said----"

He stopped short, hesitating to give expression to his thought.

"Pray proceed," the Emperor said.

"It might be said, sire," the Chancellor continued, "that this rebellion
in Noveria had been deliberately planned by the Crown of Brandenburg
itself in order to ensnare the Duke of Cumbermere and cause him to
forfeit his liberty and his life to the power which has despoiled him of
his possessions."

The Emperor fixed his eye searchingly upon the speaker's face.

"Which means?" he said, curtly.

"I pray your Majesty not to misunderstand me," Count Capricius said,
conscious of the delicate ground on which he was venturing. "Of course,
no one who knows your Majesty will credit so monstrous a story. But
unfortunately the world at large judges by appearances only, and I fear
that your Majesty's well-known relations with the Baron von Arnold, who
is believed to have had a weighty voice in the councils of the Duke,
may, unless satisfactorily explained, be liable to a most unhappy
misconstruction."

"Ha, what about this Baron von Arnold?" the Emperor exclaimed abruptly,
apparently quite ignoring the insinuation conveyed in the Chancellor's
last words. "My Government, I am informed, have been mighty eager to
court-martial the friends of the Duke of Cumbermere. I trust, at least,
that they have bestowed some attention in this quarter, too."

"Your Majesty may be quite easy on that score," the Chancellor replied.
"Baron von Arnold has been kept under the strictest surveillance. I can
answer for it that no communication whatever has passed between
Arnoldshausen and the Duke of Cumbermere or his agents."

"A fig for your surveillance," cried the Emperor in great dudgeon. "What
if I tell you that, to my certain knowledge, this Baron von Arnold has
until three weeks ago been in daily intimate communication with his
Royal Highness the Duke of Cumbermere--nay, more, that he has just
successfully eluded the vigilance of your watchers and escaped from
Arnoldhausen to join the Duke?"

Count Capricius stood dumbfounded.

"Your Majesty astonishes me," he stammered. "It was only yesterday that
I received the most reassuring reports from the agents charged to watch
the movements of the Baron. Unless your Majesty has been strangely
misinformed----"

"Pshaw, it is your information that is deficient, not mine," the Emperor
said.

"Then," exclaimed the Chancellor, "if your Majesty will be guided by my
counsel, you will issue instant orders for the definite arrest of the
man whose sister has recently become the wife of Baron von Arnold. I
will stake my head that no other than Doctor Georg Hofer, your Majesty's
private secretary, is at the bottom of this foul conspiracy."

"There I am inclined to agree with you," the Emperor remarked, drily.
"But not so fast, my dear Chancellor. There is a person who is just now
of even greater consequence to us than Doctor Georg Hofer. I mean the
Baroness von Arnold herself. I have reason to believe that the Duke of
Cumbermere possesses no stancher friend in the world than the wife of
Baron Frederick von Arnold."

"I rejoice to see that your Majesty has at last recognised this
important fact," the Chancellor said.

"At last?" the Emperor retorted. "Had I ever doubted it, Count
Capricius, believe me, much of that which has now become history would
never have come to pass. But enough of this subject," he broke off. "We
are losing valuable time. I have no more need of your Excellency's
services for the present. There is work here,"--pointing to the mass of
documents and reports piled up in a huge heap upon the Imperial
writing-table--"sufficient to occupy me until we meet again."

"But the Franconian demands?" the Chancellor inquired, somewhat aghast
at this abrupt termination of an audience which so far left him no wiser
than he had been before. "I beg to remind your Majesty that the term
stipulated for the definite answer to this insolent ultimatum expires at
10 o'clock to-morrow morning. Has your Majesty considered----"

"Considered?" said the Emperor with flashing eyes. "What is there to
consider? If my presence at the head of my army is not answer
superabundant to impertinences of this character, let his Excellency the
Franconian Ambassador fetch his answer from me in person. By heaven, he
shall not lack it!"

He waved his hand imperiously, in token of dismissal, and the
Chancellor, bowing deferentially, retired. At the door, however, he
turned back once more.

"And with reference to the Baroness von Arnold," he said, "I may assume
that I have your Majesty's authority to order the immediate arrest of
this lady."

"Nay, my dear Chancellor," said the Emperor, "it is not my custom to
adopt such drastic measures against ladies. Moreover, your suggestion,
as usual, comes somewhat late. I have already issued my instructions
with regard to the Baroness von Arnold to one upon whose skill and
discretion I have reason to place implicit confidence. He is empowered
to convey my commands to the Baroness in such form as will render them
more palatable than your Excellency might be inclined to make them."

"Then the Baroness----"

"Will be in Berolingen to-morrow," the Emperor answered briefly, turning
his back upon the Minister.

Still the latter tarried.

"May I venture to ask," he said, "who it is that your Majesty has thus
honoured with your confidence?"

The Emperor raised his eyebrows as if in surprise at the audacity of the
inquiry. Then he strode deliberately across the space that separated him
from his bold questioner, and stood facing him for several seconds with
an expression which made him regret his temerity.

The Chancellor prepared himself for an explosion of wrath. But he proved
mistaken.

"I will tell you, sir," the Emperor said at last, in sharp, cutting
tones. "It is the man to whom I perhaps owe it that I still possess the
crown I wear--no thanks to your Excellency and the rest of my
Ministers."

With these words he turned abruptly on his heel, and left the Chancellor
standing at the threshold confused and abashed. Whether the latter
understood to whom the Emperor was referring is a matter for conjecture.
But he bit his lip furiously, and withdrew in silence.




CHAPTER XV.--In the Imperial Ante-chamber.


Berolingen had slept at last upon the exciting events of the 25th of
June, and the capital had once more resumed its ordinary appearance.
Gossip of every description was still rife among all classes of the
inhabitants as to the possible consequences of the momentous crisis
through which the country had just passed. Rumours, springing no one
knew whence, that the Government had fallen, that the Imperial
Chancellor had been dismissed in disgrace, and that some vast,
far-reaching conspiracy had been unmasked, in which personages of the
most exalted station were involved, and which had aimed at nothing less
than the complete overthrow of the Imperial supremacy, were being busily
weighed and discussed in the cafes and in the streets, in the places of
public business and in private circles. But inasmuch as they were
practically no more than the echoes of the same sombre convictions which
had laid hold of the public mind and exercised it during the past three
weeks, their effect was harmless enough.

A sense of absolute security had now come over the people, and the only
place where there was still real excitement bubbling among them was the
Bourse--a fact that will scarcely occasion surprise when it is
remembered that, according to the careful computations of a well-known
contemporary statistician; the unprecedented fluctuations in the public
stocks and securities of Europe on that one single day represented a sum
of no less than two hundred millions sterling. The cost to financial
Europe of these three eventful weeks of the world's history has been
estimated by the same eminent authority at a total figure of such
magnitude that it would take the ordinary reader's breath away were I to
mention it.

The busiest man in the whole Arminian Empire that day was the Emperor
himself. Yet he of all others should have been sorely in need of rest.
He had not snatched even a quarter of an hour's sleep during the night,
but had worked uninterruptedly at the task he had set himself with his
usual dogged persistency and disregard of everything but the stern call
of duty until the day dawned and the Castle was again astir. At six
o'clock the Chief of his Military Cabinet had arrived, and remained in
conference with his Majesty until eight, leaving him, as he admiringly
confessed, as fresh and vigorous as if he had just risen from an eight
hours' undisturbed slumber. Then Minister after Minister had followed to
receive the Imperial comments upon the voluminous documents submitted
the previous afternoon, every one of which the Emperor had carefully
perused, mastering its contents, however intricate, down to the very
smallest detail, with that extraordinary facility that never ceased to
astonish those who knew him.

Until noon he had been thus occupied, with but few intervals, devoted to
the reception of the various Princes and Princesses of the Imperial
family, and one or two favoured members of the diplomatic corps, among
the latter in particular Sir Edward Hammer, with whom he had conversed
for some time very graciously.

Towards 10 o'clock his Excellency the Franconian Ambassador had arrived
at the Castle, causing an extra flutter of excitement among the groups
waiting in the Imperial ante-rooms and in the corridors and lobbies
outside. The object of his visit was well known, and every one remained
on the tip-toe of anxious expectation during the few minutes that he was
closeted with the Emperor.

It was a remarkably brief interview, and its result could only be
guessed at. The Ambassador had entered the Imperial presence with an air
of uneasiness which he endeavoured in vain to carry off by an extra
display of pomposity. When he issued forth again, scarcely five minutes
afterwards, his face was pale, his lips were compressed, and his whole
demeanour was expressive of intense agitation. He hurried through the
ante-room, taking no heed of the chamberlain who escorted him with all
due ceremony to the door of his carriage.

What had passed between him and the Emperor during those few minutes no
one knew, nor ever learned. The next person who was ushered into his
Majesty's presence, immediately after the Ambassador had left, found him
quietly engaged in sticking tiny flags of various colours into an
immense military chart of Franconia, which lay spread out upon a low
table in the middle of the Imperial study. To all appearances he had
been thus occupied for the last half-hour or so, and beyond a certain
grim smile of satisfaction that hovered about his lips there was nothing
to indicate that he had recently passed through any unusual emotion.

It may not be uninteresting, however, in this connection, to recall two
significant paragraphs which appeared on the evening of that day in the
Government organs of Arminia and Franconia respectively.

The latest edition of the Berolingen 'Official Gazette' of that day
contained the following notice:--

"His Majesty the Emperor worked for several hours during the morning
with the Chief of his Military Cabinet, and issued orders of an
important character respecting the concentration of the Imperial forces.
All leaves of absence granted to officers of the Imperial army have been
peremptorily cancelled, and the annual levy of recruits has been ordered
to take place immediately. His Majesty subsequently received his
Excellency the Franconian Ambassador in a short audience."

