In the palace of the king the object of their devotion stamped back and forth the length of her boudoir. Her little hands were flying in excited gestures as she stormed vehemently to the sympathetic ear of her audience of one. Faithful Carlotta shared her mistress’s aversion to the thought of the impending calamity.
“I won’t! I won’t! I won’t!” cried Mary. “I’ll—I’ll die first. I won’t marry a hideous, hateful Karlovian. l don’t care if I am a princess. It isn’t my fault; and I don’t want to be one, anyway.”
“My dear child,” and Carlotta’s voice was choked with sobs; “if poor old Carlotta could only help you! But there is no help. You were born to the purple, and you must accept the responsibilities of the purple; and, too, dear, you may find that Prince Boris is not entirely impossible—even though he be a Karlovian. He—”
“Carlotta!” interrupted the Princess Mary, clapping her plams together. “I have it!”
“Have what?” asked Carlotta.
“Never mind what I have; but I have it; and, Carlotta, pay no attention to anything that I may say or do while Prince Boris is present. Do you understand?”
There was a blare of trumpets from far down the broad avenue which leads up to the palace.
“He is coming!” cried Carlotta.
“But he won’t stay long,” said Princess Mary, with a shrug and a girlish giggle.
In the uniform of colonel of The Black Guard, and attended only by three officers of that famous regiment, came Boris, Prince of Karlova to the court of Alexis III. Between lines of royal troops, down a flower-strewn boulevard he rode in the French limousine which had brought him along the Roman road from Sovgrad to Demia. Prince Stroebel, Prime Minister of Margoth had met him at the city gates, and now sat beside him. The crown prince of Karlova seemed ill at ease. He played with the sword knot upon the hilt of the jeweled weapon at his side. He cast apprehensive glances at the long line of soldiery, standing with arms at the present along either hand. To the perfunctory plaudits of the citizens of Demia he made no response.
Ivan Kantchi, who sat just in front of him, kicked his royal foot and made a surreptitious gesture toward his helmet. The crown prince snatched off his own headgear and waved it frantically at the cheering populace. Ivan Kantchi bit his lip, and a slow flush crept up from beneath his military collar. Prince Stroebel became acutely interested in something straight ahead of him. Alexander Palenski, sitting beside Ivan, gave the latter an almost imperceptible nudge with his elbow. The people packing either side of the avenue gazed wide eyed at the crown prince of Karlova for a moment; then they broke into loud and tumultuous laughter.
Prince Boris glanced nervously to right and left. He saw the strained expressions upon the faces of his companions, he sensed the jeers in the laughter of the people of Demia. Then he lost his temper. Jamming his helmet down upon his head, the eagles of The Black Guard to the rear instead of in front, he rose to his feet, and shaking his fists at the Margothians unloosed a stream of profane invective upon them.
A young American, standing upon a balcony of Demia’s principal hotel, witnessed the outbreak.
“The future husband of your princess appears to have a little temper of his own,” he commented, grinning, to a chance acquaintance at his side. The latter, a very tall young man, broad shouldered and with an unmistakably military bearing, smiled.
“He doesn’t seem to be making a very good impression, does he?” he asked. “But you are mistaken, M. Main, in thinking me a Margothian. I am not. Just a chance visitor to Demia, like yourself.”
“Well,” said Hemmington Main, “I hope that whatever your business here may be that you are more successful than I have been. One disappointment after another has been my lot since I first reached Europe, and now I have entirely lost track of those I am seeking. They should have arrived in Demia three days since, and I can only account for their absence on the hypothesis that—ahem—one of them discovered that I was following them and has altered their route in order to elude me.”
“You are an American detective?” asked the stranger.
Main laughed. “Far from it,” he replied; “though I have often thought, until recently, that I was a natural born sleuth; and now to lose two women and a chauffeur, to say nothing of two maids and an automobile, in the heart of Europe is a severe blow to my egotism.”
“My dear fellow,” exclaimed the stranger; “can it be that be that you are trailing a convent?”
“I’m trailing the dearest girl in the world,” replied Main.
The other raised his eyebrows in partial understanding.
“Ah,” he said; “a love affair—romance—adventure! My dear M. Main, I think that you are a man after my own heart, with this slight difference—you are seeking to find a love, I to elude one. Possibly we might join forces, eh?”
