XI
LOVE IN A CASTLE

As the day wore on Lorry grew irritable and restless. He could not bring himself into full touch with the situation, notwithstanding Harry's frequent and graphic recollections of incidents that had occurred and that had led to their present condition. Their luncheon was served in the Count's room, as it was inadvisable for the injured man to go to the dining-hall until he was stronger. The court physician assured him that he would be incapacitated for several days, but that in a very short time his wound would lose the power to annoy him in the least. The Count and Countess Halfont, Anguish and others came to cheer him and to make his surroundings endurable. Still he was dissatisfied, even unhappy.

The cause of his uneasiness and depression was revealed only by the manner in which it was removed. He was lying stretched out on the couch, staring from the window, his head aching; his heart full of a longing that knows but one solace. Anguish had gone out in the grounds after assuring himself that his charge was asleep, so there was no one in the room when he awakened from a sickening dream to shudder alone over its memory. A cool breeze from an open window fanned his head kindly; a bright sun gleamed across the trees, turning them into gold and purple and red and green; a quiet repose was in all that touched him outwardly; inwardly there was burning turmoil. He turned on his side and curiously felt the bandages about his head. They were tight and smooth, and he knew they were perfectly white. How lonely those bandages made him feel, away off there in Graustark!

The door to his room opened softly, but he did not turn, thinking it was Anguish—always Anguish—and not the one he most desired to—

“Her Royal Highness,” announced a maid, and then—

“May I come in?” asked a voice that went to his troubled soul like a cooling draught to the fevered throat. He turned toward her instantly, all the irritation, all the uneasiness, all the loneliness vanishing like mist before the sun. Behind her was a lady-in-waiting.

“I cannot deny the request of a princess,” he responded, smiling gaily. He held forth his hand toward her, half fearing she would not take it.

The Princess Yetive came straight to his couch and laid her hand in his. He drew it to his lips and then released it lingeringly. She stood before him, looking down with an anxiety in her eyes that would have repaid him had death been there to claim his next breath.

“Are you better?” she asked, with her pretty accent. “I have been so troubled about you.”

“I thought you had forgotten me,” he said, with childish petulance.

“Forgotten you!” she cried, quick to resent the imputation. “Let me tell you, then, what I have been doing while forgetting. I have sent to the Regengetz for your luggage and your friend's. You will find it much more comfortable here. You are to make this house your home as long as you are in Edelweiss. That is how I have been forgetting.”

“Forgive me!” he cried, his eyes gleaming. “I have been so lonely that I imagined all sorts of things. But, your Highness, you must not expect us to remain here after I am able to leave. That would be imposing—”

“I will not allow you to say it!” she objected, decisively. “You are the guest of honor in Graustark. Have you not preserved its ruler? Was it an imposition to risk your life to save one in whom you had but passing interest, even though she were a poor princess? No, my American, this castle is yours, in all rejoicing, for had you not come within its doors to-day would have found it in mournful terror. Besides, Mr. Anguish has said he will stay a year if we insist.”

“That's like Harry,” laughed Lorry. “But I am afraid you are glorifying two rattlebrained chaps who should be in a home for imbeciles instead of in the castle their audacity might have blighted. Our rashness was only surpassed by our phenomenal good luck. By chance it turned out well; there were ten thousand chances of ignominious failure. Had we failed would we have been guests of honor? No! We would have been stoned from Graustark. You don't know how thin the thread was that held your fate. It makes me shudder to think of the crime our act might have been. Ah, had I but known you were the Princess, no chances should have been taken,” he said, fervently.

“And a romance spoiled,” she laughed.

“So you are a princess,—a real princess,” he went on, as if he had not heard her. “I knew it. Something told me you were not an ordinary woman.”

“Oh, but I am a very ordinary woman,” she remonstrated. “You do not know how easy it is to be a princess and a mere woman at the same time. I have a heart, a head. I breathe and eat and drink and sleep and love. Is it not that way with other women?”