The journal of the Government issued the same evening at Patropolis
brought the following reassuring piece of news:--

"Satisfactory explanations have now been forthcoming from the Arminian
Government with regard to the frontier questions and the undue amassing
of troops in the border garrisons. His Majesty the Arminian Emperor has
given our Ambassador at the Court of Berolingen personally the most
explicit assurances of his friendly and pacific intentions, and has
expressed his regret at the unfortunate misunderstanding that has
arisen. The incident is now closed."

But the audience of the Franconian Ambassador, with its abrupt
termination, was only one among the many excitements that set all brains
in the Castle a-thinking and all lips a-whispering that morning. Nor was
it by any means the incident that gave rise to most speculation. Rumours
of the Emperor's decision to adopt stringent measures against all those
who were suspected of having aided and abetted the Duke of Cumbermere in
his treasonable proceedings had reached the Castle, and were discussed
on all hands with the utmost interest. The quasi-arrest of the Baroness
von Arnold, whose alleged secret machinations were currently reported to
have deeply incensed the Emperor, was understood to be but a preliminary
to a host of other arrests shortly to be expected, and persons of every
degree and kind were named as being on the list of these suspects.

The probable fate of Doctor Georg Hofer, the Imperial private secretary,
was in particular a subject of eager conjecture. It was known that soon
after the Emperor's return Doctor Hofer had solicited an audience of his
Majesty, which had been peremptorily refused. Failing in his attempt to
gain speech of his Imperial master, the Doctor had then resorted to the
expedient of addressing a letter to his Majesty, which, however, had
been returned in like manner, unopened, with the curt notification that
the Emperor would hold no communication with his secretary until such
time as he should himself appoint.

As the morning wore on, fresh topics of interest arose, which diverted
the general attention from the Imperial Secretary. Telegrams from
headquarters in Noveria began to arrive in quick succession, bringing
details of the movements of the Imperial troops. The Emperor's orders to
proceed to attack the insurgent forces had been promptly obeyed, and
already during the night news had come in of skirmishes between portions
of the rebel forces and the advance detachments of the Imperial Army.

The result of the contest was of course a foregone conclusion. In spite
of their numbers, which had increased enormously during these three
weeks of inactivity on the part of the Arminian Government, and in
spite, too, of the fact that the country folk in the Noverian province
sided more or less openly with the partisans of the old dynasty,
especially since the report had spread that the young Duke of Cumbermere
himself was at their head, these untrained and undisciplined rebels
could stand no chance whatever against the regular forces opposed to
them. But the Emperor, so it was rumoured, was determined to effect the
capture of the Duke of Cumbermere at all costs, and had issued commands
to direct the attack in such wise as to prevent the possibility of the
Duke's escape. Hence, for all that was known, it might be evening before
any definite news of the destruction of the insurgent forces arrived.

Meanwhile everyone was discussing what would happen to the Duke when he
was captured. Would he be treated as an ordinary rebel? Would he forfeit
his liberty, perhaps his life? And, if so, what would be the
consequences? The Emperor, all the world knew, would brook no
interference with his own affairs, nor allow any considerations of
sentiment or even policy to weigh against that which he deemed to be
just and right. Yet the Duke, although he belonged to a deposed dynasty,
and had, like his father before him, throughout all these years steadily
refused to hold any intercourse with the European courts, because he
considered that they had shamefully acquiesced in the act of
despoliation which had deprived him of his hereditary rights, still
possessed powerful friends and relatives among the reigning families,
who would be sure to intercede in his favour. Hence complications might
arise, leading heaven knows where to. In short, in this, as in every
other direction, the same question confronted these anxious speculators:
How was it all going to end?

Had they but known it, the end was even then preparing.

Towards 1 o'clock the Minister of War arrived at the Castle, followed
almost immediately by the Imperial Chancellor. They met in the grand
vestibule, and after conversing privately for a few moments, proceeded
together to the Imperial antechamber.

As they passed through the somewhat crowded room, those who respectfully
made way for them scanned their faces with eager curiosity. It was
evident that matters of paramount interest had brought them here at this
hour, and from the pleased expression on the countenance of the War
Minister it was not difficult to guess that news of some decisive action
in Noveria had arrived.

The Chancellor's face was grave, and there was a touch of anxiety in his
eyes. But he, too, could scarcely conceal the pleasurable excitement
that was working within him, and when, in response to a whispered query
addressed to him in passing by a gray-headed old warrior in a
field-marshal's uniform, he was seen to hold up a telegraphic despatch
with a significant smile, all doubt as to the nature of the business
that had brought him and his colleague to the Castle was over. The old
field marshal was immediately surrounded by a dozen eager questioners,
and before the two Ministers had reached the Imperial aide-decamp, whose
duty it was to announce them to his Majesty, the news that the rebel
forces, with their leader, had made unconditional surrender, was in
everyone's possession.

That the Noverian rebellion, like the revolution in Berolingen, should
have ended without bloodshed was news so gladdening that for the moment
the graver question of the capture of the Duke of Cumbermere was
entirely lost sight of. In an instant everyone was excitedly commenting
upon the welcome tidings, and exchanging congratulatory observations
with his neighbour.

The incident of the entry of the two Ministers had engrossed the general
attention to such a degree that the arrival of another personage, who
had followed almost at their heels, had passed quite unobserved--a fact
the more remarkable in that the personage in question was totally
unknown to every one present, and would, therefore, under other
circumstances, have been the subject of the keenest scrutiny to the
occupants of the Imperial ante-chamber.

This new-comer, in fact, was Sir John Templeton. Taking advantage of the
momentary delay in the progress of the two Ministers through the
ante-room, he had managed to reach the aide-de-camp on duty at the door
to the Emperor's apartments before they did, and he had just made
himself known to that officer when the Chancellor and his colleague came
up and demanded to be announced to his Majesty.

Sir John stepped back with a bow, to which the Imperial Chancellor
responded with a frown of displeasure. The aide-decamp disappeared into
the Emperor's cabinet, and returned almost immediately, leaving the door
to the Imperial sanctum open. The Chancellor and the Minister of War
stepped forward as a matter of course to enter, when to their
astonishment the aide-de-camp barred their passage with a deprecatory
gesture.

"I beg your Excellencies' pardon," he said. "His Majesty awaits Sir John
Templeton."

And beckoning to that personage, he ushered him into the Emperor's
cabinet, leaving the two dignitaries standing upon the threshold
speechless with surprise and chagrin. The Chancellor in particular was
white with disappointment and rage, and, when a moment later the officer
reappeared and once more took up his position at the door, he so far
forgot himself as to take him to task for having neglected his duty.

"His Majesty," he said, in a voice loud enough to be heard throughout
the chamber, "cannot have understood that two of his Ministers are
waiting to speak with him on State affairs of the utmost urgency. You
will be good enough to ascertain if it is the Emperor's pleasure to
delay receiving despatches of the most vital moment to the Empire which
we have to lay before his Majesty."

The officer acquiesced silently, and once more entered the Imperial
cabinet. He was back again in a twinkling, closing the door carefully
behind him. The group in the ante-room had meanwhile drawn as close to
the two Ministers as respect would allow in order to hear the result of
this somewhat venturesome proceeding on the part of the
audience-seekers.

"Well?" queried the Chancellor, as the aide-de-camp hesitated, with
evident embarrassment. "What are his Majesty's commands?"

"The same that I have already communicated to your Excellency. His
Majesty is engaged on important business with Sir John Templeton," the
officer said, with manifest evasion, which exasperated the Chancellor.

"What were his Majesty's words, sir?" he asked, sternly.

"His Majesty's commands to me were that I was to go to the devil," the
aide-decamp, answered, now with perfect imperturbability.

"Is that all?" the Chancellor asked, biting his lip.

"His Majesty desires your Excellencies to await his pleasure," the
officer replied.

"Are these his Majesty's own words, sir, or yours?" the Chancellor
asked, haughtily.

"They are mine," the officer rejoined, quietly. "His Majesty's own words
were: 'Tell their Excellencies that they shall wait until they are blue
in the face, if it so pleases me.'"

There was not a trace of humour in the expression with which the officer
conveyed this unceremonious piece of intelligence. But it caused a
slight titter among the listeners grouped around, which, however, was
instantly suppressed. It is a dangerous proceeding in Arminia to laugh
at the discomfiture of an Imperial Chancellor--at least, it is unwise to
do so before his resignation had been handed in and accepted--and these
wary courtiers and officials knew and well appreciated this important
fact.

Disdaining to notice the involuntary manifestation of mirth called forth
by the dry delivery of a message which had probably never been intended
for literal transmission, the Chancellor and his colleague retired to a
window recess, where they remained conversing until it should please his
Arminian Majesty to grant them the desired interview.

They had not to wait long. After about ten minutes, the Emperor's bell
rang. The aide-de-camp on duty darted once more into the Cabinet, and
issuing forth again at once summoned the two Ministers to his Majesty's
presence.

They glanced at one another in surprise, for the man on whose account
they had been kept waiting had apparently not quitted the Emperor. Was
he to be present while important affairs of State were being discussed?
Such a thing would be without precedent in the history of Arminian
governments.

But there was no time to demur now, even had their Excellencies been so
inclined. The eccentricities of their Imperial master were incalculable,
and they had no alternative but to submit to them in patience.




CHAPTER XVI. The Revelation: Part One.


While these little scenes, trifling perhaps in the view of the ordinary
reader, but of exceeding interest to these whom they concerned, were
being enacted in the Imperial ante-chamber, two of the persons about
whose fate, unknown to themselves, so many minds were busy speculating,
sat closeted in the library, which, as the reader may remember from a
former description, separated the abode of the Imperial secretary from
the apartments of the Emperor.

Those two persons were Doctor Georg Hofer and his beautiful sister, the
Baroness von Arnold.