“I do not know—we must leave that to fate; and while fate is mustering her forces let us find a table here on the balcony and investigate again that incomparable ‘bronx’ which you taught the bar boy to concoct before we were interrupted by the coming of His Royal Highness, Prince Boris of Karlova.”
“You’re on,” cried Hemmington Main. “His royal nibs has passed. The troops are going. Hoi polloi are dispersing. The circus parade is over—now for red lemonade and peanuts.
“You Americans don’t entertain a great deal of respect for royalty,” commented the stranger, with a good natured laugh.
“Oh, but we do,” replied Main. “We deride the gods even while we tremble at their feet. We poke fun at kings, for whose lightest favor we would barter our souls. We are a strange race, monsieur. Europeans do not know us; nor is it strange, for, as a matter of fact, we do not know ourselves.”
The two men had seated themselves at a small table near the balustrade, overlooking the avenue beneath. Traffic was once more assuming its normal condition, though many pedestrians still lingered in idle gossip upon the narrow walks. An automobile, a large touring car, honked noisily out of a side street and crossed toward the hotel entrance. Main chanced to be looking down into the street at the time. With an excited exclamation he half rose from his chair. “There they are!” he whispered. “There she is, now.”
“Who?” asked the stranger.
“The convent,” explained Main.
“Good! You are something of a detective, after all.”
The car drew up before the hotel and stopped two maids alighted, followed by a young girl and a white haired woman.
“I am interested, my friend,” said the stranger. “Tell me something of your romance—it is possible that I may be of assistance to you.”
Main looked the other squarely in the eyes. He had been attracted to the man from the first by that indefinable something which inspires confidence and belief even in total strangers.
“My dear Kargovitch,” he said, “I do not know you from the side of a barn; but I like you. You are what my friend Garrigan of the late Chicago Press Club would call ‘a regular fellow.’ I think I’ll tell you my troubles; but I’ll promise not to weep on your shoulder—the bronx is far too mild for that.”
M. Kargovitch leaned across the table and laid a hand on the American’s shoulder.
“I am glad that you like me, my friend,” he said; “and I can assure you that I return the compliment. Tell me no more than you care to; and if I can help you, I will.
Hemmington Main let his eyes return from the walk below, from which the little party had disappeared from the automobile into the interior of the hotel.
“It is this way,” he said. “The young lady whom you just saw leaving the machine is Miss Gwendolyn Bass, daughter of Abner J. Bass the multi-millionaire American. I—er—ah—we, well, you understand; she is perfectly willing to become Mrs. Hemmington Main; and her father is with us, strong; but Mamma Bass has aspirations. She wants a title in the family. Money, of course, is no object to them. The fact that I am poor means nothing to Mrs. Bass one way or another; but, you see, being a plain American, I am absolutely titleless and, therefore, impossible. Gwendolyn would marry me in a minute if we could get her away from her mother long enough to have the ceremony performed; but mamma has Argus backed through the ropes in the first round when it comes to watchfulness. If I could only find some way to separate Gwen from mamma for about an hour it would all be over but the shouting.”
M. Kargovitch smiled pleasantly at his American friend.
“Let’s have another of those delicious ‘bronx’ inspirations,” he suggested; “it may inspire a solution of your problem.”
When the waiter had brought the two drinks and set them upon the table, M. Kargovitch raised his glass to the American.
“My regards, my friend,” he said. “I have been thinking, and I believe that I have found a way—listen;” and leaning across the table he bent close to Hemmington Main’s ear, into which he whispered a heaven born plan.
When he had done Hemmington Main leaned back in his chair and laughed.
“I would never take you for that sort,” he said; “and I don’t give two whoops in Hades if you are. You’re right, Kargovitch—you’re a right one; I’d trust you with my life and my pocket book too; but I can promise you, on the credit and the word of Abner J. Bass that you’ll be well paid if you can pull this thing off as you have outlined it. You won’t have to depend on what we’ve got in our pockets—just name your price and it’ll be paid.”
“I promise you,” said M. Kargovitch, “that my charge shall not be exorbitant. I have taken a fancy to you and your bronxes, and it may be that I shall not ask a kopek of reward. Promise me that you will let me name my own price when the thing is done, and accept the word of a gentleman that no advantage will be taken of you or your friends.”
“Done!” cried Hemmington Main; and he extended his hand across the little round table to the tall young man who faced him.
“Now go,” said Kargovitch, “and learn if you can when Argus and Io leave Demia, and the road that they will take.”