“You breathe and eat and drink and sleep and love in a different world, though, your Highness.”

“Ach! my little maid, Therese, sleeps as soundly, eats as heartily and loves as warmly as I, so a fig for your argument.”

“You may breathe the same air, but would you love the same man that your maid might love?”

“Is a man the only excuse for love?” she asked. “If so, then I must say that I breathe and eat and drink and sleep—and that is all.”

“Pardon me, but some day you will find that love is a man, and”—here he laughed—“you will neither breathe, nor eat, nor sleep except with him in your heart. Even a princess is not proof against a man.”

“Is a man proof against a princess?” she asked, as she leaned against the casement.

“It depends on the”—he paused “the princess, I should say.”

“Alas! There is one more fresh responsibility acquired. It seems to me that everything depends on the princess,” she said, merrily.

“Not entirely,” he said, quickly. “A great deal—a very great deal—depends on circumstances. For instance, when you were Miss Guggenslocker it wouldn't have been necessary for the man to be a prince, you know.”

“But I was Miss Guggenslocker because a man was unnecessary,” she said, so gravely that he smiled. “I was without a title because it was more womanly than to be a 'freak,' as I should have been had every man, woman and child looked upon me as a princess. I did not travel through your land for the purpose of exhibiting myself, but to learn and unlearn.”

“I remember it cost you a certain coin to learn one thing,” he observed.

“It was money well spent, as subsequent events have proved. I shall never regret the spending of that half gavvo. Was it not the means of bringing you to Edelweiss?”

“Well, it was largely responsible, but I am inclined to believe that a certain desire on my part would have found a way without the assistance of the coin. You don't know how persistent an American can be.”

“Would you have persisted had you known I was a princess?” she asked.

“Well, I can hardly tell about that, but you must remember I didn't know who or what you were.”

“Would you have come to Graustark had you known I was its princess?”

“I'll admit I came because you were Miss Guggenslocker.”

“A mere woman.”

“I will not consent to the word 'mere.' What would you think of a man who came half-way across the earth for the sake of a mere woman?”

“I should say he had a great deal of curiosity,” she responded, coolly.

“And not much sense. There is but one woman a man would do so much for, and she could not be a mere woman in his eyes.” Lorry's face was white and his eyes gleamed as he hurled this bold conclusion at her.

“Especially when he learns that she is a princess!” said she, her voice so cold and repellent that his eyes closed, involuntarily, as if an unexpected horror had come before them. “You must not tell me that you came to see me.

“But I did come to see you and not Her Royal Highness the Princess Yetive of Graustark. How was I to know?” he cried impulsively.

“But you are no longer ignorant,” she said, looking from the window.

“I thought you said you were a mere woman!”

“I am—and that is the trouble!” she said, slowly turning her eyes back to him. Then she abruptly sank to the window seat near his head. “That is the trouble, I say. A woman is a woman, although she be a princess. Don't you understand why you must not say such things to me?”

“Because you are a princess,” he said, bitterly.

“No; because I am a woman. As a woman I want to hear them, as, a princess I cannot. Now, have I made you understand? Have I been bold enough?” Her face was burning.

“You—you don't mean that you—” he half whispered, drawing himself toward her, his face glowing.

“Ach! What have I said?”

“You have said enough to drive me mad with desire for more,” he cried, seizing her hand, which she withdrew instantly, rising to her feet.

“I have only said that I wanted to hear you say you had come to see me. Is not that something for a woman's vanity to value? I am sorry you have presumed to misunderstand me.” She was cold again, but he was not to be baffled.

“Then be a woman and forget that you are a princess until I tell you why I came,” he cried.

“I cannot! I mean, I will not listen to you,” she said, glancing about helplessly, yet standing still within the danger circle.

“I came because I have thought of you and dreamed of you since the day you sailed from New York. God, can I ever forget that day!”

“Please do not recall—” she began, blushing and turning to the window.