The arrival of the young Baroness at the Castle, under the courteous
escort of Sir John Templeton, had passed almost without notice in the
bustle and confusion that prevailed everywhere save in the immediate
entourage of the Emperor himself.

It was nearly five months since brother and sister had met, and during
that period momentous changes had taken place in both their lives--how
momentous, indeed, neither of them at that moment realised. The thoughts
of the one were full of the bitterness which had accumulated within him
in the course of these last few weeks; those of the other were divided
between her teaming desire to conciliate the affection of the brother
whom she had so deeply offended, and her agonizing anxiety as to the
fate of the husband who had superseded him in her heart.

As she gazed upon the stern, implacable face opposite her, something
akin to a feeling of resentment arose within the Baroness at the thought
that in this her moment of dire trouble the brother upon whom she might
have hoped to lean for support should have nothing but reproaches to
address to her. For he had reproached her, almost before a word of
welcome had passed his lips; had reproached her with her marriage, and
with its consequences, not the least among which he declared was the
destruction of his dearest and most cherished hope.

What hope? Certain recollections came back to her--of differences
between them, which she had always regarded lightly, of certain schemes,
from which she had shrunk instinctively, though but half-conscious of
their real import. Indeed, what had she really known of the plans of
this brother of hers? She had never learned enough of their nature
either to approve or disapprove of them. How, then, could she have been
the means of thwarting them?

But she had no mind at present to dwell upon these thoughts. What she
had learned within the last few minutes had bewildered her senses, and
she could fix her mind upon nothing save the one question: What had
taken her husband from her side? He had left her suddenly, almost
without warning, that previous morning after their short conversation on
the terrace of Arnoldshausen, on a mission, as he had said, of paramount
importance to the Duke of Cumbermere himself. It was all he would tell
her, excepting to bid her be tranquil, and assure her that he was
venturing into no danger; that he would not be separated from her for
longer than a day at the worst, and that then she should judge him.

It was these last words that kept ringing in her ears; now more than
ever, since this peremptory summons to Berolingen, which had startled
her indescribably, in spite of the perfect courtesy and profound respect
of the messenger who had brought it, and who had escorted her to the
capital. She had not dared question him as to the whereabouts of her
husband, nor had he opened his lips to her on any other subject but that
of her brother, of whose safety he had been at pains to assure her; why,
she had not known until this moment. The stupendous events that had
taken place during these three weeks of supreme happiness to herself--a
happiness that would have been perfect but for the growing fear that she
had for ever forfeited her brother's love--the disappearance of the
Arminian Emperor and its innumerable far-reaching consequences, the
rising in Noveria--unfortunate Noveria--her brother's precarious
position in Berolingen, and the treachery and deception to which he had
fallen a victim--she had learned all this within the last few minutes
from his own lips, and it had burst upon her with such overwhelming
force that she could as yet scarcely realise it.

"Georg," she murmured at last, "it was cruel of you to leave me all this
while without news. If I have made my own choice of happiness, can it
justify you in casting me off, in severing the bond that has so long
united us?"

He looked at her in surprise, and rising from his seat went over to her.

"I don't understand," he said. "It is you, not I, that have kept silence
these three weeks, Marie. All my letters have remained unanswered--" He
stopped short, struck by the puzzled expression on her face. "Marie," he
exclaimed, "is it possible that these letters have never been permitted
to reach you, that you have been left in ignorance of all these
inexplicable events? Ah, whose was the hand that intercepted them?"

"No word has reached me from you," she answered, with a troubled look,
"since that terrible letter in which you threatened me with your curse,
if I persisted in giving my hand to the man I loved. It was cruel,
Georg; and it was not wise," she added, with a flash of pride. "We are
of the same blood, and more easily led than driven."

The words seemed to incense him. He stepped towards her and seized her
hand almost roughly.

"Do you know what you have done, child?" he said, gazing at her with a
look of stern anger. "You have ruined the last hope of the house of
Noveria. Its fortunes were in your hands, and you have destroyed them
for the sake of this beggarly fortune-hunter, who has forsaken the cause
of his country and basely betrayed the Prince he had sworn to serve."

The Baroness fell back with blanched lips. The reproach against herself
was so startling that it made her momentarily forget the insult to her
husband by which it was followed.

"I?" she exclaimed. "Surely this is madness. How can my heart's choice
have affected the fortunes of Noveria?"

"How?" he said, still retaining his grasp on her wrist in the passionate
anger that seemed to possess him. "Are you still blind? Do you know what
first caused the Emperor to cool in his friendship towards his private
secretary?"

He pronounced his title in a tone of lofty contempt, which left little
doubt as to the value it possessed in his estimation. But the Baroness
scarcely noticed it. She hung upon his lips with a shrinking dread of
that which might fall from them.

"It was you," he continued. "Your refusal to follow me to Berolingen,
which he attributed to my influence, first kindled his wrath, and it was
from that moment that his coldness and distrust commenced--to end in
this."

A strange, pained look crept into the eyes of the Baroness.

"Then it was at the Emperor's instance," she said in a low voice, "that
you suggested my settling in the capital six months ago?"

"He had seen you," he answered.

"Seen me?"

"Twice."

"When?"

"Once in the Wettinian capital, and again a month later at Castel, where
you came to meet me. Do you remember my companion on those occasions,
Count Ravensburg, whose apparently sly and retiring habits excited your
curiosity? It was the Emperor. The country was clamouring for his
marriage, and he had set his heart on visiting the courts of Arminia in
disguise, in order to judge for himself of the charms of those among
whom it was proposed that he should select an Imperial consort. After
Castel his interest in these secret expeditions suddenly waned, until
your refusal to join me in the Arminian capital, when it revived once
more. Then he again resumed these journeys, but thenceforward he went
alone."

The Baroness stood silent, seemingly unable to grasp the full meaning of
his words.

"And what would have occurred, had I consented to live in this place,
which I have learned to hate as the hearth of all my country's
misfortunes?" she asked, at last, without removing her earnest eyes from
his.

"What would have occurred?" he ejaculated passionately. "You would have
had the Arminian Emperor at your feet."

"For how long?" she asked,

"For how long?" he echoed.

"Yes; for how long?" she repeated. "Do you believe I would have
concealed from him the abhorrence with which his very name inspires me?"

His lip curled disdainfully.

"Just because you would not have concealed it," he said, "I knew that he
would have been captivated by a charm of double strength. Do you imagine
I have studied him and his nature all these weary months in vain?"

"His nature?" she said, with a touch of angry scorn. "You speak only of
him. But what of me? Have not you yourself taught me to hate this man
and all that pertains to him? And do you suppose his love, even had it
touched my heart, would have been powerful enough to remove the cause
for that hatred?"

"What if it had removed it, Marie?" he said. "What if the Emperor's
heart had yielded what the endeavours of years have failed to obtain
from him and his predecessors--the restoration of Noveria to its
rightful Sovereign? By heaven," he cried, bitterly, "had you but known
it, this was indeed in your power to achieve; and with my aid you would
have achieved it."

"At what price?" she asked, coldly.

"At the price of your hand and heart," he answered.

She had known what he would answer before he spoke; yet the words struck
her like a blow.

"Georg, Georg," she exclaimed. "And you would have had me barter myself
for this?"

"Have you not flung away what is far more precious for a name that will
be uttered with loathing wherever true hearts beat for Noveria and her
Prince?" he cried. "For this renegade and traitor you have
sacrificed--faugh," he broke off, "the thought maddens me, even now."

He would have turned away from her with a gesture of impotent rage. But
she had risen at his last words, and now stood before him with heaving
bosom and flashing eyes, the beautiful counterpart of himself. For a
moment neither of them spoke, but remained facing each other in total
silence. Indeed, so deeply engrossed were they in themselves that, in
spite of the stillness which reigned, they did not notice that the door
communicating with the Imperial apartments had been quietly opened, and
that a third person had entered.

Seeing the strange attitude of the two, the new-comer remained,
half-surprised, half-expectant, standing upon the threshold, while
through the door, which he left open, the curious faces of others could
be seen peering into the room from the closet beyond.

At last the Baroness spoke in clear, ringing tones.

"You have uttered words which are unworthy of you," she said. "Now
listen to me, my brother. I will uphold the honour and loyalty of him
whose name I bear with my dying breath, against you and all the world,
even if it cost me that which was my dearest possession until he won my
heart--your brotherly affection. Nay, hear me out, for it is best we
should understand one another once for all. Were he proved to be your
bitterest enemy, Georg--which heaven forbid!--yet he would still remain
the husband to whom I have given my love, my all, irrevocably; whose
honour is my honour, and whose fate, come what may, shall be my fate."

An impressive pause followed these words. It was broken by the voice of
him at the door--a voice which betrayed a strange emotion.

"Spoken like a true woman, Doctor Georg Hofer," it said. "Indeed, Baron
Frederick von Arnold recognises but one judge between himself and the
Duke of Cumbermere; and that Judge is his own wife."

The effect of this speech upon the two to whom it was addressed was very
different. Doctor Georg Hofer started at the sound of the voice he knew
so well, and drew himself up with a gesture of proud defiance. His
sister, on the other hand, gave a great gasp, and, turning quickly,
faced the speaker with a look of half-incredulous surprise. As her eyes
fell upon him, however, she uttered a cry of delight, and the next
instant, before the last word had yet left his lips, she darted across
the room and flung herself sobbing on his breast.

He had stepped forward quickly to receive her in his arms, and bending
over her as she nestled in his embrace, he touched her hair reverently
with his lips.

The scene that now followed would have offered wonderful possibilities
to an artist gifted with a quick eye for contrasts. The group of
onlookers in the closet beyond had meanwhile pushed forward into the
room, and now stood in a cluster upon the threshold and in the doorway.
The expression on the faces of all, save one only, was one of such
consummate consternation and horror that one might have imagined they
were assisting at the supreme crisis of some terrible tragedy rather
than witnessing a touching meeting between a husband and a wife.

Dr. Hofer's face had suddenly undergone a complete change. His attitude
was no longer one of defiance, but of speechless amazement. Twice he
made an effort to say something, but his lips refused to articulate, and
he stood merely gazing, as if in a dream, upon the scene before him.

The only person who seemed oblivious of everything around her was the
Baroness herself.

At last, with a mighty effort, Doctor Georg Hofer shook off the numbness
that had apparently seized him. He took a quick step forward, and then
halted abruptly.

"Marie," he said, in a tone in which so many different emotions seemed
to be struggling for utterance that it was impossible to fix and
distinguish any single one, "if this man is your husband, he is not what
you believe him to be."

She winced slightly, then, looking up, turned her head to him with an
expression of silent reproach, but made no reply. Perhaps, however, the
strange look on his face startled her, for she moved her eyes quickly
from his to those of her husband, as if to appeal to him for an
explanation. But he gave none. He merely returned her gaze with a
steady, earnest look, which, if it contained a trace of anxious
anticipation, was yet the same frank, fearless look she had always known
and loved.

"Marie," her brother continued, now in cold, measured tones, "this man
whom you claim as your husband is not Baron Frederick von Arnold. It is
his Majesty Willibald II., Arminian Emperor and King of Brandenburg."

The words fell upon her like so many crushing weights. But for a moment
she appeared unable to grasp their meaning. Then of a sudden the colour
forsook her cheeks, and her eyes wandered with a helpless look of appeal
to the countenance of him whom she had thus heard apostrophised, and
whose gaze was still bent upon her with the same earnest, expectant
expression as before. From him they glanced furtively to the group of
stern and silent figures in the background, of whose presence she seemed
only now to have become conscious, and back again once more to her
brother. Slowly the comprehension of it all appeared to dawn upon her,
her breath came and went painfully, and she trembled so violently that
she was obliged to clutch for support at the arm from which she had just
half released herself.

But the weakness lasted only an instant. With a sudden passionate
gesture she flung herself entirely free and stood alone and unsupported
with flaming eyes before the man in whom she saw represented at one and
the same time all she had learned to hate and all she had learned to
love.

All the while the young Emperor had never removed his eyes from hers;
nor did the steady, earnest look on his face change even now for one
instant. But his lips pronounced a word, in a tone so low and so tender
that none but she could have heard it.

"Remember!"

As it struck upon her ear her features softened, and the warm blood
returned to her cheeks with a sudden rush, suffusing them with a rosy
tinge.

Remember! Had it needed his reminder? What memories, indeed, did not
come crowding into her mind at this moment? And perhaps the loudest and
most pressing of them all was the memory of what her brother had told
her before this last astounding revelation came upon her. She glanced
wistfully across at him, where he stood, pale and proud, apparently
waiting for some utterance from her. Yet what could he expect? What
dared he expect? She took a faltering step towards him, then wavered,
and stood still again. It was a moment of intense inner conflict, each
suggestive stage of which was depicted in her face with painful
distinctness--a dumb, pathetic little history complete in itself.
Suddenly, with a swift, impetuous movement, she raised her hand to her
eyes, as if to banish the stern, unbending countenance from her sight;
then she tossed back her fair head resolutely.

"Georg, Georg," she cried. "What is the Arminian Emperor to me? This man
is my husband."

A quick flash of intense joy lighted up the young Emperor's face. The
next instant he had clasped her once more passionately in his arms.

"Come," he whispered, simply. And, waving aside the silent group of men
who blocked the doorway, he led her gently away.




CHAPTER XVII.--The Revelation: Part Two.


For the space of fully a minute complete silence reigned in the library;
no one spoke or stirred. But, from the varied expressions on the faces
of those who had witnessed this extraordinary scene, it was not
difficult to gauge the emotions that were passing in their minds.

The group at the door, as the reader will no doubt have partly guessed,
consisted of the Imperial Chancellor, Count Capricius, his colleague the
Minister of War, the two chief officers of the Imperial household, and
last, not least, Sir John Templeton.

The latter was the first to move, and as he stepped forward with the
evident intention of approaching the Imperial secretary, who still stood
motionless, gazing almost vacantly in the direction of the doorway
through which the Emperor and his bride had just passed out, the spell
that had bound his companions seemed suddenly to break. With an
exclamation, which sounded ominously like an oath, Count Capricius
strode forward, and intercepted Sir John Templeton's passage.

Doctor Hofer glanced at the two men with a look of haughty inquiry. Sir
John stopped instantly, and drew back to await events.

While the incidents described at the close of the foregoing chapter were
passing. Count Capricius, like his companions, had stood literally
rooted to the spot, scarcely realising the true import of all he heard
and saw. Now it gradually crushed in upon him, and, relieved from the
restraining influence of the Emperor's presence, his blunt and somewhat
impetuous nature, which, with all its foibles and shortcomings, was at
bottom honesty and loyalty itself, asserted its sway, and his feelings
took their natural course.

"Sir," he exclaimed, addressing Doctor Hofer in a tone of mingled
desperation and rage, "this, then, has been the intrigue which has
nearly cost Arminia her existence? Great heaven, what a fatality! The
Emperor, upon whose marriage the future of the Empire depends, inveigled
into a morganatic union with a chaplain's daughter."

The haughty stare on Doctor Hofer's countenance did not relax, and the
Chancellor, almost wringing his hands as all the consequences of the
event that had astonished him so completely broke more and more forcibly
upon his understanding, turned away, incapable for the moment of giving
further utterance to his feelings.

To him this astounding step taken by his Imperial master meant the
collapse of all and everything. What would the world say of a sovereign
who had callously sacrificed all his country's interests for the sake of
gratifying a foolish passion for an obscure beauty--the low-born sister
of a desperate adventurer? For, that Doctor Hofer was an adventurer, and
an adventurer of the most dangerous type, had long become a rooted
conviction in the mind of Count Capricius. It must be he, and he alone,
who had made this monstrous thing possible. The Emperor's strong
aversion to contract a marriage with one of the many European Princesses
who had in turn been proposed to him had grown perceptibly since his
relations with this interloping secretary commenced; so much so, indeed,
that for the last six months no one had courage to moot the question to
him again. His Majesty had forbidden all mention of the matter,
declaring peremptorily that he would make his choice at his own time and
pleasure, and required no counsel and advice on the subject.

Here, then, was the result. One hope only remained--that the Emperor
would yet be persuaded of the folly of his own act and agree to an
annulment of his marriage before the knowledge of it reached the public.
Such things had occurred before now. Why should they not occur again?
There was a notable case on record within quite recent times--a case
where no less a personage than the uncle of his present Majesty, and a
reigning sovereign like himself, had committed a similar act of folly,
and been induced under pressure to revoke it. In what scathing terms had
the Emperor, then Prince Willibald, referred to this well known scandal!
Yet that sovereign's act was a far less reprehensible one in the Count's
eyes, for at least it had involved no question of succession.

The precedent was valuable, and the memory of it, and of his Majesty's
attitude on that occasion, momentarily reassured the Chancellor. He
turned once more brusquely to Doctor Hofer.

"This unhappy union must be dissolved, without delay," he said. "His
Majesty, I feel confident, is too much imbued with the sense of the duty
he owes to his country to persist, on calm reflection, in maintaining a
position that would be disastrous to its most vital interests. He will
yield to true counsel, unless the pernicious influence to which he has
succumbed should prove stronger than I believe it to be. It is to you,
therefore, that we look----"

But Doctor Hofer interrupted him with a gesture of cold disdain.

"Your Excellency," he said calmly, "is singularly ill-advised in
addressing these remarks to me. This marriage, which meets with so much
displeasure on your Excellency's part, has had neither my consent nor
approval, and I am the last person in the world likely to succeed in
bringing about its annulment. The question that is exercising your
Excellency's mind is manifestly one which no one can decide but those
whom it most nearly concerns--the Emperor and his consort the Empress."

He laid a slight stress upon the last word, then turned on his heel
before the Chancellor could recover himself sufficiently to reply, and
striding haughtily to the door leading to his apartments, passed out of
the room without another word.

The Chancellor gazed after him in dumb astonishment, until his stalwart
figure had vanished. Then he cut a look of almost comically helpless
appeal at his colleagues, who had drawn near during the foregoing
conversation, and from them to Sir John Templeton.

"The Empress, indeed! Is he mad?" he ejaculated at last. "This marriage
not had his consent? Is he insolent enough to suppose--by heaven, he
shall learn at least that there are men in Arminia who will not submit
tamely to his upstart pride."

And glowing with newly-kindled wrath, he advanced ponderously to the
door, intending to follow the object of his resentment and renew the
attack upon his own ground.

This time it was Sir John Templeton who intercepted his passage.
Stepping quickly forward, he barred the way.

"Pardon me, your Excellency," he said. "But you are about to do what you
will assuredly regret."

"What?" exclaimed the irate Chancellor. "Do you dare to meddle with me
and my doings? Stand aside, sir."

"I will stand aside when you have listened to me," Sir John replied,
unmoved. "Nay, no violence, sir," he added, sternly, as the Chancellor,
beside himself with anger, made a gesture towards his sword hilt, as if
he contemplated running his adversary through the body. "I am here at
his Majesty's commands, and it will be well for you to respect them.
When you have heard me, you will act as you please. But I doubt if your
Excellency will then still think fit to carry out your present intention
of renewing an argument in which you must infallibly be worsted."

At the mention of the Emperor's name the Chancellor's choler had
received a slight check. But it now burst forth again afresh.

"Worsted? By this scoundrelly adventurer?" he cried, flourishing his
arms fiercely. "Who in the devil's name is this Doctor Hofer that I
should shrink from speaking my mind to him as I list?"