“The kiss you threw to me? Were you a princess then?” She did not answer, and he paused for a moment, a thought striking him which at first he did not dare to voice. Then he blurted it out. “If you do not want to hear me say these things, why do you stand there?”

“Oh,” she faltered.

“Don't leave me now. I want to say what I came over here to say, and then you can go back to your throne and your royal reserve, and I can go back to the land from which you drew me. I came because I love you. Is not that enough to drag a man to the end of the world? I came to marry you if I could, for you were Miss Guggenslocker to me. Then you were within my reach, but not now! I can only love a princess!” He stopped because she had dropped to the couch beside him, her serious face turned appealingly to his, her fingers clasping his hands fiercely.

“I forbid you to continue—I forbid you! Do you hear? I, too, have thought and dreamed of you, and I have prayed that you might come. But you must not tell me that you love me-you shall not!”

“I only want to know that you love me,” he whispered.

“Do you think I can tell you the truth?” she cried. “I do not love you!”

Before he had fairly grasped the importance of the contradictory sentences, she left his side and stood in the window, her breast heaving and her face flaming.

“Then I am to believe you do,” he groaned, after a moment. “I find a princes and lose a woman!”

“I did not intend that you should have said what you have, or that I should have told you what I have. I knew you loved me or you would not have come to me,” she said, softly.

“You would have been selfish enough to enjoy that knowledge without giving joy in return. I see. What else could you have done? A princess! Oh, I would to God you were Miss Guggenslocker, the woman I sought!”

“Amen to that!” she said. “Can I trust you never to renew this subject? We have each learned what had better been left unknown. You understand my position. Surely you will be good enough to look upon me ever afterward as a princess and forget that I have been a woman unwittingly. I ask you, for your sake and my own, to refrain from a renewal of this unhappy subject. You can see how hopeless it is for both of us. I have said much to you that I trust you will cherish as coming from a woman who could not have helped herself and who has given to you the power to undo her with a single word. I know you will always be the brave, true man my heart has told me you are. You will let the beginning be the end?”

The appeal was so earnest, so noble that honor swelled in his heart and came from his lips in this promise:

“You may trust me, your Highness. Your secret is worth a thousand-fold more than mine. It is sacred with me. The joy of my life has ended, but the happiness of knowing the truth will never die. I shall remember that you love me—yes, I know you do,—and I shall never forget to love you. I will not promise that I shall never speak of it again to you. As I lie here, there comes to me a courage I did not know I could feel.”

“No, no!” she cried, vehemently.

“Forgive me! You can at least let me say that as long as I live I may cherish and encourage the little hope that all is not dead. Your Highness, let me say that my family never knows when it is defeated, either in love or in war.”

“The walls which surround the heart of a princess are black and grim, impenetrable when she defends it, my boasting American,” she said, smiling sadly.

“Yet some prince of the realm will batter down the wall and win at a single blow that which a mere man could not conquer in ten lifetimes. Such is the world.”

“The prince may batter down and seize, but he can never conquer. But enough of this! I am the Princess of Graustark; you are my friend, Grenfall Lorry, and there is only a dear friendship between us,” she cried, resuming her merry humor so easily that he started with surprise and not a little displeasure.

“And a throne,” he added, smiling, how ever.

“And a promise,” she reminded him.

“From which I trust I may some day be released,” said he, sinking back, afflicted with a discouragement and a determination of equal power. He could see hope and hopelessness ahead.

“By death!”

“No; by life! It may be sooner than you think!”

“You are forgetting your promise already.”

“Your Highness's pardon,” he begged.

They laughed, but their hearts were sad, this luckless American and hapless sovereign who would, if she could, be a woman.

“It is now three o'clock—the hour when you were to have called to see me,” she said, again sitting unconcernedly before him in the window seat. She was not afraid of him. She was a princess.

“I misunderstood you, your highness. I remembered the engagement, but it seems I was mistaken as to the time. I came at three in the morning!”

“And found me at home!”

“In an impregnable castle, with ogres all about.”

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