"That," said Sir John, "is a question very much to the point, and one
which your Excellency would have done better to inform yourself upon
sooner. I will answer it. The personage to whom your Excellency is
pleased to refer to as Doctor Georg Hofer is better known as his Royal
Highness the Duke of Cumbermere."

The effect of these quietly spoken words was astonishing. The Chancellor
fell back with a look of blank incredulity, almost treading upon the
toes of his companions behind him, while these latter stood
open-mouthed, scarcely knowing whether they were to take the matter
seriously or to treat it as a huge joke. Count Capricius himself was at
first inclined to regard it as an insolent jest, and to resent it
accordingly. But a glance at the old diplomatist's calm and serious face
convinced him that, incomprehensible as it might seem to him, he had
heard the truth.

"The Duke of Cumbermere?" he stammered at last, after a moment's
silence. "This must be a fable."

"If your Excellency is of that opinion," Sir John rejoined, quietly, "I
have nothing more to say. It is, however, within your Excellency's power
to ascertain whether I have spoken the truth by appealing direct to his
Majesty the Emperor for a corroboration of my statement. Whether it will
be wise to do so under the circumstances, I leave your Excellency to
judge for yourself."

"But if this is true," the Chancellor murmured, "the Emperor has in fact
married----"

"The Emperor has married her Royal Highness the Princess Marie Victoria
Augusta of Noveria," Sir John said, "sometime known as Demoiselle
Hofer."

The four men stared at one another blankly. The news seemed too good to
be credited.

"But all this is impossible," the Minister of War burst out at last,
stepping forward with an air of complete bewilderment. "We have definite
intelligence that the Duke of Cumbermere was captured at the head of the
insurgent forces in Noveria this morning; nay, I hold in my hand a
despatch written a few hours ago by his Majesty himself to the
Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Army in Noveria, ordering the extreme
penalty of the law to be enforced against this unfortunate Prince,
should he fall into our hands."

Sir John Templeton looked at the speaker in surprise.

"Do I gather from this," he asked, "that your Excellency has ventured to
delay the transmission of this despatch?"

"And what if I have, sir?" the Minister answered, haughtily. "If my
having done so should save his Majesty from a life long bitter regret by
giving him time to reflect upon the inevitable consequences of an act
which all Europe will condemn, I will cheerfully bear the
responsibility, whatever it may cost me."

Sir John Templeton shrugged his shoulders.

"It is no concern of mine," he replied. "But this action, if I am not
much mistaken, will cost your Excellency your portfolio, if not
something more precious still. I know his Majesty to be very much in
earnest in his intentions towards this particular captive."

"But, in the name of all reason," the Chancellor interposed, "if the
real Duke of Cumbermere is in Berolingen at this moment, who is this man
who has been acting as his double in Noveria?"

"It is the man, sir," Sir John answered, "who has played the part of the
Duke of Cumbermere in America, while the Duke of Cumbermere assumed the
character of Doctor Georg Hofer in Europe; in other words, Doctor Georg
Hofer himself. As your Excellency will perceive," he went on, "he has
somewhat over-acted his role, and seized the opportunity afforded him by
his Prince's unfortunate position at the court of his Majesty the
Emperor to attempt to step entirely into his shoes, and make a bold bid
for the crown of Noveria on his own account. The fact that the person of
the Duke of Cumbermere is practically unknown to his adherents in
Noveria rendered the success of this fraudulent imposture only too easy.
For obvious reasons, however, his Majesty the Emperor is naturally
anxious that the identity of this arch traitor to his Prince and
benefactor should be established beyond a doubt, to the satisfaction of
Europe in general and Noveria in particular. Hence this stern order to
proceed against the alleged Duke of Cumbermere with swift and merciless
rigour. His Majesty is a keen judge of human character, and knows that
the man who will sacrifice every instinct of honour and loyalty for the
sake of living as a king is not the man to covet the doubtful
distinction of dying as a duke."

It was evident from the looks of those who listened to this lucid
exposition that it carried absolute conviction to their minds. Indeed,
its correctness could scarcely admit of a doubt.

Some moments passed, however, before the four Excellencies recovered
from their intense surprise. The first to speak was the Minister of War,
who had grown strangely pale, and whose face was now twitching like that
of a man suffering bodily pain.

"Great heaven!" he stammered, "then this despatch to the
Commander-in-Chief in Noveria----"

"Is an instance of his Majesty's admirable foresight, sir," Sir John
Templeton said. "The Emperor is at this moment impatiently awaiting the
news that Doctor Georg Hofer has saved his life by confessing that he is
not the Duke of Cumbermere. I need hardly impress upon your Excellency
the urgent necessity of repairing this unhappy omission to obey his
Majesty's commands without delay, while there is yet time."

There was, indeed, no necessity for this piece of counsel. Before Sir
John Templeton had finished speaking, the Minister of War had turned and
fled from the room like one pursued by a thousand evil spirits.

An interval of silence followed his abrupt departure, during which Sir
John glanced with a twinkle of amused interest in his eyes at the faces
of those who had remained behind. Two of them had sunk in a state of
half-collapse into chairs, being too much overcome by all they had heard
and witnessed to support themselves any longer upon their legs. The
Chancellor alone was still standing. But somehow his big, burly figure
seemed less big and burly than usual, and he was wiping his brow
nervously, as if his wits had been scattered and he were busily engaged
in sweeping them together again.

"It is all incomprehensible--astounding," he murmured again and again,
pacing the room in great perturbation. "The Princess Marie of Noveria
Arminian Empress--her brother the Duke of Cumbermere himself at the
court of Berolingen--while the man whose every movement has been
carefully watched and reported to us all these years from America, in
the belief that he was his Royal Highness, proves to be----"

"Doctor Georg Hofer, the son of the late King of Noveria's private
chaplain and the too much trusted friend of his namesake the Noverian
Pretender," Sir John said. "The fact, I fear, is undeniable."

"But what object can his Royal Highness have had in placing himself in
this extraordinary position?"

"The object," Sir John said, "is surely not far to seek. His Royal
Highness is not unlike the Emperor in so far that he possesses a strong
inclination to manage his own affairs; and, indeed, it is more than
likely that he would have succeeded to perfection in this very instance,
had his Majesty not proved to be an even greater adept in this rare art
than the Duke himself. No doubt the chance circumstance that his
Highness attracted his Majesty's attention and won his friendship when
studying under the name of Georg Hofer at the University of Bonn five
years ago first suggested to him the possibility of bringing the weight
of his personal influence permanently to bear upon the mind of the
sovereign from whom he had so much to claim, and thus to insure the
successful issue of the negotiations which have been pending for so many
years between the Government of Brandenburg and the unfortunate house of
Noveria whose heritage it has swallowed up. The Emperor's pressing
offers of service to the man who had gained his youthful confidence
probably ripened this idea, which would otherwise have died at its
birth, into a firm resolve; and so the extraordinary event we are now
contemplating came to pass."

"But the Princess," said the Chancellor, who had followed these remarks
with increasing interest. "When and where did his Majesty see her? And
by what means did he discover the true identity of his private
secretary?"

"If your Excellency will recall to mind the correspondence that passed
between his Royal Highness and his substitute in America," Sir John
replied, "It may perhaps save the necessity for any further explanation.
When Baron von Ellermann, the Minister of Police, grew suspicious of
this correspondence of his Majesty's secretary with the supposed
Noverian Pretender, and employed the means at his disposal to ascertain
the nature of it, he little dreamed that his Majesty's eyes would
thereby be opened to a fact far more important than the comparatively
harmless reports on the progress of Noverian affairs at the court of
Berolingen, of which the contents of these letters were composed. I mean
the fact--which had escaped his Excellency, and everyone else who
examined these letters--that the writer, and not the recipient, was the
real Duke of Cumbermere. Carefully worded though they were to dupe the
inquisitive reader--and, indeed, his Highness appears to have been so
much alive to the likelihood of his correspondence being thus tampered
with that he strictly preserved his assumed character even in the
letters that passed between him and the Princess his sister--the double
imposture was not kept up cleverly enough to deceive so keen a mind as
that of his Majesty."

"Yet his Majesty concealed this important discovery, not only from his
own advisers, but from the Duke himself?"

"No doubt for very good reasons."

"This, then," exclaimed Count Capricius, "explains the sudden rupture
that took place between the Emperor and his private secretary six months
ago."

"Not quite, I think," Sir John observed. "Judging from my own
experience, I am convinced that his Majesty divined the true identity of
the supposed Doctor Georg Hofer on reading the very first letter his
Minister placed before him. But some time elapsed, as your Excellency
may remember, after that before the coldness sprang up between them
which ultimately resulted in his Royal Highness becoming virtually a
prisoner at the court of Berolingen."

"You mean that his Majesty had other reasons than the mere fact of the
deception that had been practised upon him for acting as he did?"

"Obviously," Sir John answered.

"And what were these reasons?"

Sir John cast a side glance at the questioner.

"That, sir," he replied, "is for the present a secret which no one knows
but the Emperor himself."

"And, of course, the Duke of Cumbermere?" the Chancellor said, quickly.

"Possibly," Sir John rejoined, curtly.

"But about the Princess," the Chancellor went on, returning again to the
chief subject of his curiosity. "Where did his Majesty see her; and why
all this secrecy and disguise in making her his wife?"

"Where his Majesty first set eyes on her Royal Highness it is impossible
for me to say," Sir John answered. "That he must have seen her on one of
the various expeditions which he was in the habit of making in company
with his private secretary, as your Excellency presumably knows, is
certain. As for the reasons which prompted his Majesty to approach the
Princess in the character of a man who is known to be one of the most
loyal and enthusiastic adherents of the Noverian cause, they are not
difficult to guess. Love is as potent with emperors and kings as it is
with us humbler mortals. His Majesty desired to gain not only the
Princess's hand, but her heart; and I may leave your Excellency, whose
acquaintance with the sentiments of her Highness is as complete as my
own, to judge for yourself whether he would have been likely to secure
the latter had he wooed her as Emperor of Arminia."

"True," the Chancellor said, reflectively, "there might have been some
awkward conditions in such a case. On my faith," he added, admiringly,
"his Majesty seeks his equal as a diplomatist and as a tactician."

The conviction that the Emperor, besides securing a suitable consort to
share his crown, had done an exceptionally good political stroke, was
fast dawning in his Excellency's mind, and caused him unmingled
satisfaction. It had always been his great fear that the Emperor would
let himself be persuaded to make some unwise concession to the Noverian
Pretender, whose recent succession to the sovereign Duchy of Brunsbuttel
upon the death of the late Duke had made the question of his formal
renunciation of all claims to the crown of Noveria a matter of increased
importance to Brandenburg. Failing such a solemn renunciation on the
part of the Duke of Cumbermere, the Emperor, upon the demise of the late
Duke of Brunsbuttel, had laid an immediate embargo upon that State,
which with its rich revenues had become for the time, like Noveria,
incorporated in the kingdom of Brandenburg. To obtain the removal of
this embargo, and an unconditional recognition of his right to enter
upon the succession to the Duchy of Brunsbuttel without prejudice to his
claim to the Noverian crown, was known to be the primary object of the
Duke of Cumbermere, and there had been good reason to believe that his
Majesty personally was not disinclined to yield the point. What had
caused him to change his mind, as he undoubtedly had, if it were not his
displeasure at having been played upon by the Duke, was a matter which
puzzled the Imperial Chancellor considerably.

But there were other points that puzzled him still more, chief among
which was the circumstance that the Emperor, having once won the bride
he had courted under so strange a guise, should have so long delayed
making himself known to her in his true character. That he would have
risked the consequences involved in his protracted absence from the helm
of affairs for the mere sake of prolonging the calm enjoyment of an
undisturbed honeymoon seemed indeed quite out of the question.

"It is all a complete mystery," the Chancellor said. "Surely, what his
Majesty did to-day he might just as well have done three or four weeks
ago, and all this terrible trouble and anxiety would have been spared
us."

"Your Excellency always forgets," Sir John remarked, with a slight shrug
of the shoulders, "that his Majesty could have no knowledge of the
events that were passing in his own country, seeing that his Government
took every precaution to prevent them from gaining publicity. Moreover,"
he added, with a twinkle of humour in his eyes, "the course of his
Majesty's honeymoon may not have run quite so smooth as he expected. It
is not always as easy to undeceive as it is to deceive, especially where
the most precious possession a man can covet is at stake--the heart of
the woman he loves. Indeed, the fear may not unnaturally have assailed
his Majesty that the Princess's hatred of the Arminian Emperor would
after all prove stronger than her love for the husband she had wedded.
In short, your Excellency will readily perceive that the Emperor's task
was not exactly an enviable one, and that, on finding himself at last
face to face with it, his Majesty's courage may possibly have been
slightly at fault."

The Chancellor was silent awhile. Then be turned abruptly to the
speaker.

"Tell me," he said, eyeing him with a sudden look of suspicion; "you
appear strangely well informed on all these matters. From what source
did you learn that this famous Doctor Hofer was the Duke of Cumbermere?"

"Your Excellency, I fear, has but a poor opinion of my intelligence,"
Sir John said drily. "I learned that fact when I reached the Arminian
frontier on my journey from Vienna a week ago."

The Chancellor regarded him with a frown.

"You are jesting," he said.

"By no means," Sir John answered.

"Your Excellency may remember that you were good enough to supply me
with all the necessary materials for this conjecture."

"Ha, you mean this correspondence?"

"Precisely. The correspondence revealed to me what it had revealed to
his Majesty the Emperor, and it required but a short interview with the
supposed Dr. Hofer himself to render the conjecture a conviction."

"And you thought fit to conceal this important fact from his Majesty's
Ministers?" the Chancellor cried, aghast.

"Has your Excellency reason to regret that I did so?" Sir John replied.
"I had undertaken to aid the Government in finding the vanished Emperor,
but not to betray the Duke of Cumbermere, whose life would assuredly not
have been worth a minute's purchase had his true identity been disclosed
under the unfortunate circumstances in which he was placed."

"The Duke knew, then, that you were in possession of his secret?"

"He learned it on the night of her Majesty's the Empress's state ball;
an hour before I started for Arnoldshausen."

The Chancellor gave a jump.

"What?" he exclaimed in amazement.

"It was you who brought the Emperor back to Berolingen?"

"Has your Excellency ever doubted it?" Sir John rejoined.

"From whence did you derive the knowledge that his Majesty was at
Arnoldshausen?"

"From the handwriting of the Duke of Cumbermere," Sir John answered.

"From the Duke's handwriting?" the Chancellor ejaculated, with a
bewildered air. "You speak in riddles."

"The riddle is simple enough," Sir John rejoined. "Indeed, but for the
unpardonable negligence of those upon whose information I needs had to
rely, I should have known that Baron Frederick von Arnold and his
Majesty the Arminian Emperor were one and the same person within an hour
of my arrival in Berolingen."

The Chancellor's face assumed an expression of incredulity.

"Your Excellency, I see, is pleased to doubt my word," Sir John pursued,
quietly. "Yet the conclusion I refer to was of the simplest imaginable,
and was actually within your Excellency's own reach."

"How so?" the Chancellor asked, somewhat startled. "That this Baron von
Arnold----"

"That this Baron von Arnold," Sir John said, "upon whom his Majesty's
Government has been keeping so diligent a watch during all these anxious
weeks, was no other than the missing Emperor himself. It was plainly
evident from the correspondence between the supposed Dr. Georg Hofer and
his sister that his Majesty had on more than one occasion seen the
Princess Marie, and from the same correspondence it was not difficult to
gather that the Duke, for reasons which I think are now sufficiently
obvious, had used every endeavour to prevail upon his sister to take up
her abode in the capital. She refuses, and within a few months enters
into a supposed mesalliance with Baron Frederick von Arnold, whom the
Emperor, for no apparent object, had suddenly called from his banishment
and reinstated in his possessions. What more natural than the inference
that the Emperor, failing other means of winning his beautiful bride,
had paid his addresses to the Princess and married her as Baron von
Arnold?"

"Natural enough, indeed," said the Chancellor, ironically. "And yet you
missed it."

"I missed it, sir," Sir John Templeton answered sternly, "because there
was one fact which apparently rendered the conclusion absurd; the fact
that his Royal Highness had written several letters to the Princess
subsequent to the Emperor's disappearance from Berolingen, and that
therefore Baron Frederick von Arnold--in other words the Emperor
himself--must have been all along fully aware of the disastrous state of
affairs caused by his Majesty's unaccountable absence. I missed it,
sir," he repeated with increased emphasis, "for lack of the important
knowledge that, since the Emperor's disappearance, his Majesty's
advisors had not been content with breaking open and copying the
supposed Doctor Georg Hofer's letters, but had actually retained
possession of the originals, thus unwittingly depriving his Majesty
himself of the only source of information regarding the course of
affairs during his absence--namely, his wife's correspondence with her
brother."

A look of uneasiness came into the face of the Chancellor.

"Well, and what of it?" he said, stolidly. "Under the circumstances it
was manifestly the duty of the Government to adopt every precaution to
insure his Majesty's safety during his absence, and suspecting, not
without reason, that this mysterious Baron von Arnold and his wife were
implicated in some conspiracy against his Majesty, whose disappearance,
as you will remember, was believed to be connected with the rising in
Noveria, they deemed it prudent to prevent any knowledge of his
movements from reaching them."

"I am deeply obliged to your Excellency for this interesting
explanation," Sir John said, drily. "But unfortunately it does not
explain why this all-important circumstance was withheld from me, and
why I was left to discover by a chance glimpse of the Duke of
Cumbermere's handwriting that these fatal letters, which had been
represented to me as copies, were in reality originals, the transmission
of which had been arbitrarily stopped by the Imperial Government."

"The point appeared trifling; and, moreover," the Chancellor said, with
increasing uneasiness, "there were delicate considerations involved--in
short, his Majesty, though he had ordered a strict surveillance to be
kept upon his secretary's correspondence, had never authorised the
detention of his letters. Of course, in the light of the present
astounding disclosures----"

"The blunder stands completely revealed," Sir John said, with the utmost
blindness. "Indeed, but for the circumstance that his Royal Highness
rejoices in so remarkably neat and clerkly a handwriting that it was
probably considered necessary to make copies of these letters, I might
never have had the opportunity of discovering the fact of their being
originals; in which case his Majesty the Arminian Emperor would still be
sojourning at Arnoldshausen in blissful ignorance that a universal
conflict was raging in Europe, that his capital had fallen into the
hands of a lawless mob; that the Duke of Cumbermere, his own
brother-in-law, had been sacrificed to the fury of a fanatically-excited
populace; that his fellow-sovereigns were likely to share the same fate,
and that his chosen Ministers--but I may safely leave your Excellencies
to complete the picture at your leisure," he broke off, with a sweeping
bow, in which he included the two grand officers of the Imperial
household, who had meanwhile risen to their feet with a scared
expression. "I have duties to fulfil which are more urgent."

Saying which he turned away, and, traversing the library, vanished into
the adjoining apartment, hitherto known as the official abode of his
Majesty's private' secretary, before either the Chancellor or his two
companions could give utterance to the feelings his words had called
forth in them.

The three Excellencies remained standing in a group, gazing at each
other with open mouths and somewhat rueful countenances, amazed,
perplexed, and silent.

And so, with the reader's permission we will leave them.




CHAPTER XVIII.--How the Noverian Question was Settled.


The Arminian Emperor had won the day. No one realised this more fully
and felt it more deeply than Georg, Duke of Cumbermere. He had played
for a high stake, and had lost--had lost even more than he staked.

Proud man as he was, and conscious of his own personal power--else had
he ventured to attempt single-handed what the combined wit and wisdom of
his many counsellers had failed to accomplish?--the wound to his pride
was almost the hardest part of what he had to bear. Almost. For his
defeat touched him in a spot even more sensitive still--his heart; and
the wound here was the greater that he knew, or at least believed, that,
he would not have failed in his purpose as he had.

That purpose had been purely political. To use the influence he believed
himself to possess over the mind of the young monarch who had been so
curiously attracted towards him in his student days, in order to bring
about a favourable settlement of the question of his succession to the
Duchy of Brunsbuttel, and perhaps even an understanding in regard to his
claim to the crown of Noveria, had been the sole object of the strange
and daring enterprise in which he now saw himself so ignominiously
foiled. To that object, however, another had been added in the course of
time, and had, so he thought, thwarted it.

In coming to Berolingen, and placing himself under the Arminian Emperor,
he had not calculated that he might find there something which would
become more precious to him than that which he had come to seek.
Although by several years the Emperor's senior, he had as yet no
experience of the softer passions. His life had been that of a man who
is born with a grievous wrong, and whose duty is to get it redressed;
who inherits a solemn, immutable purpose, and knows no other thought or
pursuit on earth than that of fulfilling it. All the softer elements of
his character had been wrapped in his sister in whom he recognised the
feminine counterpart of himself, and into whose soul he had from her
earliest infancy instilled all those stern principles of undeviating
loyalty to the righteous cause of the house they both sprang from which
made up the sum total of his nature. He had loved her passionately, nay,
even jealously. Until he separated from her a year ago, for the first
time since she had outgrown her childhood, in order to carry out his
bold venture at the court of Berolingen, the very notion of her marrying
had been painful and repugnant to him in the extreme. That the question
of her marriage might one day become a factor, and an important factor,
in his own political schemes had never occurred to him.

And yet it had so proved. The experience of his own heart, which had
felt for the first time irresistible power of love, had opened his eyes
to a possibility he might otherwise have never dreamed of. Judging from
its influence upon himself and his own actions, he had confidently
reckoned upon a like result in the case of the young Emperor. The first
meeting between the latter and the Princess Marie, of which her Royal
Highness had been totally unconscious, had been brought about without
any ulterior design on his part. The second meeting, which had passed in
like manner so far as the Princess was concerned, had been deliberately
planned, and its effect upon the young monarch had been such as to raise
hope in the Duke which he felt sure the presence of the Princess in the
capital would make a reality. He knew her, and placed absolute reliance
upon her strength of mind and the steadfastness of her principles. He
knew the Emperor, too, and his resolute, wilful nature, his love of the
uncommon, and his tenacity of purpose, which only grew in proportion to
the greatness of the obstacles he found opposed to him. The result
seemed almost a foregone conclusion.

How he had inwardly exulted at the prospect of seeing the man at whose
hands he was suing for that which in justice should have been his
unasked, himself a suitor for a possession against which, as he now
knew, every other earthly possession was as nought! How he had chafed at
the unexpected check his plans had sustained by the refusal of his
sister to obey his summons to join him in Berolingen! He had considered
this check merely a temporary one, and had trusted to time to overcome
what he looked upon as the mere extravagance of girlish sentimentality.
The sudden change in the attitude of the Emperor, the recall of Baron
von Arnold, so inexplicable to him, and then this thrice accursed
marriage, which he had in vain striven to prevent, had crushed his hopes
irretrievably. But at least he had still derived some comfort from the
reflection that fate alone, the cruel force of adverse circumstances,
had destroyed his well-laid plans. What he now felt was the humiliation,
so terribly galling to a proud, self-reliant nature like his, of having
been outwitted by another, and that other the very man whom he had
confidently expected to lead at will.

The hot blood rushed to his cheeks at the thought that he had been known
to the Emperor all these months, that his most secret plans had been to
him as an open book; for, could he doubt that his Majesty had fathomed
that which none but he alone could have known? By what means it had been
accomplished he was at a loss to conceive. But the fact was there. The
tables had been turned upon him with a master-hand, and he now found
himself in the very position it had been his design to place the Emperor
in, that of a claimant, a humble supplicant for the costliest treasure a
man's heart can covet.

It was characteristic that at this moment, when he saw the labour of
these long years wasted, the entire fabric of his life's hope collapsed,
the one thought predominant in his mind should have been, not the less
of that for which he had striven with so much tenacity and
self-sacrifice, but the threatened destruction of that newer and sweeter
hope which had been born in him within the last few months and had
superseded all other in his breast.

The Duke of Cumbermere loved, and his love governed his thoughts, and
would, he felt, govern his actions, as he hoped love would govern the
thoughts and the actions of the Arminian Emperor. He scarcely evinced
more than a passing interest in the important news conveyed to him by
Sir John Templeton that the pseudo-duke--the friend who had betrayed
him--had surrendered to the Imperial forces, and that the rebellion
which once seemed so formidable, and which had added so terribly to his
own grave difficulties, had ended in mere vapour.

"I am in his Majesty's hands," he said, coldly, in reply to the
communication made to him by Sir John that the Emperor would deal with
this abandoned traitor in accordance with the Duke's own wishes. "Let
him act as he pleases."

Therewith he turned away.

But Sir John Templeton's task was not completed, and he stayed. To him
the spectacle of this proud, determined nature, struggling with the
humiliating sense of a position from which it seemed impossible for him
to extricate himself without loss of dignity, was deeply pathetic. He
thought of that first interview between them in this same room, not a
week ago, when, bit by bit, he had drawn from him all those facts which
he required for the elucidation of the strange mystery that was
exercising every one's mind; all, that is to say, save one, the true
object of his presence at the court of the Arminian Emperor. Yet even
that one had been known to him, only the knowledge had been rendered
useless by the foolish deception of others, which had diverted him from
the conclusion it would otherwise have led him to.

Upon what trifles do not the greatest of events turn! It was an
experience Sir John Templeton made every day of his life almost, and
still the experience seemed ever fresh and new.

"Well?" said the Duke, seeing that he still tarried. "Have you any
further communication to make to me? It seems there can be nothing more
to apprise me of. His Majesty, who has his own notion of the laws of
hospitality, has in turn violated the sanctity of my correspondence,
held me a prisoner at his court, and finally taken the hand of the
Princess, my sister, by force, or at least without the consent of him
who alone had the right to bestow it. I know not what further indignity
he may intend to impose upon me."

"I think none," Sir John Templeton replied. "Nor, if your Royal Highness
will permit me to say so, do I think his Majesty's actions, which your
Highness refers to in such scathing terms, will, on mature
consideration, appear in so reprehensible light to the man by whom they
were after all called forth. Pardon my frankness, sir, but justice is
justice, and if his Majesty the Emperor has married her Royal Highness
the Princess Marie without her brother's formal consent, he has not done
so without having documentary proof of her brother's desire that he
should pay his addresses to her; which, under the circumstances, he may
well have been justified in regarding as tantamount to a consent."

"I do not understand," the Duke said, glancing at him with an uneasy
look.

"Your Royal Highness," Sir John went on, "forgets that the Emperor has
possessed knowledge of the whole correspondence which has passed between
his private secretary and the supposed Duke of Cumbermere in America."

"Well?" the Duke said, impatiently.

"Copies of all these letters, sir, as you know, passed into the hands of
his Majesty's Government, with the exception, however, of one, which was
retained by his Majesty in the original, and consequently never reached
its destination. That letter, which was written six months ago by the
Emperor's private secretary to his American correspondent, contains a
reference to the fact that a certain personage, whose identity it is not
so difficult to guess, had become deeply enamoured of the beautiful
Demoiselle Hofer, and dilates at some length upon the purpose to which
this unexpected circumstance was to be turned. Can it surprise your
Highness that his Majesty, thus timely forewarned of a scheme which
threatened, not only the interests of his Empire, but those of his own
heart, should have promptly turned the schemer's weapon against himself
and made him the victim of his own plot."

The Duke's countenance had grown pale during this speech, and his brow
had contracted as if with absolute pain. What a miserable unworthy farce
it now seemed to him, now that it had failed, and he regarded it, so to
speak, with another's eyes, this exchanging of roles with one who was
his own servant, and who had ended by basely betraying him. The thought
humbled him inexpressibly. The bitterness of failure lies less in the
regrets it engenders than in the fact that it leaves a stigma behind it
which nothing can wipe out. Who does not know that what is universally
applauded as clever when it succeeds is laughed at as excessively
foolish when it fails; that the same actions which success stamps with
the stamp of greatness and genius become vile and contemptible in men's
eyes when the curse of failure attends them? The Duke of Cumbermere, in
spite of his pride, perhaps because of his pride, was not above the fear
of ridicule, nor impervious to the opinions of his fellow men.

"His Majesty has retained this letter, you say?" he asked, after a
moment's silence, in a low, constrained voice.

Sir John Templeton bowed an assent.

"And you have seen it?"

"I have seen it."

The Duke paced the room in considerable perturbation. Presently he stood
still in front of his visitor.

"What is your object in telling me this?" he asked.

"I have done so at his Majesty's desire," Sir John answered.

"As a preliminary, I presume," the Duke said, "to informing me of the
price his Majesty places upon this document?"

"As a preliminary to returning the document to your Royal Highness to
deal with as you please," Sir John rejoined gravely, drawing forth the
letter, and handing it to the Prince. "It is my good fortune, it seems,"
he added, with a twinkle of humour, as the Duke grasped the document
with a sigh of relief, "to be the medium of restoring your Highness's
letters, and this one, I may safely assume, will not have less value in
your eyes than the last I had the honour to place in your Highness's
hands, in which you had unwisely attempted to convey the intelligence to
your friends in Noveria that the real Duke of Cumbermere was a captive
in the Imperial Court of Berolingen, and not, as was supposed, braving
the army of the Emperor at the head of a band of foolish, hot-headed
rebels."

The Duke gazed at him in wonder.

"You knew this?" he said.

"Since I knew that the supposed Doctor Georg Hofer was the Duke of
Cumbermere, as I confided to your Royal Highness on that occasion, the
inference was inevitable," Sir John replied.

"And what are his Majesty's present intentions?" the Duke asked
abruptly.

"They depend entirely upon your Royal Highness's intentions," Sir John
said.

"Ha," the Duke exclaimed, "he thinks to make his own terms with me?"

"On the contrary, sir," the old diplomatist said. "His Majesty makes no
terms whatever. He knows your Royal Highness too well to believe that
you could under any circumstances depart from the firm principle which
has governed your whole life, and which he both admires and respects,
that of adhering unalterably to the policy of your late father, the King
of Noveria. He is aware that it is impossible for your Royal Highness,
consistently with that inherited principle, to relinquish your claim to
the throne of Noveria, and that consequently Brandenburg can never
recognise your Royal Highness's succession to the ducal crown of
Brunsbuttel."

The Duke fell back with an expression of dismay.

"In other words," he said, "his Majesty, knowing that he is in a
position to withhold from me that which is mine by divine right, does me
the honour to refuse its free acceptance at my hands? Truly, his
generosity amazes me."

"Your Royal Highness misinterprets his Majesty's intentions, which are
indeed conceived in a true spirit of generosity towards your Highness,"
Sir John said. "Does it not occur to you, sir, that his Majesty, having
reason to believe that your Highness has a very precious favour to crave
at his hands, may be desirous of assuring you that, should it be
granted, it will be done without loss of dignity to yourself?"

"I do not follow your meaning," the Duke said, though the heightened
colour now visible in his cheeks plainly belied his words.

"What I mean, sir, is this," Sir John went on. "His Majesty conceives
that what honour forbids the Duke of Cumbermere to do for himself it may
possibly not forbid the Duke of Cumbermere to do for his son. Should
your Royal Highness, therefore, contract a marriage which meets with the
approval of the crown of Brandenburg, his Majesty on his part promises
to secure the succession to the Duchy of Brunsbuttel to the male issue
of such marriage, provided the claim to the Noverian throne be formally
renounced on behalf of that issue."

"Which means?" the Duke asked, fixing his companion with a penetrating
glance.

"Which means, sir," Sir John answered, returning the look unflinchingly,
"if I may venture to interpret his Majesty's sentiments, that the
Emperor's love for his sister, the Princess Margaret, is second only to
that which he bears to the Imperial lady who now shares his throne."

The Duke made no reply, but the light that glistened in his dark eyes,
as he strode thoughtfully up and down the apartment, showed that the
gentle thrust had gone straight home.

Sir John Templeton waited in silence for him to speak.

"Is this all you have to communicate to me?" he asked presently,
interrupting his promenade.

"It is all," Sir John answered.

"Then I beg of you to leave me," the Duke rejoined, curtly. "You have
supplied me with material for much earnest thought, and I require
leisure to digest it."

Sir John Templeton bowed, and turned to go.

Before he had reached the door the Duke, obeying a sudden impulse,
strode after him and placed his hand upon his shoulder.

"Do not misunderstand me," he said, in a tone of unusual warmth. "I am
not ungrateful. You have rendered me a service I am not likely to
forget, and I recognise it. Would heaven it had proved of more avail."

He left him as abruptly as he had approached him, and Sir John Templeton
bowed once more and withdrew.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Two hours later the Duke of Cumbermere sought an audience of his Majesty
the Arminian Emperor, and remained closeted with him for some time. What
passed at this interview it is impossible for me to say. The result,
however, is a matter of current history, and within the knowledge of
every well-informed reader.

The betrothal of the Duke of Cumbermere, the Noverian Pretender, to the
Princess Margaret of Brandenburg, the favourite sister of the Emperor of
Arminia, was an event in European history which caused too great a
sensation at the time of its occurrence to require recalling to men's
minds at the present day. The sensation was only surpassed by that
attending the news that his Majesty had at last selected a bride in the
person of her Royal Highness the Princess Marie of Noveria. As no rumour
of such a possibility had reached the ears of the world, the most
extravagantly romantic stories regarding the circumstances of the
Emperor's courtship were soon in circulation. But, needless to say, none
even remotely approached the truth. The world marvelled a little at the
unprecedented rapidity with which the preparations for the Imperial
nuptials were instantly pushed forward. But among the host of those who
attended that imposing ceremony--and I was of the number--there were
only half-a-dozen men who knew that the illustrious couple that day
standing before the cathedral altar were, as a matter of fact, then
receiving the priestly benediction for the second time.

Gossip at the Arminian Court was meanwhile, of course, busily engaged in
connecting the various events of the past month, and constructing a
fabric of its own, of which certain details may still interest the
reader.

The disappearance of Baron Frederick von Arnold on the eve of the
surrender of the Noverian rebels with their leader, the pseudo Duke of
Cumbermere, admitted but of one explanation--namely, that the Baron had
been implicated in the daring attempt of the now notorious Doctor Georg
Hofer to pose as the Duke, and having received private intimation of the
impending failure of that attempt, had fled the country, together with
his wife, the scheming sister of that luckless conspirator.

There were those, however, who maintained that the marriage of the Baron
had been a complete fiction; that it had never taken place, and that
such a personage as Demoiselle Hofer had never existed, or, if she had,
that she had been a secret agent of the Duke's, who had passed for the
sister of the Imperial secretary in order the better to facilitate the
communications that passed between them. Others, again, professed to
knew that Baron von Arnold had plotted to gain the hand of Princess
Marie herself, but had failed owing to the timely intervention of the
Emperor.

When some months afterwards, the real Baron von Arnold, with many other
banished adherents of the Noverian Pretender, received the Emperor's
permission--granted, it was said, at the instance of the Duke of
Cumbermere himself--to return to his estates, these various stories were
revived again, and since he returned without a wife the version which
assumed his marriage to have been a fiction naturally carried the day.
The Baron himself, who now again enjoyed the highest favour of his
former patron, the Duke of Cumbermere--a fact which became a subject of
much puzzled comment on the part of the curious who could not reconcile
it with past events--vouchsafed no satisfactory explanation to those who
had the hardihood to question him on the subject of his alleged
participation in the famous Noverian conspiracy. Indeed, he is said to
have silenced one particularly pertinaceous inquirer by assuring him
blandly that, on reference to his diary, he had reason to believe that
at the time of the occurrences in Noveria he was engaged on a scientific
expedition to North Siberia, and must therefore disclaim all knowledge
of West European affairs during that period; a statement which of course
was accepted with a smile of intelligent comprehension by its recipient.

The Baron never set foot in Arnoldshausen, and shortly after his return
sold that estate to the Duke of Cumbermere, who presented it as a
peace-offering to his sister, the Empress, much to the dissatisfaction
of the worthy villagers, who found themselves once more dependent upon
the tender mercies of the Crown Steward for the recognition of those
rights and privileges which they were incessantly labouring to maintain.

The commutation of the sentence of death passed upon the rebel leader,
Doctor Georg Hofer, into a sentence of life-long incarceration in the
fortress of Spandberg, met with little approval in the Arminian Press,
which gave bold expression to the opinion that his Majesty, in dealing
thus lightly with a most dangerous criminal, had erred lamentably on the
side of leniency. But the Emperor, as everybody knows, cares not
twopence for the opinion of the Press, and he went his own way. The
sudden dismissal of the Minister of War, which took place at the same
time, caused some surprise to those who knew how high he had stood in
the Imperial favour. But the incident faded into comparative
insignificance when, almost immediately afterwards, the Imperial
Chancellor himself tendered his resignation, and the same was promptly
accepted by his Majesty.

These, then, were the chief events that occupied the court gossips
during the days immediately following the Emperor's return. To the world
at large, of course, they were of too little moment to call for more
than a passing notice. Moreover, general public attention was just then
engrossed by something far more important. The sudden subsiding of the
stupendous political hurricane which had swept over Europe for more than
three weeks was a subject of no less amazement than had been produced by
its equally sudden outburst a month before. Now that all was over, and
people had leisure and the peace of mind to reflect calmly on the
tremendous danger they had passed through, everyone's thoughts turned
once more to the mysterious cause of it.

Volumes upon volumes have since been written upon the subject, and every
possible theory under the sun has been propounded in explanation of the
young Emperor's purpose in vanishing completely from men's view for so
long a period.

I venture to think that, with the exception of the three personages who
figure most prominently in the foregoing pages, no man living has
fathomed the whole truth of that mysterious event; and even the three
personages I refer to may perhaps find much that is new to them in the
history I have just brought to a conclusion.

Before taking final leave of the reader, I would only add one more fact,
which, if I may judge his sentiments by my own, he will not regard as
the least interesting of these here related.

Among the countless trophies and mementoes of a career full of strange
incident and restless activity, which adorn Sir John Templeton's
residence in Vienna, there may be seen at this day a marble bust of her
Majesty the Queen, executed by her Imperial Majesty the Dowager Empress
of Arminia. It stands upon a handsome pillar to the right of the old
diplomatist's writing table, and in a tiny gold frame beside it lies a
card, on which the following words are written in a well-known hand:--

"To Sir John Templeton,

"As a mark of my esteem, and in grateful recognition of the services
rendered by him to one who is very dear to me."

The signature affixed to these gracious words I may safely leave the
reader to guess.



THE END



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